Regardless of the type of dog(s) sharing your life, regular grooming offers many benefits. Brushing helps to keep the skin and coat well conditioned, and most dogs seem to enjoy it. Massage is calming and improves both blood and lymph circulation (among many other benefits). Just touching your dog on a regular basis, from head to toe, increases the bond that you share. It also helps you to discover any lumps or bumps that may be developing, and have them checked out by your vet early. With increasing rates of cancer in dogs, any bump can instill fear – but many are benign fatty tumors, or lipomas.
If you’re doing a web search for information on dog lipoma, you’re likely to read that it’s a normal part of aging. When is a subcutaneous lump ever normal? It’s not; it is serving as an outward indication that something is out of balance in your dog’s body.
Technically speaking, a lipoma is a benign mass of abnormal adipose cells (which are fat cells with a greater affinity for spare fat calories). More common in females, they are slow-growing and don’t spread to other parts of the body. They do not involve hair loss, pain, or irritation. A lipoma can look and feel like a mast cell (or other type of) tumor, so a fine needle aspirate is always suggested, so that your vet can properly assess the lump. Because lipomas are benign and the dog is usually older, surgery is rarely recommended unless there is an associated issue such as bleeding, increased growth rate, or interference with mobility or functioning.
Obese dogs are more likely to develop them, but this is a no-brainer. If your dog is overweight, (s)he is probably not active enough and/or is eating a diet high in carbs – both of which contribute to the formation of lumps. The first step for any dog with any lump is to switch to a grain-free diet (gradually, of course). In grain-free kibble, the grain content is replaced with starches, such as potato, so check the carbohydrate content before switching. Compare bags and if you have any questions about a food, don’t hesitate to call the dog food company. They usually print an 800- number on the bottom of the bag and have staff available to answer your questions. Raw is best, but if you can’t feed raw yet want higher quality nutrition than processed kibble, consider a dehydrated raw diet like Honest Kitchen or Stella & Chewy’s.
The second step is to increase walks and other exercise. Movement eases stagnation. By getting the body moving, the channels serving it are allowed to flow freely, like highway traffic after the site of an accident. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (note: I am not a TCM practitioner, and this a generalization!), lumps are considered stagnant qi – the operative word here being “stagnant.” In The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted Kaptchuck writes of stagnant qi: “this is a case of a pattern of deficiency turning into one of excess.” It seems to me that lipomas are a textbook example of this.
Here in the West, tissue states were identified by the physiomedicalists in the 19th century very similarly to the Eastern model, but ascribed different labels. In this system, tumors are a form of stagnation which have progressed to a state of torpor.
Whether you view the stagnation from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (stagnant qi) or the physiomedicalist model (torpor), alteratives are the herbs of choice, here. Alteratives cleanse the blood, altering existing conditions by strengthening various systems and eliminating waste from the bloodstream. They’re especially useful where the body would benefit by improved blood structure and elimination of toxic excess and systemic waste. Bitter tonics are especially indicated here, as they increase digestive secretions and help eliminate waste such as that incurred by processed (and usually carb-heavy) pet food.
I like to choose the herbs by looking at any other symptoms that the dog is experiencing. Kidney function weakening? Liver values going up? Thyroid slowing down? How is digestion? Red Clover and Alfalfa are always good choices, but think of Yellow Dock or Burdock if there are skin or liver issues (Burdock specifically stimulates metabolism and releases excess metabolic waste from the cells). Nettles is great for the entire body (in fact, most seniors would benefit by getting Nettles every day), but may be alkalizing, so I would not recommend it for a pet with a propensity for struvite crystals. Blessed Thistle is a bitter better suited for the more acidic dogs (and any dog prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, or bloat). Oregon Grape Root helps clear damp heat, so may be well indicated. These are just several of many herbs that act as alteratives, and it’s important to find the ones best suited to your dog’s overall constitution. I like to add Cleavers as a gentle way to aid lymphatic circulation, and Kelp may be added to the diet to help normalize metabolism. Kelp is also useful in neutralizing waste in the body and breaking up masses.
If your dog does develop lipomas, massage should absolutely become a daily practice. On the site of the lipoma(s), massage a salve or oil with Chickweed and Violet Leaf. Every day. For a long time.
Then, go for a long walk!