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Bowen’s Disease in Dogs: Why Early Diagnosis is Urgent

Bowen’s Disease (or Bowen-Like Disease) is a disordered growth (tumor) of the epidermis. The epidermis is the top layer of skin.

The growth affects pigmented areas of skin and typically occurs at multiple sites. There could even be oral or mouth lesions. When these tumors occur in multiple sites on the dog, it’s known as multicentric squamous cell carcinoma. This is what’s known as Bowen’s Disease.

Have you noticed an unusual wound-like area on your four-legged friend? If so, it may be a type of cancer. You can find cancerous skin lesions in various parts of the bod

It is always advisable to get unusual health-related developments checked out at your veterinarian’s office.

This is especially true if you have older dogs since cancer cells tend to develop more often than they do on young dogs.

Catch cancer at an early stage and you can increase your pet’s life expectancy. We’ll explain exactly what Bowen’s disease is, how it’s diagnosed and how it’s treated.

About Bowen’s Disease

Skin consists of several layers of cells, and the squamous layer is at the top. Squamous cells are flat and scale-like cells. Sometimes these cells form cancer tumors called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

This form of skin cancer can form wherever squamous cells exist. These areas of the body include the nasal planum and other parts of your dog’s nose, as well as his ears, back, abdomen, paw pads and nail bed.

What is this disease?

When these cancer cells are confined to the skin’s outer layer, the condition is called squamous cell carcinoma in situ, or Bowen’s Disease. This condition is not very serious, but it can turn into invasive squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.

You’ll find SCC in situ in just one solitary lesion on your pet.

However, if you find more than one cancerous lesion, the condition is then called multi-centric squamous cell carcinoma. As long as the cancer is still on the outer layer of the skin and has not invaded the skin, your vet will be able to keep the cancer under control.

What causes SCC in situ?

It’s not clear what causes dogs to develop SCC other than perhaps a mixture of genetic, hereditary or environmental factors and lots of sun exposure. Papilloma-like viruses may contribute to a dog developing this condition in the mouth.

Is SCC in situ hereditary?

SCC in situ is not hereditary in humans. When it comes to dogs, though, it can be said that particular breeds are at a higher risk for developing this cancer than other breeds are.

Having light skin and spending lots of time in the sun are also risk factors for your fur baby. You will want to check your pet’s skin periodically, especially if he is in a high-risk category.

squamous cell carcinoma in dogs must be treated before it becomes invasive.

Breeds More Prone to Bowen’s Disease

Dog breeds more likely to develop this cancer include:

  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Poodles
  • Boxer Dogs
  • Pekingese
  • Scottish Terriers

Dogs with light-colored skin and a sparse amount of light-colored hair also develop SCC more often than some other breeds .

These include:

  • Bull Terriers
  • Whippets
  • Beagles
  • Dalmatians

Large-breed, dark-coated dogs such as Rottweilers and Labrador Retrievers tend to develop this cancer too, but usually in their toes.

Diagnosing SCC in Situ

Early detection of skin cancer, coupled with a caring, competent veterinarian, will give your dog the best chance for survival. You’ll need to do your part by learning what problematic skin lesions look like and contacting your veterinarian whenever you find something abnormal.

What does SCC in situ look like?

You may discover SCC on one or more of your dog’s light-skinned areas.

The appearance of SCC can be red, irritated, ulcerated or crusted over. When the abnormality is just a small red area, the cancer does not grow very fast and it has not invaded the skin.

If a lump or ulcer has developed on that patch, your pet’s cancer may have progressed to invasaive squamous cell cancer.

Your pet could have one of many other skin conditions. Actinic keratosis presents as a rough, scaly patch. These can turn into squamous cell skin cancer. Basset Hounds commonly get cutaneous squamous cell carinomas (cSCC).

Your pet could have basal cell carcinoma. Basal cells and basal cell tumors act pretty much the same as SCC. You could also mistake mast cell tumors for other lesions.

Your dog’s mucous membranes (inside their cheeks and gums) should be pink. If the cheeks and gums are blue or purple, check your dog’s footpad color. Make a veterinary appointment if the footpads have also turned a bluish color.

Your pet may simply have follicular cysts.

A cutaneous horn, on the other hand, would actually appear like a horn. You’ll need to take your pet to your veterinarian whenever you find skin problems on your pet.

What are the symptoms of SCC?

Symptoms of SCC in your pet’s mouth include:

  • loose teeth
  • bleeding from the mouth
  • excessive salivation
  • nasal discharge
  • sneezing
  • facial deformity
  • loss of appetite and weight loss. Over time, an untreated mouth cancer will grow to a size that will make it impossible for your fur baby to eat.

If your dog develops SCC lesions in his nail bed or toe, you’ll notice that his foot is bothering him.

He may want to lay around and aggressively chew or lick his toes instead of going for walks. When you investigate the bothersome foot, you’ll very likely see red, irritated and ulcerated skin.

You may also discover that he has even lost a toe nail or two on affected toes.

If things have progressed to this point, you need to, at the very least, get some prescription pain medication from the vet. Your fur baby may also need some antibiotics too.

Elsewhere on your dog, a red, scaly patch may resemble psoriasis and you may not think anything of it.

You should have the vet test the area anyway so that you can get an accurate diagnosis. You don’t want to be wrong about it and later find out you had let it become invasive cancer.

How is SCC in situ diagnosed?

Your vet can get a sample of the affected tissue either by fine needle aspiration (FNA) or by a biopsy.

A veterinary pathologist looks at the aspirated tissue under a microscope. The vet may take a biopsy if the pathologist could not conclude anything from the FNA.

To take a biopsy, the vet makes a surgical excision of the tumor and a pathologist examines it under a microscope. Using biopsy tissue, the vet can make a diagnosis and also predict how the tumor will behave.

How does SCC in situ typically progress?

The skin form of the disease rarely spreads much, although metastasis to nearby lymph nodes is possible. Multicentric SCC multiplies in dogs following surgical removal of lesions in other locations on the dog’s body.

SCC in the toes is very aggressive and is capable of spreading beyond the local lymph nodes to regional lymph nodes and elsewhere.

If your dog has SCC in the toes, your veterinarian may search for evidence of metastasis through a process called staging. Staging can involve an abdominal ultrasound, x-rays of the lungs, urinalysis and bloodwork.

The vet would also very likely take samples by FNA from any enlarged lymph nodes.

Bowen's Disease is a type of skin cancer in dogs

Treating SCC in Situ

Once you’ve discovered that your fur baby has suspicious lesions, you’ll need to immediately take him to the veterinarian for treatment.

Make sure you use a good veterinarian, as some of them will advise you to let them put your baby down. It may take a pet oncologist, but there are veterinarians who can and want to save your pet’s life.

Can SCC in situ be cured?

This kind of cancer can be cured if it is treated before it becomes invasive. Partner with a reputable veterinarian to stay on top of your pet’s condition.

How will the vet treat SCC in situ?

A good veterinarian will get a thorough history of your dog’s health.

He/she will get a complete blood count and blood chemistry profile on him and then look for abnormalities. Doing these things will help him correctly diagnose your dog and predict whether he can save your dog’s life.

Surgical removal is the treatment of choice if the procedure completely removes the malignant tumors. A vet may even amputate affected toes to prevent spread of the cancer.

Vets treat multi-centric SCC with surgery excision and/or immune-response modifiers. Laser ablation takes care of large oral tumors.

Sometimes veterinarians use radiation therapy after surgery to attack any cancer not removed by the surgery, but they generally don’t consider radiation to be very effective. Veterinarians don’t agree as to the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

When humans get SCC in situ, they may be treated with:

  • radiotherapy and laser
  • photodynamic therapy
  • Imiquimod cream (Aldara)
  • 5-fluorouracil cream
  • excision
  • curettage
  • freezing with liquid nitrogen.

What can you do for your dog at home?

Be sure to regularly inspect your pet for any new lesions and never assume suspect areas are just psoriasis.

As we’ve mentioned, your pet could have one of many cancers and other skin problems that you’ll need taken care of early.

It’s not clear whether UV rays play a role in the development of SCC in dogs as they do in humans. Even so, you’ll need to limit your dog’s exposure to the sun between 10am and 3pm, especially if your dog has a thin coat of hair and light skin.

In order to prevent a secondary infection from developing, you’ll need to prevent your pet from biting, chewing, licking, scratching or rubbing the cancerous spots.

If he already has an infection, you’ll need to get him antibiotics. He may also need some prescription pain medication.

Hand-Picked Posts You Might Like

Before you leave, read the following posts related to lump, bumps, and skin cancer in dogs.

Informative Guide to Mouth Cancer in Dogs

Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy – newly updated!

5 Top Reasons for that Bump on Your Dog’s Tongue

Dog Skin Cancer Facts

Non-Cancerous Lung Tumors in Dogs

Dog Bladder Cancer – Signs, Symptoms and Life Expectancy


We hope this information will help you keep your fur baby alive and well for years to come. Remember, squamous cell carcinoma is treatable, as long as you catch it early and take your pet to a caring, competent veterinarian.













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