Dog Skin Cancer Facts

Did you know that dogs can get skin cancer? Like us, their skin can be damaged by the sun’s rays. Breeds with fine fur and more exposed skin are more at risk.  Dog skin cancer, luckily, can be surgically removed. If caught early, your dog can go to a live a long and happy life. 

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Dog skin cancer shows up as a new lump or bump and tend to occur in places where there is little fur. Warning signs of dog skin cancer includes the appearance of a new lump or bump on the skin.  It might look like a wart and could be an unusual color (red, yellow, black, or brown). Dog skin cancers typically occur on the eyelids, face or head.

In this post, you’ll discover the different types of skin cancer in dogs. I’ve included the signs, symptoms, and options for treatment. 

Growths on the Aging Dog

It’s normal for dogs to develop growths on their bodies as they age. Unfortunately, there’s no way to determine whether those lumps are cancerous or not by sight alone.  The veterinarian will have to examine cells of the tumor under a microscope.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs in North America.   That’s because some cancers, like tumors of the spleen, don’t have noticeable symptoms until the condition is dire.

Dog skin cancer is serious, but it can be treated. The main thing I want to express is that it must be caught early.  Always bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian when you see any new lump or bump.  There are different types of dog skin cancer, which I explain later in this post.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Dogs 

Before you go further, it’s important to stress the importance of taking your dog to a veterinarian as soon after a new lump is spotted as possible.  Cancer is scary, but the faster it’s diagnosed, the better prognosis your dog will have.

Symptoms of skin cancer in dogs include fatigue, wart-like lump(s) that takes on an unusual color, fur loss around the sight of the lump, the lump becomes itchy or shows signs of ulceration, or a change in the size of the growth. 

It’s possible to miss the subtle signs of dog skin cancer.  Cancer in dogs can be a gradual progression of signs that aren’t easily identified in the early stages.  The most common first indication is a new lump or bump.

There IS Something You Can Do!

Whether you’ve already taken your dog to the veterinarian or not, there are some things you can do at home to help keep an eye on the growth.  

The first thing to do is take a picture of the growth. Put a penny (or some other point of reference) beside the growth before snapping a picture.  That will give you a baseline to go by.  You could also just measure the growth, going back from time to time to recheck. 

You can help researchers better diagnose and treat dog skin cancer.  Follow the link to the Animal Cancer Foundation and find out how.

Record the date and size of the growth in order to give you a better perspective over time. Ideally, you should make an appointment to see the veterinarian the minute you spot a new lump on your dog. This ensures your dog the best outcome if it is cancer.

Disclosure: I’m not a licensed veterinarian. If you are searching for medical information or treatment for your dog, please get in contact with a licensed veterinarian. This post does not intend to diagnose or suggest treatment for your dog. 

Other signs and symptoms might include loss of appetite, redness or inflammation of the skin, fur loss around the sight, and sudden itchiness on or near the lump.

The Many Forms of Dog Skin Cancer

Skin cancer in dogs can appear anywhere on the body, but is most likely to occur around the face or in places where the fur is thin.  Types of dog skin cancer include the following:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of cancer is the one that has a wart like appearance. Again, it’s impossible to say it’s cancer just by looking. My dog had a wart-like growth that turned out to be a harmless (but ugly) sebaceous cyst.  I had reason to worry, however, because of the location on the abdomen, a common place to find squamous cell carcinoma in dogs.

Mast Cell Tumor

Mast cell tumors can be benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous and likely to spread). Mast cell tumors in dogs can be removed through surgery. If caught early and all cancer is removed, dogs can go on to live a long life. This kind of dog skin cancer can grow fast or slow and tend to have a rubbery texture.  These usually occur on the trunk of the body. 

Mast cell tumors originate in the blood cells responsible for healthy immune function.  When a tumor forms, it contains pockets of chemicals known as granules.  Dog breeds more susceptible to mast cell tumors include Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Pugs, Shar Peis, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Boxers. 

Warning signs of mast cell tumors in dogs include the presence of a solitary, slow-growing lesion. Fur loss can occur around the area and the skin tissue can become inflamed. Overall, however, the mast cell tumor might look as inconspicuous as any other benign lump or bump.  Get your dog to a licensed veterinarian as soon as you can after spotting anything that might be suspicious. 

Watch this quick video by Canna-Pet for signs, symptoms and treatment of dog skin cancer. 

Melanoma

This type of dog skin cancer is not like the kind that you or I might get.  In people, the word “melanoma” is something we should fear because of the malignant nature of the cancer. In dogs, however, they are usually benign.  Melanomas in dogs can look like small masses (black or brownish) but can also be flat, large, or wrinkled in appearance. 

The only way for a veterinarian to be able to tell you whether this is a serious type of dog skin cancer or not is to remove it or perform a small needle aspiration.  Small needle aspiration involves removing some of the tumor cells for closer examination under a microscope.  

Hair Follicle Tumors

Just as they sound, hair follicle tumors originate in the dog’s hair follicles.  This type of dog skin cancer presents as a tumor on top of the skin.  These tumors can ooze fluids and have a greater risk of infection.  Types of hair follicle tumors include:

Infundibular Keratinizing Acanthoma

This dog skin cancer develops higher up in the hair follicle and can present as one tumor or several. You are most likely to find this dog skin cancer on the neck or trunk. These tend to develop at around 5 years of age, if they are going to develop at all. 

Trichoepithelioma 

These occur in middle aged dogs and are often found on the back, shoulders, trunk, or tail.  Occasionally they occur on the dog’s limbs. Again, these can ulcerate and ooze pus and blood with the danger of becoming infected. 

Trichoblastoma

Trichoblastoma is a type of dog skin cancer that occurs in the hair cells at the root of the hair follicle. They are typically solitary and found on the head, neck and ears. Dogs more likely to develop this type of dog skin cancer are Standard Poodles and Cocker Spaniels. 

Pilomatricoma 

These tumors also develop in the dog’s hair cells. In very rare circumstances, you’ll find a malignant form that spreads to the rest of the body. The types of dogs more prone to this skin cancer are dogs with hair that grows and needs to be clipped.  A poodle, for example, is at higher risk than a hound. 

Histiocytoma

These are benign tumors that develop due to overactive immune cells.  In many cases, histiocytomas will disappear on their own.  If they don’t, and they are causing the dog discomfort, histiocytomas can be surgically removed.

Dog Skin Cancer According to the Canine Cancer Foundation.

The Canine Cancer Foundation is an amazing resources for all types of cancers found in dogs. If your dog does have a cancerous tumor, you will find everything you need to know about surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for dogs. 

Surgical Removal of Skin Cancer in Dogs.

Once the lump has been biopsied and viewed under a microscope, the veterinarian will be able to determine if the spot is cancer or not. If it is cancer, the best option is usually surgery.  Surgery is only considered if your dog is otherwise healthy.  Senior dogs or dogs with chronic disorders might not be considered good candidates.

The following is an affiliate link.  Although there’s no medical proof that supplements prevent dog skin cancer, they can help to alleviate the discomfort of itch and irritation.  

Supplements for your dogs health

The surgeon will remove the growth by cutting out the tissue and taking a wide margin along with it. By doing this, surgeons lessen the chances of the tumor coming back (by leaving cells behind). 

Radiation Therapy 

Radiation therapy is used in certain grades and stages of mast cell tumors. Read more HERE. 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is only used in certain situations where the cancer may have spread or is particularly aggressive. Chemotherapy is an expensive option. However, it can help extend your dog’s life.  If you find yourself at this stage, please talk to your veterinarian about the dog’s quality of life and prognosis. 

Can You Afford to Treat Dog Skin Cancer?

People respond to dog skin cancer differently. In some cases, spending money on surgery isn’t an option because of the related costs. If you are in that position, you should know that some veterinarians offer assistance in the form of Care Credit

Care credit is a way to borrow against the cost of surgery. You have six months to pay off the balance before you are charged interest. 

If you are concerned about the costs of dog skin cancer surgery or diagnostic tests, ask your veterinarian if they offer any form of assistance. It’s your right to look around and find the best deal.  Alternative ways of dealing with cancer care costs include searching for active clinical trials. 

Dog Skin Cancer Summary

The most important thing you can do for your dog is keep an eye open for new lumps and bumps.  The veterinarian will need to examine the tissue in order to determine whether it is benign or cancerous. 

If the expense of frequent visits to the veterinarian are a concern, you can always shop around for veterinarians who charge less. At the very least, you might choose to watch the lump to see if it grows or changes in appearance. The minute any changes are noticed, you need to bring your dog to a veterinarian.

Please remember that if it is a type of dog skin cancer, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to treat successfully. 

I want to thank you for reading this post! I hope you’ll take a second to PIN, TWEET, OR POST for the benefit of others.  If you have any questions or concerns, always seek the help of licensed veterinarian.  I am not a veterinarian. 

Dog skin cancer can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.
Early stages of dog skin cancer often have no symptoms other than the appearance of a new lump or bump.
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About Lisa Theriault

Lisa Theriault wants you to know right up front that she is not a veterinarian. None of the articles/posts on this website are meant to take the place of veterinarian care. That said, Lisa has had a lifetime of experience dealing with dogs and plans on further education on dog anatomy and canine massage. In the meantime, Lisa's posts are all professionally researched and carefully crafted. The last thing she wants is to do or say anything that would hurt your dog. Stay tuned for more updates to Lisa's bio.