Lipomas in Dogs: An Unconventional Approach
You are petting your dog and you feel a weird lump. You get worried and schedule an appointment with your vet. The vet takes a sample of the lump, looks under the microscope, and finds fat cells: Turns out, your pet has a Lipoma.
What is a lipoma?
A lipoma is a benign fatty tumor that is one of the most common soft tissue lumps in dogs. Cats get them sometimes as well, but less often.
As your dog gets older, you may notice more of these soft lumps. Sometimes, they grow so big that they become heavy and impede walking (mainly because of their size and weight). In these cases, surgery becomes the best option for removing these lumps.
However, for the most part, lipomas are harmless (a very, very small percentage can become locally aggressive).
Despite the fact that the large majority of these lumps are benign and cause no problems, sometimes as a pet owner, you just don’t like it. It looks bad, people ask you about it, or it just makes you worry.
So if you were ever curious of how to get rid of lipomas without resorting to surgery, then keep reading…
Conventional Lipoma Treatment For Dogs
When I started doing some research for this article, I spent some time reading through veterinary forums (a place where veterinarians share their experience and advice with other veterinarians).
I was actually surprised that common veterinary advice includes exercise and weight loss as part of a lipoma treatment strategy.
The reason that I was surprised is because many of the dogs I see with lipomas are not overweight.
It is true that perhaps with weight loss, some of the fat from the lipoma is also decreased, but I have never seen weight loss alone get rid of large lipomas. Diet can make a difference (as I will discuss in a minute), but not necessarily a diet that focuses on weight loss.
The most common treatment for lipomas in traditional medicine is going to be: surgery. Once a lipoma gets big enough and is causing discomfort for the dog, this is probably a good way to go.
However, if the lipoma is not causing discomfort, then there are other strategies you can try first!
Holistic Approach For Treating Lipomas In Dogs
When asking holistic veterinarians what they use for lipomas, one of the common sentiments you will hear is: Everything works sometime, not every treatment works every time.
In other words, you might have to try a few of these strategies before you find the right one. And even though in some cases it will not work, these are all largely safe and easy things to try.
Holistically Speaking, What Is A Lipoma?
Let’s take a look at lipomas from a Chinese Medicine perspective.
In Chinese Medicine, there are energetic pathways that circulate throughout the body called meridians (these are the lines that connect the dots in the picture below).
Each organ, has its own meridian. There is one that goes through the liver, one for the lung, etc.
Sometimes, things can get stuck along a meridian. One of those things that gets stuck is what ancient Chinese medicine calls: phlegm. According to Chinese Medicine, when phlegm gets stuck on a meridian, it can turn into a tumor, nodule or lipoma.
While “phlegm” in Chinese Medicine is metaphorical (meaning, you are not going to actually pull out phlegm from a lipoma), it still has many of the same properties that we associate with phlegm: It is moist, damp, and sticky.
So this leads us to the two approaches to treating lipomas in Chinese Medicine: You either gotta 1) move the phlegm through the meridian in order to get rid of it or 2) you gotta dry it out.
And depending on what caused it, one approach might work better than another.
What Created The Phlegm?
A lot of things can trigger the formation of “phlegm” in the body. Phlegm is caused by poor digestion, cold foods, excess dairy, sugar or refined starches and carbohydrates in the diet, molds, toxins, second-hand smoke, medications, or other environmental factors.
The phlegm is also stuck in one place. This stagnation of energy, according to Chinese Medicine, is often caused by excess cold, frustration, anxiety, trauma, and decreased nerve and blood flow.
In Chinese Medicine, different foods have different effects on the body. Some foods are more likely to create dampness and can lead to phlegm accumulation. We all know, in conventional medicine and from our own experience, that milk and cheese can create more phlegm in our bodies. If you consume a lot of dairy while you have a cold, you may notice the phlegm getting worse.
Here are examples of other foods that can create dampness in our bodies: Bananas, cheese, egg yolks, fatty meats, fried food and highly processed food in general. Raw food can also create more dampness in the body.
In other words, a lot of what we feed our dogs: processed food, fatty meats and even raw food diets. Raw food diets can be beneficial for dogs in many ways. However, in certain dogs with a predisposition to dampness, they can create symptoms of dampness, such as a lipoma.
Holistically Removing Lipomas In Dogs
According to Chinese Medicine, there are two ways to get rid of a lipoma. One is to move the stuck dampness through the meridian. The other is going to be to dry it out. Let’s take a look at ways to move the energy first.
Moving Treatments For Lipomas In Dogs
A treatment that moves energy can also move physical aspects such as blood and bile through the liver and body.
There are a few ways to move stuck and stagnant energy:
- Acupuncture/ Acupressure/ Massage
The general consensus among holistic veterinarians is that acupuncture, in and of itself, is a pretty weak treatment when it comes to lipomas.
Some veterinarians, however, have reported success with placing an acupuncture needle in the center of the lipoma and using Moxa (a dried herb) on it. This is generally not something you can do at home, but something you can talk to your holistic vet about!
There have been some case studies and anecdotal evidence of acupressure and massage decreasing the size of lipomas. This makes sense: you are moving the energy and opening things up. Here is a link to an article from Whole Dog Journal with an acupressure success story: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/cancer/best-treatment-options-for-canine-lipomas/
At the Tallgrass Acupressure Institute, students can learn the various techniques of using acupressure for pets. However, you can also start by gently applying pressure and massaging these common “phlegm moving” acupuncture points on your pet:
Another great resource for acupressure is Dr. Cheryl Schwartz’s book: Four Paws, Five Directions. This is one of my favorite books for introducing pet owners understanding Chinese medicine for pets.
In addition to these methods, even gentle massage around the lipoma and tissues leading from the spine to the lipoma can help! This helps to loosen up any tight muscles or knots that may be contributing to the lack of energetic movement in that area.
- Chinese Herbs
There are a few Chinese herbal formulas for treating lipomas. Among holistic veterinarians, these are the two most common formulas used. They are both “moving” herbs, with Stasis Breaker being the stronger formula of the two.
Statis Breaker: This is a formula made by a popular Veterinary Chinese Herbal company: Jing Tang.
It is not available directly to pet owners, but fortunately almost all holistic veterinarians that use Chinese Herbs will have this brand and this particular herb combination. This is a strong “moving” herb! It works fairly quickly (anywhere from 4-8 weeks), but can be too strong for some older, debilitated animals. This is a good choice for younger and middle-aged dogs.
Talk with your holistic veterinarian about which formula is better for your pet.
Max’s Formula: This formula, made by the same company, is better for older and weaker pets.
Fun fact: It was originally made for a dog named Max!
It does take a little longer to work (~10-12 weeks to start seeing improvement), but can be a great formula for older pets with any kind of tumors/nodules/lipomas. I would say my success rate has been around 50% with these herbs (a general observation). In half of patients, the lipomas dissolve or get smaller, and in the other half, there is no change.
It is good to get a measurement of the lipoma with a measuring tape before you begin treatment and wait out the full recommended time period before you decide if the herbs are helping or not. But the good news is that the herbs are safe and easy to try (certainly safer and cheaper than surgery!).
Another great supplement is turmeric.
Turmeric powder (needs to be Curcuma Longa – beware of cheap substitutes!) can be a great moving herb for lipomas. It also has some drying properties.
Always START SLOW, and gradually work up to final dose. Mix this herb with your dog’s food. This is also a great herb for arthritis!
When using powder (this is NOT the dose for concentrated extract, such as that found in capsules or tablets!) – you can give 1/4 teaspoon to small dogs, 1/2 teaspoon to medium sized dogs, or 1 teaspoon to large dogs.
You can also sprinkle in some black pepper and a small amount (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) of coconut oil which improve absorption of the turmeric!
But watch out – turmeric may stain your hands and clothes yellow.
Not all lipomas respond to turmeric, but give it about 10 weeks before you decide if you see a difference.
- Chiropractic and Spinal Adjustments
Some veterinarians have seen lipomas disappear with chiropractic and spinal adjustments! This makes sense, given that the “channel” or meridian is blocked. By opening up the spinal nerve and blood flow, the body is able to move the fat out!
Drying Treatments For Lipomas in Dogs
The second approach to lipomas, is to according to Chinese medicine, to dry them out!
We talked a minute ago about how lipomas are caused by too much metaphorical “phlegm” buildup in the body. “Phlegm” is created by too much dampness. Damp foods, damp environment, mold in the house, etc.
There can also be too much dampness in the animal’s body caused by improper digestion. An animal with a sensitive stomach prone to diarrhea is an example of an animal with too much dampness. These animal’s respond well to “drying” treatments such as these:
- Baked Food
Interestingly enough, one of the common ways to “dry out” a lipoma, is to add baked food into the diet! This can include things like: baked meats or sweet potatoes.
Interesting anecdote: I once met a pet owner who had 3 Schnauzers. This is a breed that is prone to developing lipomas. The owner told me that a few months prior, he had switched all the dogs to a “baked” dog food (in this case, it happened to be the dog food brand: Lotus), and all their lipomas disappeared!
Now, at the same time, the downside of too much baked food is dry skin. So you may still want to add some sources of damp, but beneficial, omega-rich foods such as Sardines or raw egg yolk if you are feeding only baked food.
- Damp Draining Food
In Chinese medicine, certain foods are known to dissolve phlegm and dampness.
Foods that dissolve phlegm include almonds, clams, apples, pears, oranges, ginger, radish, kelp, and seaweed.
In small amounts, these are all safe to give to pets. Many people give peanut butter to their dogs, but perhaps almond butter would be a better alternative!
Other foods that drain damp specifically include ginger, parsley, and asparagus. These are all safe to give your pet in small amounts.
- Chinese Pearled Barley/ Job’s Tears
Some holistic veterinarians swear by Chinese Pearled Barley for treating lipomas!
You can likely find it at Asian supermarkets and other places that sell international and ethnic food. It is also available online.
Chinese pearled barley, also known as coix seeds and Job’s tears is not the same thing as regular pearled barley. Here is an image I found on a website that shows the difference visually:
Here are some links to buy it online:
Chinese pearled barley needs to be cooked for at least 45 minutes.
To increase the convenience of feeding the barley, it might be easiest to make up a batch over the weekend and feed throughout the week.
For a small dog: Give 1 tablespoon cooked Chinese Pearled Barley daily
For a medium sized dog: Give 2 tablespoons cooked Chinese Pearled Barley daily
For a large sized dog: Give 3-4 tablespoons cooked Chinese Pearled Barley daily
Mix with meals and include something tasty that can coat the barley (cooked meats, canned tripe, sardines, canned dog food, etc.). Often dogs will not eat carbohydrates when fed alone.
- Digestive Enzymes
This last therapy is not technically “drying.” However, enzymes help us digest our food more efficiently. In Chinese medicine, as I mentioned above, poor and improper digestion and predispose us to developing signs of phlegm and dampness in our bodies.
By being able to efficiently digest and absorb our meals, this can decrease the amount of phlegm that forms in the body.
Interestingly enough, some holistic veterinarians have seen lipomas shrink by adding digestive and pancreatic enzymes into the diet!
Here are some options of digestive enzymes you can try:
Even if they don’t dissolve the lipoma, digestive enzymes are a great supportive treatment for all pets!
So there you have it!
Just some easy, natural suggestions for ways to help your dog’s body process food better and dissolve lipomas on its own.
Would love to know your experiences with these or any other treatments you have tried! Feel free to comment below about anything that has worked for your pet.
Thank you for reading.
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