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What is Surgical Tumor Removal?

The word tumor refers to an abnormal growth of cells that results in a lump forming. However, tumors range widely in significance from harmless growths (described as 'benign') to aggressive life-threatening lumps that seed cancer cells to other parts of the body (described as 'malignant').

For many lumps, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat them early, so as to reduce the risks should they be malignant. Depending on the type of tumor, the options include surgical removal, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. Of these, surgical removal is by far the most widely performed and common in first opinion practice.  

Surgical Tumor Removal Procedure in Dogs

For some tumors it's helpful to know what the cancer is, in order to aid planning the operation. To do this the vet may remove a few cells via a needle and send them for analysis. 

For aggressive cancers the vet will 'stage' how far advanced the cancer is. This includes checking the draining lymph nodes for evidence of spread, radiographing the lungs for secondary tumors, and scanning the liver. 

This information allows the vet to decide if it is appropriate to put the patient through surgery and helps when planning how much tissue to remove. 

Typically the patient has blood tests to determine their underlying health and whether supportive intravenous fluids are required during the anesthetic. The dog then receives a premed injection, including pain relief, to prepare them for the anesthetic. 

Anesthesia is induced via a catheter in the dog's leg, and maintained via anesthetic gas supplied through a tube placed in their windpipe. 

The area around the tumor is clipped and made sterile with surgical scrub. For internal tumors, the prep is made on the skin where the incision to gain access is made. 

The scrubbed and gowned surgeon then removes the lump, with wide margins of tissue around the lump. The incision is closed with sutures, and a dressing applied where appropriate. 

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Efficacy of Surgical Tumor Removal in Dogs

The success of surgery depends on:

  • The type of tumor
  • How early the tumor was caught
  • Accessibility
  • How much tissue was removed from around the tumor
  • Surgical technique

For small benign masses, surgery will be curative. When possible, the lump should be sent away for analysis. This not only confirms what type of tumor was present, but checks that 'clean margins' were obtained, meaning that enough tissue was removed to reasonably assume the cancer has been eliminated from that area. For large malignant masses, the surgery may not be curative but may 'debulk' the tumor and buy the patient some extra time. For many patients, the outlook is good, especially with prior screening to check for complications ahead of surgery. Incomplete removal of an invasive tumor can mean it recurs.

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Surgical Tumor Removal Recovery in Dogs

An average, recovery time from surgery is 10 - 14 days for straightforward cases. During this time the dog must be prevented from licking the operation site by wearing a cone or having the area covered with a dressing. The dog must avoid exertion, which could burst the stitches, and only go on gentle lead walks (as instructed by the vet). 

Internal stitches dissolve of their own accord but those in the skin will be removed at 10 - 14 days. Once the results of the lab report are known, the vet will decide if further action is needed. This may include regularly screening to look for recurrence, or further treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. 

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Cost of Surgical Tumor Removal in Dogs

In many cases, the actual surgery is just part of the cost involved in treatment. Add on costs include screening tests such as ultrasound scans ($75-$280) and x-rays ($60-$280), with the possibility of adjunctive chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The latter takes places at specialist clinics and may cost thousands of dollars. 

For a simple skin tumor removal, the cost can vary from $180 to 375, whilst more complex internal tumors run $1,000- $2,000 and upward. 

Costs vary depending on the surgical time and the complexity of the surgery. Surgeons in first opinion practice are highly competent at removing tumors, but for lumps in difficult to access locations a referral to a specialist may be needed, which can be costly. 

It is never wise to ignore a lump in the hope that it goes away. Not only does this put the pet's long-term health in peril, but the eventual treatment is liable to be more expensive as a result of increased complexity. 

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Dog Surgical Tumor Removal Considerations

Surgical tumor removal ranges from the straightforward to the complex. The need for surgery should always carefully assessed so that the benefits outweigh the risks. Major surgery is painful and requires the dog to be in relatively good health in order to heal. If the cancer has already spread or the dog is generally in poor health, then whether to proceed requires careful thought and discussion. Whilst surgery is a vital life-saving tool, sometimes even the best surgeon cannot cure the patient, because of the nature of the cancer. This means the dog may either grow new tumors in a different place, the cancer may spread internally, or the tumor regrow.

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Surgical Tumor Removal Prevention in Dogs

Prevention is often not possible because cancers occur due to factors outside the owner's control, such as the genetic makeup of the dog. It is, however, sensible to make sure the dog has a healthy diet and adequate exercise so they are in optimal health. Then, should a tumor develop the dog is best placed to cope with the anesthetic and surgery. 

In addition, the owner can help by being vigilant for lumps and tumors. It is a good idea to check the dog's skin on a weekly basis and get any new lumps checked by the vet. In addition, carefully monitor existing lumps. This includes:

  • Photographing them
  • Measuring the lump and writing the size down
  • Being vigilant for changes in size, shape, or texture
  • Spotting changes such as the lump starting to irritate the dog. 

Lumps that grow rapidly, become attached to the underlying tissue, become red or inflamed, or bother the dog should be checked by the vet. 

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Surgical Tumor Removal Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Husky mix

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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Mammary Tumor Removal

How much drainage is normal for a mammary tumor removal? The incision looks fine, not hot too the touch. But there's quite a bit of drainage. She's overweight. We put tshirts on her and change them frequently as the shirts get messy. 2-3× a day

Aug. 5, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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Hello- Thank you for your question, I would recommend emailing these pictures to your veterinarian tomorrow, but dogs can commonly accumulate some fluid underneath an incision after mass removal. It is called a seroma, and the fluid is a blood tinged pink color which looks pretty consistent with picture that you provided. In my opinion the incision looks like it is healing appropriately, but I would follow up with your veterinarian too. I hope she heals quickly.

Aug. 5, 2020

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Beagle

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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Excessive Saliva, Drinking Lots Of Water, Fatigue, Lack Of Energy, Laying On Cold Floors

We went to a vet after he began drooling heavily and drinking excessive water. He has been more weary on walks and has been laying on cold floors a lot but we thought it was the summer heat at first. The bloodwork came back with abnormal results in the kidneys and liver. The vet said this could be a benign tumor causing a blockage towards these areas, but I would love a second opinion or any other possibilities just in case.

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. While I appreciate you wanting a second opinion, without having access to the lab work or being able to examine your dog, it isn't possible for me to give an opinion on this. It may be best to have a second opinion with a veterinarian who can actually examine your dog, you can ask for copies of the lab work to take with you, and get an opinion on that as well. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

Aug. 3, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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10 Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Tumor

Jasmine has a tumor on her front right leg about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. She developed it while I was unemployed and could not treat her. It has now gotten larger and split open. In the past 48 hours she started having trouble walking and has less energy. I cannot afford major surgery or chemo, what should I do?

July 15, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that it's happening to Jasmine, that is very difficult to deal with. It sounds like something needs to be done, as she sounds uncomfortable. It would probably be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can see the mass, and at least give you options. Sometimes we do a surgery called debulking, to get rid of some of the tumor and increase quality of life, and that may not be as expensive as you are thinking. Your veterinarian will be able to talk more about any possible treatments once they have seen her and no more what is going on. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 15, 2020

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Schnoodle

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Twelve Years

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Cancer

My 12 year old neutered, male schnoodle has two cancerous tumors on both of his hind feet. He is not in any kind of pain as we know, and he acts like himself. Both of his tumors are maybe 1 inch on both sides. He is going to get surgery to remove them, but we are going to an oncologist before the surgery. Do you think radiation or chemo would be a better option?

July 10, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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Usually surgical removal of the tumors is the best first step with any form of cancerous tumor in dogs. The oncologist will likely stage the disease to make sure it hasn’t spread anywhere else and then have recommendations for any postop treatment that is needed after surgery. Good luck with surgery.

July 10, 2020

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Dugan

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Poodle mix

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9 Years

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Critical severity

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Tumor

My 9 year old, 17 lb. Poodle mix has a half size pencil eraser size tumor next to her breast. It will be removed this week. Is this considered a Stage 1 cancer, if determined cancerous? What can I expect in th future for other tumors to grow? Or if catching and removing at such an early stage will do the trick. She was not fixed until 7 years old. Thank you.

Sept. 25, 2018

Dugan's Owner

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Sasha

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Shiz tzu

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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Hard Time Pooping.

I have a 12 year old Female Shiz Tzu, not spaded that we discovered has a an approx grapefuit (3x3) size tumor growing in you intestinal area. Still has an appetite but not as much. Gave stool softerner to aid. No pain at all. Walks and acts normal in every way but does not run. Vet recommends putting her down and I cant disagree. But x-rays may show that one of her ovaries might be the infected area. Is there a doctor in the Dallas area we can explore another opinion.

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Pinky

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Miniature Pinscher

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Tumor

Hello my dog is a 12 year old miniature pinsher called pinky. We saw two lumps on pinky's leg and stomach recently. When we noticed these lumps we took pinky to the vet and after a breef check up. The vet felt the lumps and said that these were tumours, and also advised us to preform a removal surgery for these lumps(tumors) as he is afraid they can grow and spread. We're kind of lost in this situation and dont knw how to act, because we are afraid that pinky isn't fit enough to have a surgery at this age which because it would effect her life span( i would like to add that pinky's physical state isnt perfect but she can still have long walks and jog a little). Also thought that maybe pinky's lumps (tumors) need to be analyzed and checked for cancerous cells first? Finally what would be your ideal approach to this situation? Thank you for your help in advance.

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sugar

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Maltese

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15 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Sleeps A Lot

Nine years ago our 16 year old Maltese had a complete hysterectomy and cancers removed for all breast except the last 2 near her back legs. She healed very well. A year and half ago she began coughing.We took her to her vet. After tests we were told and shown a very enlarged heart and she was given blood pressure meds and water pills that have been given ever day since. The coughing slowed down,but never stopped. A month ago we discovered what we thought was a wound under her back leg. It has grown and now has a yellow center that is excreting foul yellow fluid. With her age and previous health issues we are hesitant to take her to the vet because she would want to put her down. She has lived longer than we were told. She shows no sign of pain other than licking the area. She has fainted 4 times and in the last few days lost weight. ? I can't stand putting her down if she is not suffering. Am I being selfish?

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Daniel

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Shih Tzu

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8 Years

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Fair severity

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my little Daniel had a teeth cleaning today. he is 8 years old the vet advised me there was a mass in his mouth she removed what she could and will send to biopsy is this normal for a shih ztu dog to get these. from what I have been reading he never showed any symptoms of what was there

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Jax

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Boxer

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Tumor

My dog was diagnosed with mast cell cancer. I found a very small (1cm) bump on his tummy by his leg. Tests said cancer. He is getting it removed in a few days. My question is..what do I expect after surgery? Also, if it is small...are the chances better that it will be Grade 1 or 2? Thank you

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