What Small Bumps on Dogs Can Mean

Small bumps on dogs are very common and can be a concern to pet parents. A skin bump is also referred to as mass, lump, growth, or tumor and these terms are often used interchangeably. Sometimes small skin bumps are felt during routine grooming or petting at home or can be found by groomers during bathing and grooming.

The concern is that a small bump on a dog could be cancer. Small bumps on dogs can be on the skin or under the skin. A small bump on a dog can something caught in the hair, a tick, insect bite, scab, puncture, blister, abscess, cyst, pimple to a small benign mass, or a malignant tumor.

Below is a list of some of the common possible causes for a small skin bump on a dog:

  • Foreign body – A foreign body can be on the skin such as something caught in the hair next to the skin can be mistaken for a small skin lump.  This can include anything from dried chewing gum, a plant burr, small rock or stick, mulch, food particles, or just about anything else.  A foreign body can also be in or under the skin such as a B-B pellet.
  • Tick – A tick can be confused by a small lump. Ticks are arthropods that prey on dogs and attach themselves to the skin as they acquire a blood meal. Veterinarians commonly remove ticks from dogs that were mistaken as small skin bumps. Learn more about how to remove a tick in a dog.  Also learn more about the danger of ticks in dogs.
  • Scab – A scab is a rough, dry crust that forms as a protective barrier over a healing cut, laceration, puncture, or wound.  Clipping hair and cleaning the area can identify if the small bump is a scab.
  • Insect bite – An insect bite such as from a bee, wasp, or spider can cause local skin inflammation that can appear as a small lump. Some bites can become infected.
  • Puncture – A small puncture can appear as a small skin bump in dogs. Punctures can occur from bite wounds or jabs from sharp objects. Punctures can form into abscesses that can also be mistaken for a skin bump.
  • Cyst – A sebaceous cyst is a small sac containing an accumulation of secretions produced by the sebaceous glands. They can appear as small bumps and are considered benign. In most cases no treatment is necessary. Sebaceous cysts will sometimes break open and a thick white to yellow cheesy substance will drain. If the decision is made to biopsy the cyst, complete surgical removal is performed and is curative.
  • Wart – Canine viral papillomas, also known as a dog wart, is one of the most common causes of small lumps in dogs.  They often look like small pale cauliflower or flesh colored raised bumps. These benign masses are generally not a concern but can break open, become nicked during grooming, or become infected. For these reasons, some dog warts may be surgically removed.  Surgical removal is curative although more can form on other parts of the body.
  • Skin tag – A skin tag, also known as an acrochordon or fibroepithelial polyp, is a benign growth that arises from the skin. They are commonly removed when they interfere with function. For example, skin tags that develop around the mouth can are accidentally bit when chewing or ones that dangle from the legs or abdomen which can be caught on something and break open.  Surgical removal is curative.
  • Histiocytoma – This is a type of small bumps that occurs primarily on young dogs under three years of age. Histiocytomas most often occur on the face and on the legs or paws. These are benign lumps that spontaneously resolve.
  • Blister – A blister is a small fluid filled bubble on the skin caused by friction, burning, or other damage.
  • Fatty mass – Fatty tumors are also called lipomas for fatty tumors. They often begin a small soft skin bumps but can grow to become larger. Learn more with this article Fatty Cysts in Dogs. (INSERT LINK)
  • Skin infection – A skin infection can appear as a skin mass, lump or tumor. Conditions such as pyoderma can cause raised red inflamed bumps. There are generally multiple lesions and is rarely isolated to one bump. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications are common treatments.
  • Benign mass – There are numerous causes of benign skin masses.  Some are listed above such as skin tags, dog warts, and cysts.  Many growths can appear the same and impossible to determine the type of tumor without additional laboratory testing.
  • Skin cancer – There are skin tumors that can be cancerous.  A common skin cancer in dogs is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) that can result from sun exposure. SCC may appear as a skin bump that is red, white or grey in color. They are often malignant and require surgical removal. Tumors may develop on the nose, legs, and/or paws. Other types of cancer include Mast Cell Tumor or Melanomas.  Learn more about skin cancer in dogs.

How to Determine the Cause of a Small Lump on a Dog

Small Skin Lumps on Dog

Photo Legend: This photo is of a 9-year-old dog with two small skin lumps on his side which is shaved. It was impossible to tell what type of small lumps they were without submitting tissue samples to the laboratory. The report came back that these two small lumps were aggressive canine mast cell tumors which is a type of skin cancer.

If your dog has a small lump, the best way to help determine the underlying cause is to closely examine the lump. Many times shaving the hair around that area is a big help to allow you to examine the area of focus. This may be best done with the help of your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian may perform the following:

  • A complete exam where your vet looks at your dog’s eyes, ears, listen to the lungs and heart, evaluate lymph node size, and feel the abdomen.
  • Evaluate the skin lump. Your vet will evaluate the skin lump noting the size, shape, depth, location, consistency, color and more. They may shave the hair to more closely evaluate the small lump.
  • Provide recommendations. Based on the characteristics of the tumor, your vet will provide recommendations as to the best approach to the skin mass.  They may recommend evaluating the mass with a fine needle aspirate, biopsy, or mass removal (often called “lumpectomy”).
  • It can be impossible to determine if a tumor is benign or malignant without additional laboratory testing such as a histopathology.  Learn more about Skin Cancer in Dogs.
  • Common Small Bumps on Dogs:

Here are links to information about some common small bumps on dogs:

We hope this article helps you better understand the causes of some small lumps in dogs.

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