Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

The minute you hear the word “cancer” or “tumor”, the first thing you want to know is the truth about mast cell tumor dog life expectancy. That’s normal. It’s also normal to have a ton of questions and to be a little afraid.

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Before you read any further, I want to tell you this..when caught early and surgically removed, your dog could have many more years to enjoy with you.

  I want to give you as much information as possible about mast cell tumor dog life expectancy.

Whether you’re human or canine, the diagnosis is frightening.   While mast cell tumor dog life expectancy depends on the stage and grade of the tumor found, there are treatment options.

The options you choose depend on a few things; including (but not limited to):

Your financial situation and how much you can reasonably spend

Whether or not you have pet insurance

Whether the mast cell tumor has moved into the lymph nodes or beyond

The grade and stage of the tumor

There’s No Easy Answer to Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy.

The only one who can inform you of your dog’s prognosis is the veterinarian. He/she will be able to tell you which stage your dog is in. He or she can provide treatment options and survival rates. 

There have been cases where mast cell tumors have been removed with clean margins (no cancer cells left behind) and it’s important to remember that an article like this speaks in general terms. Your dog is unique and will have specific needs.

Mast cells are skin tumors that can be found on any part of a dog including the abdomen and perineum (the area between the dog’s genitals)

These cancerous tumors originate in bone marrow and then settle into the connective tissues of the dog’s body.

Immune Defense Function

 Immune defense function is helped by mast cells which release histamines (the things responsible for creating allergic reactions, inflammation, and itchiness)

According to the Drake Center for Veterinary Care, “Mast cell tumors are especially common in dogs, accounting for approximately one skin tumor in every five dogs.”

It’s a little complicated, but from what I understand, mast cell tumors commonly turn up on the skin, although they can actually occur wherever you find mast cells. That means, anywhere there is connective tissue within the body.

This specialist uses laser therapy techniques for mast cell tumors in dogs.

It’s estimated that HALF of all mast cell tumors are benign

This is very good news because it means that, in many cases, surgery takes care of the problem.  Getting a clean surgical margin is the key to reducing the possibility of a recurrence.

The trick is for surgeons to get the whole tumor in addition to a wide margin of tissue around the tumor.  They do this in case there are cancer cells that have extended a bit beyond the tumor itself.

Breeds Susceptible to Mast Cell Tumors:

Boxers *highest rate

Boston Terriers

Labrador Retrievers






Cocker Spaniels

Bull Terriers

Staffordshire Terriers

Fox Terriers

Symptoms Associated with Mast Cell Tumors

It’s common for older dogs to develop lumps and bumps, most of them benign. However, if you’re concerned about mast cell tumor dog life expectancy, it helps to understand a few things including symptoms to watch for.

Obviously, the first thing you’ve noticed is a lump. Mast cell tumors are typically found on or just beneath the skin.

The problem with mast cell tumors is that they can take on a number of different appearances.

My suggestion would be to have a look at Google images for an idea of what they could look like. However, please keep in mind that only the veterinarian can tell you if it’s something to be concerned about or not.

Sometimes there is no fur on the lump.

In advanced or more aggressive forms of mast cell tumors, your dog might be vomiting, unable to eat, with signs of blood (black, tarry appearance) in the stool.

Most of the time, you’re just going to see a lump and not know what it is right away. That’s why it’s important to bring your dog to the veterinarian for a complete workup.

Mast cell tumors can vary in size from day to day because of the level of inflammation in the skin. 

Read up on how to keep your dog younger, longer.  According to the AAHA, “12 is the new 8!”

Have a look at this tweet.  It looks like their golden retriever has developed a mast cell tumor.

The Key to Long Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, there are a number of things the veterinarian needs to do to determine the grade and stage of the tumor.

These two things play a defining factor in your dog’s life expectancy.  Only a veterinarian/surgeon who knows your dog and your dog’s medical history can give you an accurate prognosis.

That said, it’s my understanding that dogs have a much greater outcome when the tumor is considered Grade 1.

That means it is benign and hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.   Of course, the veterinarian will need to do some preliminary tests first before any kind of prognosis can be made.

Keep reading to learn more about mast cell tumor dog life expectancy.

Diagnostic tests will likely include some, or all, of the following:


A piece of the tissue is drawn out with a very fine needle and that tissue is examined under a microscope.

Blood Tests

The veterinarian will likely order a basic panel of blood tests. These blood tests help to determine kidney and liver function, whether the dog is anemic and whether the cells are circulating in the blood.  

Blood tests may not provide a clear indicator of mast cell tumors, but the information obtained is necessary in case surgery is in the dog’s future.

Lymph Node Examination

The veterinarian might feel for enlarged lymph nodes.  He/she is most likely to find enlarged lymph nodes close to the mast cell tumor site. 

It’s important for the doctor to know how many (if any) are affected by the tumor. It’s important to know this because the spleen stores the white blood cells necessary to fight viruses and infections.

Abdominal Ultrasound

Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images of organs within the body. A veterinarian may order an ultrasound to see if the mast cell tumor(s) have affected the spleen.

Bone Marrow Aspiration

This sounds pretty invasive to me. I would hazard a guess that veterinarians wouldn’t order this as a first-line diagnostic.

My guess is that a bone marrow aspiration would be ordered if there is a suspicion the tumor has metastasized to other organs or bone. 

A bone marrow aspiration would be another way of determining the grade and stage of the tumor.  See the grading process below.

Grading Process to Determine Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

Grade I:    

Non-malignant and has not spread to other parts of the body. This type has the greatest chance of survival, assuming that the entire tumor is successfully removed.  In grade 1 mast cell tumors, the tumor is found just under the skin.  It could be any size.

Grade II:  

Mast cell tumors that fall into the grade II category are also found under the skin. In this case, the tumor’s position is deeper and more likely to spread.  It might not have spread yet, however. This grade of mast cell tumor could be malignant.

Grade III:

This is not the grade you want your dog to get.  The tumor is deep within the tissues. This is much more aggressive and will require a lot more treatment including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.  Note: The veterinarian/surgeon will determine the best treatment options.

Mast cells originate in bone marrow, as I mentioned at the top of the post.  Metastatic tumors can affect the lymph nodes and can show up as bone cancer.

The owner of the Boxer in the image below has started a Go Fund Me page to raise money for mast cell tumor radiation.

Staging Process to Determine Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

Stage 0: 

One tumor in the skin with no lymph nodes involved.

Stage I: 

Similar to stage 0, there’s only one mast cell tumor and it has not spread.

Stage II: 

Stage II is getting a little more serious. In this case, the mast cell tumor does involve the lymph nodes.  The veterinarian will need to determine how many lymph nodes are affected and where.

Stage III: 

Multiple large, deep skin tumors, with or without lymph  node involvement.  At this stage, the prognosis is not wonderful. This is where some really tough decisions have to be made.  You can spend a lot of money and put your dog through extensive surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation, without the promise of a significant increase in lifespan.

You can find detailed and interesting treatment options at the National Canine Cancer Foundation.

Treatment Options that Affect Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

Surgery can cure your dog of mast cell carcinoma. In fact, if surgery is performed when the tumor is at stage 0 – grade 1, and a wide surgical margin is removed from the site, your dog may be completely cured. 

It’s important that surgical excision include a fair amount of tissue bordering the cancer cells just in case any of the cells decided to drift.

Awkward Spaces for Some Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cell tumor dog life expectancy can be estimated in years when all cancer has been removed. 

Sometimes, however, the tumors appear in places that are tricky to get to. In that case, where the surgeon might not be able to get a wide enough margin, chemotherapy and radiation (either together or separately) might be suggested.

In fact, if the tumor is large and in a difficult place, the surgeon may suggest chemotherapy BEFORE surgery.

The hope is for the chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor. A smaller tumor might make it easier to get a wide surgical margin.

When Cancer Cells are Left Behind

If the surgery wasn’t able to remove all of the cancer cells, radiation therapy and chemotherapy combined might help shrink the tumor to assist in further surgery.

In cases where the tumor is too aggressive and has already begun to spread, chemotherapy and radiation might be suggested as a way to halt the malignancy, if only for a short remission.

Supportive Medications for Mast Cell Tumors

There are a number of supportive therapies used in dogs with mast cell tumors including the following:


This steriod can kill cancer cells. It aids in decreasing inflammation in the body as well.  Side-effects of Prednisone could include increased thirst, increased hunger, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gastrointestinal irritation and possibly bleeding.

Keep reading for an in-depth description of all mast cell tumor dog drugs.


Name brands like Pepcid are often used to ease any side-effects related to the Prednisone.

It is important to recognize that most dogs can survive for a long time with mast cell cancer and can be cured. However, dogs with more aggressive mast cell tumors that have spread to the organs do not have a good long-term prognosis.

Mast Cell Tumor Dog Diets

We love our dogs and we will do whatever it takes to get them back on the road to good health. We want our dogs in our lives for as long as possible.  For that reason, dog owners are taking a hard look at canine diet choices.

I’m not a veterinarian or a dog nutritionist, but I thought I would show you the options some people have opted for.  For most people,the reason for a diet change is to get away from toxic fillers and questionable ingredients.

Of course, some dogs also have a variety of allergies that lower their immune functioning.  

There seems to be a belief that a chronically lowered immune system can spawn nasty things like mast cell tumors in dogs.

The All Raw Diet

This is by far the fastest growing trend right now with dog owners testing butcher-store raw, prepackaged raw meals, and straight off the farm carcass.

While it doesn’t seem to be popular among physicians and people who work for the Food & Drug Agency, it’s not slowing down the trend.  Is it good for your dog? I don’t know.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard dog owners claim that sugar fuels cancer cells and that by eliminating the carbohydrate-rich foods, the dog’s cancer is more likely to shrink and maybe even disappear.

For more information on raw food diets, visit Raw Feeding Advice & Support forum on facebook.  Just do a search for “raw diet” forums and you’ll have your pick. 

2. Vegan Dog Food Diets are a Growing Trend

Feeding your dog a vegan diet is the complete opposite of the raw food trend. Again, it doesn’t seem likely that this diet alone will provide enough nutrition to sustain your dog.

Most importantly, you don’t want to jump into any sudden diet change when the dog is already under duress.  Recovering from surgery could be considered under “duress”, or undue stress.

There’s nothing that says you have to go from Kibble one day to totally vegan the next. 

When switching your dog’s diet, don’t forget that there are many foods (including raw potatoes) that are considered toxic for dogs.

The other thing to consider before adopting any new mast cell tumor dog diet is whether the diet is sustainable. Can you do this over the long haul, or are you going to get burned out and go broke trying to make this adjustment?

Dogs need adequate protein and carbohydrates for optimum health, so you want to really consider whether a vegan diet is going to offer that.

If you can be assured that your dog will get a good, balanced diet, than go for it. I always recommend that dog owners consult with a veterinarian, veterinarian technician, or dietician to make sure any nutritional-gaps are covered.

Bland Food Diet

Your dog probably won’t be very hungry immediately after surgery, but as he/she fights their way back to recovery, it’s a good idea not to make any drastic changes.

For the first few months after surgery, the veterinarian may suggest keeping the food bland or keeping on your dog’s current diet.

Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy

Many people in these specific dog diet facebook forums highly recommend a bland diet of boiled chicken.

It’s important to remember that one diet isn’t going to radically change mast cell tumor dog life expectancy. It could, however, make your dog healthier overall and boost the immune system. Doing this will certainly help in the recovery process.

 Allergen-Specific Mast Cell Tumor Dog Diets

The thing with allergies is that you really can’t feed or treat a dog based on symptoms alone. To avoid wasting a lot of time and money, it’s best to have a sound understanding of exactly what your dog is allergic too.

The last thing you want to do post mast cell tumor surgery is to feed your dog anything that might encourage the release of histamine within the body.

Other diets I’ve heard about, but can’t speak to them, include:

Keto Diets

Vegan Diets

Vegetarian Diets

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