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Head Lumps and Bumps on a Dog [Top Reasons]

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This article was updated on September 17th, 2023

There are so many important structures on dogs’ heads that lumps and bumps here can be especially worrying. But when should you worry and when is it ok just to keep an eye on a lump? In this article we’ll review the common lumps and bumps we see on dogs’ heads in the clinic.

What are the top reasons for lumps and bumps on dogs’ heads?

1. Head bump called the “Occiput”

Occasionally, my patients are worried by the lumps on their dog’s skull – which can simply be part of the normal dog’s anatomy. These include the sagittal crest and ‘external occipital protuberance’ (occiput), which are prominent in some breeds. Always check these areas are symmetrical, and if you’re still worried ask your vet to check them for you or read our article about the Dog Occiput (FAQ About This Bump On Your Dog’s Head):

owner with hand on dog head's bump
The location of the dog occiput

2. Cysts

Cysts are common, especially in older dogs, and can often be seen on their heads. Different cysts vary in appearance but they’re usually non-painful, slow growing and either on or within the skin but freely moveable over underlying tissues. They’re filled with fluid or thicker greasy material from glands in the skin. They don’t usually need treatment unless they rupture and cause inflammation; this can be cured by surgery. Read our article about Cysts on a Dog’s Head.

3. Insect bites or stings

In summer we commonly see dogs come in with acute onset, localized puffy swelling due to bites and stings. These are especially common on the face as dogs usually explore things head first! If the swelling is substantial, you’re worried their eyes or airway, or you notice other symptoms it’s worth seeing your vet. Mild reactions usually settle over a few days.

mosquitoe on dog's hair

4. Warts or Adenomas

Warts present as small ‘cauliflower like’ lumps on the skin of younger dogs, typically on the face and paws; they’re caused by a virus and usually resolve over several weeks to months. 

wart closeup on a dog

The warts on the picture below are pink, furless, and slightly raised, just above the dog’s nose:

pink, furless warts on a dog's face, just above the nose
Warts on a dog’s face just above the nose

5. Tumors

A range of skin tumors can affect the skin of the head, including malignant mast cell tumors (which have a very variable appearance) and benign lumps like sebaceous adenomas (‘old dog warts’). Histiocytomas are commonly seen on the head, neck, ears and legs in young dogs and appear as aggressive, rapidly growing, red, hairless and often inflamed small lumps; however, this tumor is benign and usually resolves over 2-3 months. If you notice any new lump that persists for more than a few weeks, it’s worth discussing it with your vet.

lump looking like mast cell tumor

6. Skin tags

These small, fleshy growths can be pink, tan or pigmented and grow from the surface of the skin. They’re benign and often accumulate with age.

skin tag on dog
A skin tag

7. Infections

Abscesses on the head present as painful, swollen ‘lumps’, often secondary to an initial small wound or foreign body. They usually develop over a few days and may ooze discharge.

Dermatitis can also cause an itchy, ‘bumpy’ rash, while an infected ‘hot spot’ may present as a larger bump of dried discharge and thickened skin. 

8. Trauma

Trauma can cause bruising and ‘cellulitis’ – inflammation of tissues in and under the skin. This may settle over a few days but if your dog has experienced significant trauma it’s worth getting them checked by your vet, especially if infection may be present.

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Signs that you need to see your veterinarian

Any lump that persists for more than a few weeks should be checked, although warts in young dogs can be monitored for a little longer. In older dogs, lumps should be checked sooner rather than later.

Lumps that grow rapidly or become inflamed are more concerning.

Infections also need treating quickly as they can progress rapidly.

What will happen at the vet

The vet may be able to make a diagnosis based on their examination. Otherwise, they may take a fine needle aspirate (small needle sample) of any lumps to check for cyst contents and to examine cells under a microscope for a more definitive diagnosis; this usually costs $150-200. 

Treatments include medication for inflammatory or infectious lumps and frequently surgery if a malignant tumor is identified.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.


  • Dr. Primrose Moss, Vet Surgeon

    Dr. Moss graduated from the prestigious University of Cambridge in England with a Bachelor's of Veterinary Medicine and a Master's in Zoology. She is currently a veterinary surgeon at Avonvale Veterinary Centres in the UK. Her aim is to provide reliable and accessible information to pet owners, enabling them to make better informed decisions about their pets' care.

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