If your dog has had surgery, you know the immense feeling of relief when the procedure is complete and you get to bring your beloved pet home to start the healing process. You’ve kept your dog’s surgery incision clean and dry, prevented them from licking it, and followed your veterinarian’s directions about restricted activity, medications, and all other advice to a tee. Everything is going smoothly and you can finally feel like you can breathe a little easier… and then you notice a bump on your dog’s incision.
First things first: don’t panic. There are many possibilities of what the bump might be, and they may or may not require a trip to the veterinarian. With that said, it’s always a good idea to take a picture or video of the questionable bump and send it to your veterinarian’s office ASAP so a professional can check it out. If the bump does turn out to be something serious, getting help sooner rather than later can make all the difference.
Now, let’s go over what the bump might be and whether it’s a cause for concern. Carefully and gently inspect your dog’s incision, and then read through the following list to see what the bump most closely resembles.
Possible Types of Bumps
Skin that looks folded over at the top or bottom of the incision
Because your dog’s stitches are pulling the incision area tightly closed, the “normal” skin surrounding it is somewhat looser. When your dog is sitting or lying down, this looser skin may fold over the top or bottom of the incision, causing a bump. This type of bump is likely less noticeable when your dog is standing, since the skin is stretched out, and is nothing to worry about.
A small round bump at the very top of the incision
This bump is typically about the size of a pea or smaller. When suturing an internal incision, your veterinarian will make a knot at the top with the suture material, which can cause this type of bump. It’s a good idea to gently feel this bump once or twice a day to ensure it’s not getting any bigger. If it does, contact your veterinarian. Since the top and bottom of the incision typically take the longest to heal, bumps like this tend to be palpable underneath an unhealed section. But as long as the bump doesn’t get bigger as time progresses, it’s nothing to worry about.
A long bump along the incision line
A linear bump that follows the line of the incision may be caused by what’s called a suture reaction. Sometimes, depending on the type of incision, stitches may be used to close up not just the surface of the skin, but several layers of tissue underneath as well. In the case of major surgery, for instance, the veterinarian may need to stitch up muscles, the subcutaneous layer made of fat and connective tissue, and then finally the skin, meaning there will be several layers of sutures in the same incision site.
For the layers under the skin, the suture material used to stitch up the tissue will be absorbable, meaning your dog’s body will naturally break down and absorb it over time. But sometimes, a dog’s body may reject this “foreign substance,” triggering an inflammatory response and delayed healing called a suture reaction. In these cases, the dog’s body is responding to the foreign substance by either trying to dissolve it, break it down, or push it out – causing a linear bump along the incision site. If this occurs, take your dog to your veterinarian, who will evaluate whether antibiotics are needed or if the offending internal suture material needs to be removed.
A balloon-like bump that’s filled with fluid
Sometimes, dogs may develop what’s called a seroma – an accumulation of plasma that looks like a pocket of fluid at the incision site. These non-painful growths can occur when a dog has licked or chewed the incision site, or has been too active during the recovery process. They typically will reabsorb on their own with time and disappear, but if not, intervention by your veterinarian may be needed. Some veterinarians may puncture the skin to release the fluid, while others avoid it to prevent the risk of introducing infection. Some may recommend a warm compress or massage to encourage blood flow, while others may advise to simply let it resolve on its own. If you want to try using a warm compress or massage, ask your veterinarian first (and be sure to use a plastic bag or other such barriers to avoid getting the incision wet). But again, seromas typically resolve on their own with no intervention needed.
A hard, immoveable bump on or around the incision
If your dog has had an implant (for example during orthopedic surgery), the bump you’re feeling could actually be the implant itself, or the screws used to hold it in place. As long as the incision looks like it’s healing well – without any skin color changes around the bump, heat coming from it, or fluid draining from it – it can be normal to feel the metal of the implant. If your dog begins to try to lick the incision or begins limping, it could be a sign of implant failure, which can be very serious. In this case, contact your veterinarian immediately.
A puckered section of skin along the incision line
This type of bump, which usually happens in the first couple weeks after surgery when the site is still pinkish, is typically a normal part of the healing process – there’s nothing to worry about as long as there’s no redness or drainage present, and the incision is still closed and not pulled open. Regardless, it’s important to watch the incision area closely to ensure it’s not beginning to be pulled apart, which could result in the potentially harmful type of bump below…
Red, angry, oozing bumps
These are the more serious bumps that need to be addressed ASAP. They can happen at any stage in the healing process – even in the very late stages when your dog is several months post-surgery. Although they may start out as small red or pink nodules (or as large, mushy sacks of fluid), they can quickly become more harmful. Watch the incision closely, and if it begins to turn red, swells up, becomes warm, or starts oozing, call your veterinarian immediately.
Bumps like this can be very serious as they may indicate that an infection is present. In the case of an incisional infection, it is helpful for your veterinarian to do a bacterial culture to identify the specific type of bacteria infecting the site. This way, they can prescribe an antibiotic specifically created to kill that particular type of bacteria instead of just using a broad-spectrum antibiotic which will kill all bacteria, including the good types.
Any significant changes in your dog’s behavior
While this isn’t technically a bump, it’s worth noting here. An important thing to monitor during your pet’s recovery process is their behavior. Is your dog lethargic? Does it seem like it hurts them when you touch the incision? Are they refusing to eat or drink for an extended period of time? Are they aggressive, withdrawn or hiding, or protective of the incision site? Any of these behavioral changes can be a sign that something’s not right in the healing process, and warrant a call to your veterinarian.
One of the best things you can do to ensure your dog’s incision is healing properly is to take a photo of it every day, in the same spot, under the same lighting. This will allow you to easily track any changes, as well as collect photos to send to your veterinarian if needed. If something doesn’t look right, listen to your gut and call your veterinarian’s office for an expert opinion. When it comes to your beloved pet’s health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.