This article was updated on September 17th, 2023
White lumps and bumps might seem unusual. However, as a veterinarian, I have seen them more often than you might think. In this article, I will explain the most common causes, with pictures to help you understand what might be going on with your dog.
White bumps: what does the color “white” mean?
A white bump on a dog could indicate various conditions, including a skin infection, a cyst, pimple, or pustule, and should be examined by a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
You should consult your vet if you notice a new lump that persists or grows rapidly, or if a lump causes irritation or pain. These signs indicate that a white lump could be more concerning.
Top causes of white bumps
1. Skin infections
Bacterial skin infections (pyoderma) are a common cause of little white bumps (pustules). They can occur anywhere, either in a focal area or diffusely.
With skin infections, dogs will usually be itchy or sore and you’ll likely notice some redness of the skin. Infections can occur in skin folds, or as a result of scrapes grazes or conditions like allergies.
Infections may also result in an abscess, especially if a foreign body like a grass seed is present. These appear as large white or reddened, inflamed lumps, usually developing over a few days. They’re usually painful when touched and may ooze pus. Abscesses often require drainage and your dog may need to be sedated for the area to be flushed out.
2. Cysts filled with white material
Cysts are benign lumps that develop within the skin, often growing slowly larger over time and appearing as a visible bump on the surface of the skin. They’re filled with thick white, yellow, brown or grey material, which may be seen oozing out if they rupture.
Several types of cysts exist including follicular and sebaceous cysts, and the exact appearance can vary but they’re usually non-painful, relatively firm and range from blueish white to pink in color. These lumps are very common, especially in our older patients.
On the picture below, a cyst looks like a round and elevated pale white bump that is smooth and has a small area of black pigment (this could also be a blocked hair follicle):
It’s best to get your vet to check any lump you suspect of being a cyst – they can take a small sample to confirm it contains material consistent with a cyst. Usually cysts don’t require any treatment, but surgery is usually curative if they’re causing irritation.
Learn more about the different types of cysts in dogs (with pictures).
3. White warts, skin tags and other benign lumps
Various small benign growths can develop on dogs’ skin, including warts (primarily in young dogs on the feet and muzzle) and skin tags. Warts, caused by papillomaviruses, are usually ‘cauliflower like’ and can be white, whiteish, pink, tan or more pigmented in color. They usually resolve on their own over several weeks to months.
Skin tags can be seen on any dog and are often common in older patients – they’re usually soft, fleshy and relatively small and can be a white or pink color, as shown on the picture below:
Warts are typically found in young dogs and the ‘warts’ often seen in older dogs are usually a different type of benign lump like a sebaceous adenoma – these are benign and don’t usually cause a problem but will persist, unlike true warts.
You shouldn’t attempt to remove these kinds of lump at home and they usually don’t need any treatment at all – if your dog has any kind of persistent new lump, however, it’s worth getting a vet to rule out any more unpleasant cause. Learn more about skin tags & warts or “It is a wart or a skin tag?“.
We do unfortunately see a range of malignant tumors that can have very variable appearances, including sometimes appearing as white bumps – especially early on. These include soft tissue sarcomas and mast cell tumors.
Malignant lumps more commonly appear as rapidly growing, often inflamed lumps – especially in the case of mast cell tumors – but any new lump should be checked to rule out a malignant tumor, especially if it’s growing rapidly. Learn more about Tumors in Dogs.
5. Corns on paws (keratomas)
These proliferations of keratin-producing cells on the pads usually appear as firm, raised white bumps on the bottom of the pads. They typically occur in sighthounds like Greyhounds and are usually painful if pressed, causing lameness. They’re benign but typically progress to cause further pain, so treatment is recommended.
Ticks are common parasites that can appear as white bumps on the skin similar to a skin tag. You should check your dog after walks and if you suspect a tick look for small black legs near the surface of the skin. Ticks should be removed as soon as you spot them.
Learn more about ticks and how to remove them.
Lipomas are incredibly common benign fatty lumps that develop under the skin. They’re usually soft, moveable, non-painful, slow growing and well demarcated. They don’t affect the overlying skin but you may notice a bulge associated with one growing beneath the skin. Surgical removal is curative but often isn’t required.
View more pictures of lipomas.
Signs that you need to see your veterinarian
A veterinarian should check out any new lump on your dog to make sure it’s not malignant, but the following lumps are particularly concerning:
- Persistent new lump
- Lumps that grow rapidly
- Lumps that cause irritation or pain
What will happen at the vet
Your vet will often be able to advise you of the likely cause based on their clinical examination, especially if something like an infection is responsible. If there’s a growth present, they may recommend a fine needle aspirate to take a small sample to be assessed under the microscopy for a more definitive diagnosis. This usually costs $150-$250. Learn more: diagnosing lumps in dogs with FNAs and biopsies.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.