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If your pet is unwell, showing symptoms or acting under the weather, it can be a really worrying time. While more often than not it’s something short-term that can be easily fixed, many pet owners (particularly with older pets) worry about cancer, malignant tumours and other serious health issues.

At Animal Trust we offer cancer surgery for pets and a range of tumour removal services, so your pet will be in the best hands. We’re proud to offer affordable care for everyone and can provide a treatment plan, surgery and more to help.

Read on for our guide to the removal of tumours and what you can expect.

What is pet tumour removal surgery?

Tumours (abnormal lumps or bumps) are common in pets, especially as they get older. 

Sometimes, surgical removal of your pet’s tumour may be required. This will depend on the location of the tumour, how quickly it is growing, whether it is painful, any other health problems your pet may have and what type of tumour it is.

Deciding to opt for surgery is usually based on the results of cell samples (taken using a method called fine needle aspirate (FNA)). Cells from the lump are then sent for analysis at a laboratory – this is known as cytology), which can determine if the mass is cancerous or benign.

Types of tumours in pets

Tumours can be located anywhere on or in the body. Most organs, glands and tissues can be affected by abnormal tissue growths. Some of these may be benign and not require surgical removal, others may be potentially more sinister or cancerous, and should be completely removed and analysed at the laboratory. This means that any ongoing treatments can be planned and an accurate prognosis given.

Some of the more common tumours requiring removal include…

Mammary tumours

Mammary tumours are usually seen in middle-aged to older female dogs who have not been spayed or were spayed later in life (over 2 years of age).  Approximately 50% of these tumours are cancerous or malignant and of these, 50% may spread (metastasise). In cats, more than 80% of mammary tumours are malignant.

Mast cell tumours

Mast cell tumours are a type of skin tumour in dogs and cats that can be low grade (slow-growing, unlikely to spread) or higher grade (potentially will recur locally or spread to other organs). Because of this, surgical excision (removal) is required to allow laboratory analysis and grading to determine prognosis.

Testicular tumours

Testicular tumours are very common in unneutered male dogs. There are three main types of testicular tumour or mass (Sertoli cell tumours, interstitial cell tumours, and seminomas).

Testicular tumours are often benign, with approximately 10-20% having spread at diagnosis. Removal is required to reduce the excessive hormonal effects, prevent spread and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Eyelid tumours 

Although usually benign, eyelid tumours in pets often require removal to prevent them from rubbing on the eye and causing irritation. A vet examination can help determine whether eyelid tumours need further treatment.

Soft tissue tumours (sarcomas)

Sarcomas in dogs and cats have the potential to grow very large. They are also prone to local recurrence (coming back at the same site on the body) and sometimes spread around the body (metastasise). They can be relatively slow-growing (grade 1) through to extremely aggressive (grade 3). Removal is indicated to grade the tumours and see whether follow-up treatment is required.

Bone tumours

Bone tumours are often aggressive in terms of growth and rapid spread, and are particularly painful tumours. Where possible, complete excision or surgical removal of the affected bone is advised. This often requires removal of the affected leg to control pain, even if the tumour has already spread to more tissue around the body.

Splenic tumours

This tumour type can present as an emergency due to sudden heavy bleeding (haemorrhage) inside the abdomen. Surgical removal of the animal’s spleen is required to prevent spread and stop the bleeding.

Cutaneous (skin) tumours

There is a variety of skin tumours that can occur in pets. Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas are two types that are common in cats and dogs, especially in certain breeds. They require removal as they can become inflamed, infected and can spread in the area of the tumour, or sometimes around the body.

What symptoms lead to surgery to remove pet tumours?

Any abnormal or new lumps or bumps that you notice on your pet are best checked out by a veterinary surgeon. You should still consider visiting your local vet even if the mass or lumps are small and not bothering your pet.

Even benign tumours or lumps that seem benign but are visible to the naked eye are worth checking out, as even malignant tumours can sometimes appear non-threatening and could eventually grow.

Any unknown or new lumps are best removed whilst they’re still small, to increase the chance of removing the entire lump and to prevent it spreading (metastasising) or becoming cancerous.

Some tumours have more vague symptoms, depending on their location and effect on your pet’s organs. Many of these are discovered whilst your pet is having other treatments or imaging (such as ultrasounds or X-rays) for symptoms such as weight loss, collapse or weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea or a swollen or painful abdomen.

How are pet tumours diagnosed?

Often, the first stage we recommend is to take a fine needle aspirate (FNA) of the lump for analysis of the cells at a laboratory (cytology). FNA is a type of biopsy procedure that removes part of the tumour via suction. This test may indicate that the mass is benign or un-threatening – it can then be monitored for any other available treatment options. Alternatively, the FNA may indicate that your pet has a more aggressive tumour that needs removal.

What kind of tumour the lump is will affect the surgical approach your vet takes. Some types of tumour require larger areas of tissue to be removed around them (tissue margins) to prevent them from growing back.

Sometimes the FNA does not give us enough information and a biopsy may be taken in order to plan the main surgery. This surgical procedure can be performed under local anaesthetic if it’s for a small or superficial biopsy of the skin. For a larger biopsy procedure (or those on internal organs), your pet will require general anaesthesia.

Some internal tumours are removed as the first step of any treatment programme because of the effect they are having on the animal. Effects of a pet tumour can include blockage of the guts, and internal bleeding into the abdomen. After the tumour is removed via surgical procedure, samples are then sent to the lab for prognosis. 

Some indicators of tumours that will need removal include:

  • Rapidly growing lumps
  • Very firm or nodular (knobbly) lumps
  • Lumps that are immobile or feel attached to underlying structures
  • Growths that are painful, ulcerated or bleeding

What happens during pet tumour removal surgery?

The day before surgery, your pet will generally need to have food withheld from around 10 pm and overnight so that they are not sick under anaesthetic. If your pet has a specific health condition that means they can’t go without food, your vet team will advise you accordingly.

On the day of your pet’s surgery, they will usually be admitted in the morning so that they can have a health check and pre-anaesthetic blood tests before their operation to ensure they are well enough to have the medications and anaesthetic.

Your pet will need a full general anaesthetic for tumour removal. The area around the tumour will be clipped and surgically prepared to minimise the risk of infection at the surgical site.

When pet tumours are removed, the resulting wound is often longer than the size of the original tumour. This is because surgical margins of normal tissue are taken to ensure the tumour has been fully removed. For some tumours, these surgical margins need to be bigger than others, so you will be advised of this prior to surgery. 

The wound will have stitches (sutures) to hold the tissue and skin back together while they heal after surgery. If the tumour was large or deep, a drain may be placed to allow fluid to escape while the wound heals. 

The tumour will be sent away to the laboratory for analysis to ensure it has been fully removed. It will also be examined and graded/typed, allowing for ongoing treatment to be planned if needed. 

Pet tumour removal surgery recovery

How long your pet takes to recover from tumour removal can vary. It can take a while for the drugs used in an anaesthetic to leave the body – your pet may be sleepier than usual for the first 12 – 24 hours after their anaesthetic.

You should keep your pet indoors for the rest of the day in a warm, quiet place. This is because an anaesthetic procedure can affect your pet’s ability to regulate their temperature.

Of course, it takes time for surgical wounds to heal. After an operation, a small amount of oozing may be seen in the days following. You should make sure that your pet does not go anywhere they can get the wound dirty. Keep an eye on the surgical site and wound area, to ensure it’s kept as clean and dry as possible. 

Your pet will require a buster collar or pet recovery shirt to wear during their recovery time. Repeated licking or scratching of the wound can lead to infection, swelling and the wound opening up. 

Your pet may have stitches that will be absorbed, or some that will require removal after approximately 10 days. Some types of tumours can cause delayed healing at the wound edges, so the stitches may need to remain in place for longer. 

You will be notified at discharge which kind of sutures your pet has and if/when they are likely to be removed. Your pet will require follow-up checks around 3 and 10-days post-surgery to assess the wound and to plan any ongoing treatment.

How much does pet tumour removal cost?

The cost of tumour removal will vary depending on the size, location and difficulty of surgery for your pet. 

At Animal Trust we have a fixed pricing structure to avoid any unexpected costs.

  • A simple mass removal (such as a small skin lump) would cost £469, including pre-anaesthetic blood tests, general anaesthetic, surgery, pain relief post-op, histopathology (lab fees) and post-surgical checkup.
  • A standard mass removal (such as a larger skin mass, soft tissue mass or most mammary tumours) would be £659, including pre-anaesthetic bloods, general anaesthetic, surgery, pain management post-op, histopathology (lab fees) and post-surgical checkup.
  • A complex mass removal (such as splenic mass, gastrointestinal mass, and certain glandular tumours) costs £929, including pre-anaesthetic bloods, general anaesthetic, surgery, pain relief post-op, histopathology (lab fees) and post-surgical checkup.
  • Metastasis checks – done on the same day as surgery, are available for an additional cost. It includes imaging (X-rays and ultrasound) carried out prior to surgery for tumour types that may have spread. This may affect the surgical plan (curative vs palliative). 

Certain surgeries cannot be carried out at our Animal Trust surgeries and would require referral to a specialist centre. Such cases could include (but are not limited to) spinal tumours, brain tumours and lung lobe tumours. The costs involved in referral could vary anywhere between £3000 and £8000 depending on the type of surgery required.

If you’re concerned that your pet may have a tumour or would like more information on the surgical services available at Animal Trust, contact your local vet surgery to chat to our team.

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