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Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer

What Causes Skin Cancer In Dogs

Attention dog owners: your pet can get skin cancer too

The causes of any cancer are usually tough to determine. Mast cell tumors, squamous cell carcinomas, and other tumors are caused by cell damage, which accumulates over the years and increases your pets risk gradually.

Unsurprisingly, skin cancers are often associated with damage to the skin, though not usually the damage that comes with normal bumps and bruises. Malignant melanoma is usually associated with exposure to the sun, for example. There may be no one event that can be pointed to as the reason a dog may get skin cancer.

Statistically, dogs between 6 and 10 years of age are the most likely to develop one of several kinds of skin cancers. Cancer is generally rarer in a younger pet. On the other end of the scale, a malignant tumor would already have grown on an older dogs skin if it was going to.

Risk factors can include a variety of things, for example:

  • Genetics.
  • Exposure to chemicals.

Symptoms Of Dog Skin Cancer

The most obvious symptoms of skin cancer in dogs are lumps or bumps on the surface of the skin. The type and location of the cancer determines its appearance:

  • Melanoma A mole-like growth up to 2.5 inches in diameter can be red, brown, black or grey and occurs on the mouth and feet.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma Wart-like in appearance, frequently occurring on the abdomen, genitals and feet.
  • Mast cell tumor Visible lumps, usually on the trunk or legs may ulcerate, causing open sores that can bleed.

Vulnerable areas include the nose, ears, muzzle, mouth, paw pads, and nail beds. Depending on the location of the growth, your dog may limp or excessively scratch and lick the affected area stop this behavior by getting a cone of shame, as it can lead to infection and further inflammation.

These growths can be benign or malignant, so have any unusual spots checked by your vet. Skin cancer in dogs is commonly misdiagnosed as an infected cut, especially when it occurs on the paws and nail beds.

Risk Factors For Pet Skin Cancer

The exact cause of skin cancer is unknown, and each type of cancer develops differently. There are several factors that can predispose your pet to skin cancer.

  • Age
  • Hormonal dysfunction
  • Breed, including Basset Hounds, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Samoyeds, Shih Tzus, Huskies, and West Highland White Terriers.
  • Sun exposure plays a role in certain skin cancers, especially if your pet has light skin and fur.
  • Indoor pets can be at risk of skin cancer if they are in the above-mentioned categories. Indoor cats who sunbathe in rays coming through the windows are soaking up UVA and UVB rays.
  • For cats, high altitude is also a risk factor for squamous cell carcinomas.

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What Skin Cancer Looks Like On A Dog

Early stage dog skin cancer can be particularly challenging for pet parents to detect since tumors can appear as small lumps or bumps, but they also be hairless, discolored patches, rashes, or ulcers that stubbonely refuse to heal. The diverse nature of skin tumors means that identifying skin cancers should be left to a veterinarian.

If you come across something suspicious on your dog’s skin, call your vet right away to book an examination for your pup. When it comes to your pet’s health, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. The early detection and treatment of serious diseases can often be the key to good treatment outcomes for our pets.

What Are The Treatment Options For Skin Cancer In Dogs

Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer Pictures

At LakeCross Veterinary Hospital, we provide oncology services for dogs and other pets with cancer. Prognosis will depend on your dogs unique set of circumstances.

After assessing your dog and performing diagnostic tests, your vet will determine the proper treatment for your dogs skin cancer depending on the type of tumor and its location. Depending on how far it has progressed, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other types of therapies or drugs may be options.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your vet. Have you spotted a bump or lump on your dog’s skin? At LakeCross Veterinary Hospital, our Huntersville vets can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. today.

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How To Care For A Dog With Skin Cancer

It may go without saying, but the best way to care for a dog with skin cancer is to take it to a veterinarian. As weve discussed, the treatments can be pretty aggressive. A veterinarian has the training and experience to apply them in an effective way.

There are some alternative treatments that people recommend. Discussing options with a vet is, again, probably the best way to go. You can also do some things to make your furry friend more comfortable, both before and after treatment.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Health

Spotting the signs of skin cancer while the disease is still in the early stages is the key to good treatment outcomes. Familiarizing yourself with all your dogs lumps, bumps, and rashes, during your regular grooming routine, as well as visiting your vet for routine wellness exams can help to catch skin cancers in the early stages.

Whenever you notice an unexplained or unusual lump or bump on your dog, or if you notice swelling around your dog’s toes consult your veterinarian. When it comes to your pet’s health it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Note:The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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Factors Causing Skin Cancer


Sunlight is a major factor in the cause of skin cancer in many dogs. Short-haired or light-haired dogs dont have much protection when theyre outside playing under the sunny sky. Even dogs with a good coat of fur have places on their body that are less protected, such as their nose or belly.


There is a large genetic factor that plays a role to determine if your dog will develop skin cancer, so do your research to see if your dogs breed is more susceptible.

Compulsive Licking

Its believed that compulsive licking can cause cells to reproduce faster increasing the likelihood of cancer-causing mutations. If your dog is suffering from hotspots that are causing itchiness and irritation, consider using an oatmeal bath or cooling sprays to help reduce his need to lick.


Some viruses, such as the papillomavirus can cause squamous cell carcinomas. Papillomavirus causes warts around the mouth of your dog and is transmitted through contact of the infected saliva.

Secondhand Smoke

Its well documented that smoking is bad for the human body, but secondhand smoke can also be dangerous for your dog! Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral squamous cell carcinoma in dogs.

Symptoms Of Skin Cancers In Dogs

How To Detect Dog Skin Cancer

Skin tumors are certainly the most obvious symptom of this disease, but they are not the only side effect to look for. Many other symptoms signify your dog might have one of the types of skin cancer, including:

  • Unexplainable inflammation
  • Total disinterest in playtime
  • No excitement surrounding walks

Additionally, did you know that a weakened immune system can contribute to higher rates of skin cancer in dogs? If your dog is immunocompromised for any reason, it won’t hurt to have your dog checked for possible skin tumors more frequently, just for the sake of erring on the side of caution.

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What Can Cause Skin Cancer In Dogs

The factor number one is genetics. If other dogs from that specific litter had skin cancer, your dog is more likely to develop it too. But also, like we already stated, some breeds are more prone than others. But there are also a number of other factors that can cause skin cancer in dogs. Such as exposure to the sun, chemicals, some virus infections and hormonal abnormalities.

Clinical Trials For Dogs With Skin Cancer

Since many of the same treatments that work on humans also work on dogs, advances in medical science have benefited our furry friends. While still being researched, there are a few treatments that have been effective.


Cancer cells started out as regular dog cells, and as a result, the dogs body has a hard time telling them apart. A tumor can also suppress your dogs immune system.

Immunotherapy focuses on supporting the dogs immune system and helping it target the cancer cells . At the moment, immunotherapies are still being evaluated for dogs. Its pretty cutting edge and may not be available everywhere and limited to only a few types of cancer, including melanomas.


It may seem a little mad scientist, but adding electric shocks actually does help. In some cases, chemotherapy treatments can be combined with electric shocks . As a result, the barrier that divides cancer cells from the rest of the body and can block the chemotherapy drugs becomes more permeable.

This treatment has found some success with mast cell tumors, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.

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Skin Cancer Treatment Options

A diagnosis of cancer for your dog is scary. Many types of skin cancer are treatable if caught early on, but it is understandable to feel worried.

Your dogs prognosis and treatment options will depend on a few factors, including the type of tumor, the location of the tumor, and the stage of the cancer.

Some skin tumors can be removed surgically to great effect. Others may require additional steps, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Some types of cancer, for example malignant melanomas, are resistant to radiation therapy, while others, such as mast cell tumors, are more sensitive. Your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinarian oncologist when you have a cancer diagnosis. Veterinary oncologists have advanced training in cancer treatment.

How Do I Protect My Dog From Sunburn And Sun

Should you be worried about Skin Cancer on your Dog ...

Avoid letting your pet out in the sun at times of peak UV intensity, usually between 10am or 3pm, either by keeping them inside or ensuring that they remain in a well-shaded spot. If that is not possible, use sunscreen to protect their skin. Look for a specially formulated canine sun cream as these will be the safest and most effective, but if you are unable to find this, opt for one suitable for human babies instead. Check that it is fragrance-free, comes without an ingestion warnings, is non-staining and of an SPF of at least 15, ideally 30. Ingredients such as zinc, which are found in many adult sun creams, can be toxic to dogs if licked off and swallowed. Apply sunscreen liberally and reapply during sun exposure.

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Diagnosing Dog Skin Cancer

To diagnose dog skin cancer, your vet will need a sample from the suspicious area. Samples may be taken using fine needle aspiration which takes a small sample of the turmor’s cells to examine, or a biopsy which will allow your vet to take a portion of the tumor’s tissue for examination. Your pup’s tissue samples will then be sent to a lab to be analyzed in order to provide an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s condition.

If skin cancer is confirmed, your vet may recommend additional diagnostic testing to help determine the extent of your dog’s cancer as well as to optimize treatment and provide you with a more accurate prognosis.

Treatment Options For Dog Skin Cancer

The treatment depends upon the type of tumor and its location.

Surgery is often the first step for malignant melanomas. If the melanoma cannot be removed in its entirety or if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, radiation is commonly used. In these situations, the cancer may go into remission nearly 70% of the time, though recurrence is common. Chemotherapy is often used in combination with surgery and/or radiation therapy. There is also a vaccine that causes the dogs own immune system to attack tumor cells, which often successfully extends the survival time of dogs with oral melanoma.

Squamous cell carcinomas can often be removed surgically, with no need for radiation or chemotherapy. If the tumors occur in inoperable locations, photodynamic therapy and the use of a drug called piroxicam may be beneficial.

Dog mast cell tumors are best treated by surgical removal with or without radiation therapy, depending on the size and location of the skin cancer. Based on the grade of the cancer and the degree to which it has spread, chemotherapy and/or steroids may be used, as well.

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Undifferentiated And Anaplastic Sarcomas

These are cancers of mesenchymal cells. Mesenchymal cells are the cells that develop into connective tissues, blood, lymph nodes, and other organs. Cancers of mesenchymal cells are difficult to identify because, like the mesenchymal cells themselves, malignant forms of these cells are loosely organized and often undeveloped or undifferentiated. Once identified, surgery is the usual treatment. When removing these cancerous cells, the veterinarian will usually remove not only the visible tumor but also a wide margin of tissue surrounding it. This reduces the chance that the malignancy will recur.

What Are The Signs Of Scc

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Typically, these lesions are found in light-skinned areas and can be highly variable in their appearance. It may look like a small area of irritated, red, or ulcerated skin. Alternatively, there could be plaques or crusts that develop over the region. SCC lesions of the toe or nail bed tend to be red, irritated, bothersome, and ulcerated. Dogs may even lose nails on the affected toes.

Lesions of the skin or nose may become dry, irritated, and bothersome for your pet. The lesion may get larger, spread, and ulcerate which can be very painful as well. Your pet should not be allowed to scratch, lick, or bite the area.

SCC of the toe can be very painful. Your pet may be reluctant to go for walks, and you may notice blood on the floor or on your dogs toes. Your dog may attempt to lick or chew the affected toe aggressively and you may notice missing toe nails. These lesions are typically painful, and your veterinarian may prescribe pain medications. Secondary infection is also possible for which antibiotics may be required.

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Basal Cell Tumors And Carcinomas

Basal cells lie at the base of the top layer of the skin . A benign growth of these cells is a basal cell tumor. A malignant growth is a basal cell carcinoma.

Basal cell tumors are common in dogs and most are benign. Canine basal cell tumors most commonly develop in middle-aged to older dogs. Many breeds are predisposed, especially Wirehaired Pointing Griffons and Kerry Blue and Wheaten Terriers. These tumors are found most commonly on the head , the neck, and forelimbs. These tumors generally appear as firm, solitary, dome-shaped elevated masses, which are often hairless or ulcerated. The lumps may stick out like stalks from the skin surface. They vary in size from less than 0.4 inches to more than 4 inches in diameter. These tumors are sometimes dark in color. Cysts may also form. Although basal cell tumors are benign, they can be large and may cause extensive ulceration and secondary inflammation. These tumors can break the skin, cause the death of skin tissue, and drain fluid or pus. The dog is often uncomfortable. Surgical removal is effective treatment and reduces the chance of secondary infection and inflammation.

Can I Put Sunscreen On My Dog

Human sunscreen is not safe for dogs, so sadly its not as simple as sharing a bit of your own sunscreen with your furry buddy. Most of the SPF products we use contain ingredients that are poisonous to animals. For example, zinc oxide is a powerful active ingredient in most mineral-based sunscreens. Its FDA approved and completely safe for humans, but its toxic for dogs.

Luckily, there are many sunscreens and other sun-protective products specifically formulated for dogs. Lets look at a few of them.

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How Can You Tell If A Spot Is Cancerous

Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a mole. Color that spreads from the border of a spot into surrounding skin. Itching, pain, or tenderness in an area that doesnt go away or goes away then comes back. Changes in the surface of a mole: oozing, scaliness, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump.

Survival Statistics For Oral Melanoma: 1

Why does my dog scratch so much?
  • Dogs with untreated oral melanoma have an average survival time of 65 days
  • For dogs treated with surgery alone, average survival times range from 5-17 months and 1-year survival rates range from 21%-27%
  • For dogs treated with radiation therapy, the response rate ranges from 83%-100% and survival times range from 211-363 days
  • Response rates with traditional chemotherapy are low
  • Preliminary results from Merial vaccine studies report that dogs with advanced oral melanoma that receive the vaccine survive for an average of 224-389 days. This survival time improves to nearly 600 days if the dog undergoes surgery or radiation therapy to control the primary tumor.

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The Costs Of Canine Cancer

A cancer diagnosis and treatment is one of the most costly situations youll have to face as a pet parent, both in terms of the emotional toll and financial obligations. The full treatment plan ranges between $6,000-10,000, on average.

If you fear your dog may develop cancer one day and you dont want to have to decide between your wallet and treating your furry friend, investing in pet insurance is a wise option.

As long as you have pet insurance in place before your dog becomes sick, many of the best pet insurance providers will cover a portion of the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for expensive surgery, radiation, and other treatments. This way you can focus on getting your pup healthy without worrying about how youre going to pay for his care.

Have you ever had to face dog cancer before?


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