Treating canine lipomas

Holistic options to present to pet owners when looking to treat lipomas in a way that maximizes the health and comfort of the dog.

As almost any breed of dog ages, lipomas will often appear. In 2007, according to the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, 1.7 million dogs had lipomas. Clients frequently worry that lipomas are cancer. And when they grow too large, movement can be impeded.

Conventionally, our only approach has been surgical removal once the lipoma reaches a stage where it is causing distress to the dog. One survey from Biospecifics showed an average of 25 lipoma surgical removals or de-bulking procedures per clinic per year.1

The holistic perspective looks at all symptoms as clues to an underlying vibrational imbalance (Qi, vital force, etc.). Most integrative practitioners see lipomas as the body’s way of exteriorizing toxins or other imbalances. TCVM lists lipomas as stagnation of body fluids. This may explain why older dogs usually develop lipomas – their systems may be slowing down.

The younger the dog, the more quickly lipomas can be resolved. At the first sign of lipomas, we work to improve the dog’s health through many means, because as lipomas persist, they become less responsive to any treatment. However, few integrative practitioners report that they can reliably resolve lipomas, although every modality does report some success. Many agree that natural rearing lowers the risk of lipomas, but some dogs still develop them. So what are your treatment options?

Maximize health

Partner with the client to discover what will maximize health for their dog, no matter what his age, even before lipomas are seen. This is especially important in breeds predisposed to lipomas, such as Labrador retrievers, Shetland sheepdogs, Dobermans, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, poodles, mixed breeds, and miniature Schnauzers.

Minimize the use of chemicals and drugs in medical treatment, flea and tick prevention, house and yard cleaning/maintenance, etc. Since obesity in females predisposes them to lipomas, be sure to coach people about healthy diets and exercise for their dogs from an early age. If you can work with diet from a health perspective, you may never have to use the dreaded “fat” word, which is not client friendly.

Using the Early Warning Signs of Internal Imbalance ( can help you and your client evaluate each intervention from puppyhood onward. Many integrative veterinarians who responded to an informal survey I conducted said they saw fewer lipomas in dogs that were raised following natural guidelines. Another informal survey of owners feeding a raw food diet was mixed, with some never seeing lipomas even in breeds at risk, and others seeing a few lipomas.

Aspiration or not?

When lumps first appear, you will decide whether or not to do a needle aspirate. Some integrative veterinarians have seen more rapid growth in lipomas after aspiration. Others have not. Respect a client who prefers not to get an aspirate, after you discuss the chances of it not being a lipoma. Then try the least invasive lipoma-specific therapies.

1. Acupressure

This 100% safe treatment can be demonstrated by you or your technician, then done by clients at home, especially when you first suspect a lipoma and the mass is small. Technician appointments can be scheduled to re-measure the masses and review the acupressure techniques and points.

Oakie, a wonderful golden, began getting lipomas by age two. He also had bad hips early on. He was being raised naturally with few to no vaccines, a great diet, and no chemical exposure, by Amy Snow and Nancy Zidonas of Tall Grass Animal Acupressure Institute ( Oakie had a good physical with a complete thyroid panel, and there seemed to be no inciting causes for the lipomas.

Amy and Nancy regularly did Tui Na on Oakie (Chinese massage to enhance Qi and lymph flow). When the lumps were first noticed, they used acupressure points on the meridians above and below each lump. Pericadium 8 is a spot in the center of a person’s hand that emits a significant amount of chi, so Amy and Nancy held their palms on the lipoma. The lumps would resolve within a few days when Oakie was younger. By the end of his life, they were not resolving at all, although they were much less problematic than they would have been if not treated. At age 11, a lipoma in the axilla impeded Oakie’s movement and needed to be surgically removed. He lived to the age of 13.

Some of Amy and Nancy’s students have had success using this approach with their own dogs. Using these techniques daily (see diagram above), with one day off every seven to ten days, seems to be most effective

2. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine

If any other issues are of concern, or if the acupressure is not working, a comprehensive TCVM workup with treatment is needed. As with homeopathy, the curative treatment protocol may not even focus on the mass. Several combination Chinese herbs have been successful with lipomas, but are best used by a trained herbal practitioner.

Dr. Ihor Basko has put acupuncture needles in confirmed lipomas and heated them with moxa. If the lipoma is small, not much more is needed. If it is large, blood movers help. Even large ones shrink enough to avoid surgery, though they don’t completely resolve. Doberman dogs (very susceptible) also respond well to a high fiber macrobiotic diet.

Kan Herbs’ Cluster Dissolving combination dispels Toxic Heat, reduces swelling and dissolves masses, and clears Heat and Toxins, so it can be useful for lipomas ( pi_vet_symptoms.asp).

3. Homeopathy

While there are rubrics in the repertory for lipomas (Generals: tumors; lipomas), the remedy that may actually shrink a lipoma is usually the “constitutional” one that fi ts all the characteristics and symptoms of the dog. Dr. Judy Herman, a certified veterinary homeopath, sees few to no lipomas in holistically raised dogs (raw fed, minimal vaccines, few chemicals), even in susceptible breeds. She remembers finding a constitutional remedy for one dog which completely resolved the animal’s lipoma with no regrowth.

Dr. Steve Blake uses homeopathy and other modalities for healing. One dog’s mobility was severely restricted by a basketball-sized lipoma on the back. He was given one dose of Thuja 10M (selected because the lipoma appeared shortly after vaccination and fi t the dog’s characteristic symptoms); within two months the fat was gone, with only a large skin sack remaining. Dr. Blake chooses the best homeopathic remedy for each dog and always includes immune boosters such as Imutek colostrum and essential oil of Frankincense, topically bid. His gemmotherapy prescription for all tumors (a drainage system using the buds of plants) usually includes Common Juniper (for the liver), Rye Grain (to detox the skin) and Cedar of Lebanon (a skin drainer and toxin remover).2

4. Herbals

Sacred Medicine’s Gall Bladder Prime has been effective with some lipomas. It blends choleretic and cholagogue herbs with carminative herbs to improve bile viscosity.

Dr. Ihor Basko asserts that a major cause of lipomas is an imbalance of hormones and precursors: estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and DHEA. HRT with herbs and supplements help the overall health of these dogs, along with much-needed exercise.

5. Nutritional therapy

Dr. Wim de Leeuw from the Netherlands has observed shrinking in lipomas when dogs are on Mifloran, a soil-borne organism probiotic. It is often prescribed for general weight loss, which in his practice seems to also partially shrink lipomas. Dr. Basko cites the following as a possible explanation for this excellent result: staph toxins influence the behavior of fat cells (cytokin release) and some adenoviruses can trigger stem cells to transform into fat cells. Obese people have more staphs in their gut flora than non-obese people.3

Dr. Liz Hassinger rarely sees lipomas in patients who are living on good food, no chemicals, and only rabies vaccines. She is very hardline about weight control. With good foods, excessive weight gain is uncommon, but if a patient is getting chunky, she works with the client to find out why and gets the animal back into a healthy weight range. Most lipomas that Dr. Hassinger sees are in new patients who have been treated conventionally. Usually, they are obese or have been treated with topical chemicals. However, she adds that she has found no herbal, homeopathic nor TCVM approaches that successfully reduce the few animals that do have lipomas.

6. Chiropractic

Dr. Peter Dobias has observed that most lumps of any kind appear to be associated with spinal segments with the tightest muscles or evidence of inflammation and injury. The back is the channel that maintains smooth energy flow throughout the body, tissues and organs, and an injury stops the flow.

Chiropractic or intramuscular stimulation (IMS) can reset the muscle fibers and improve the energy flow. Either treatment needs to be repeated until the body “relearns” its patterns. In older dogs, a preventive treatment plan, often monthly,helps the body stay in balance. The growth rate of lipomas is slowed by improving the energy flow in the spine and body in general.

7. Liposuction

In 2006, Dr. Geraldine Hunt, then at Sydney’s Veterinary College, offered liposuction in lieu of euthanasia for Patch, a 12-year-old Kelpie mix. It was the first time this was performed in Australia. Over an hour, six lipomas were “sucked”, equaling 10% of Patch’s body weight.4

A year later, veterinarians at the veterinary college of Leipzig, Germany successfully removed three lipomas – one in the axilla – from a very obese mixed breed dog suffering from severe arthritis.5

And in 2011, retrospective studies were done on 20 dogs showing resolution of 73 out of 76 lipomas removed with liposuction. The dogs did, however, continue to grow lipomas, and they seemed to re-grow in the same areas more often than seen with surgical excision.6

8. Injections

One recent study involved injecting lipomas with steroids, and found it mostly effective for small lipomas.7

Collagenase enzymes break the peptide bonds in collagen, the fibrous protein that connects body tissues. Several trials by BioSpecifi cs tested three healthy dogs with multiple subcutaneous lipomas. Ninety days after injection, a CT scan showed that the treated lipomas on two of the dogs had disappeared completely, and the third dog’s treated lipoma was only 7% of its original size. By contrast, the control lipomas had grown.

A second trial with 37 dogs did not have a statistically significant posttreatment difference as measured by CT scan. However, there was a statistically significant reduction in lipoma surface area.8

9. Surgery

Several surgeons stated that removing one lump resulted in multiple lumps appearing later in the dog’s life. This is because surgery removes only the tip of the iceberg. Surgery will do nothing to address the toxins causing the fatty tumor, and will leave scar tissue behind; this blocks the point of discharge the body needs to release those toxins. Once scar tissue is created, the toxins feeding the tumor are forced deeper into the patient’s body, causing damage to deeper organs and organ systems. Even in integrative practices, however, surgery is still needed to de-bulk lipomas that are interfering with ambulation.