The Truth About 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.  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.  In this post, 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

Disclosure: Before you get deeper into this article, I want you to know that I’m not a veterinarian. I seriously don’t want you to take what I say as gospel.  I research very carefully, but mistakes can happen.

Affiliate Links may appear on this post. They won’t affect you negatively, but if you do click on one, I will likely get a small “thank you” dollar or two for having the ad on my site.

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 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
  • Beagles
  • Schnauzers
  • Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Bullmastiffs
  • 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:

  • Biopsy

 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



Supportive Medications for Mast Cell Tumors

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


  • Prednisone

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. l

  • Antacids

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

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.

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

    What do you feed your dog and is it making any health impact that you can see?  Slip me a comment or email me directly at:

    I know that worrying about mast cell tumor dog life expectancy has been getting you down.  Remember that surgery is designed to remove the tumor along with a tissue border that could contain runaway cancer cells. 

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  I hope you got some useful info from it! Remember though, I’m not a veterinarian so please consult with a professional on anything related to your dog’s health, including diet.






    9 thoughts on "The Truth About Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy"

    Mirtha J Ospina says:

    Thank you. This article was very helpful to me as my dog was just diagnosed with MCT. THANK YOU! Jamie

    Sandra Buss says:

    We have a very precious Shih Tzu who just had surgery yesterday for mast cell. We found it in July and tried prednisone. Our vet ad used us to remove it. She is recovering nicely today. As with any surgery, it was hard on her. But she actually wagged her tail today. Mom is having a problem with the diagnosis and I can’t seem to stop crying. It gave me great comfort to read your article and all the information. We are waiting for the biopsy report but you have raised my expectations. Thank you for your research.

    Leesa Scanlan says:

    We have a 10 year old American Staffordshire who had a suspicious lump on her abdomen. The dog did not seem bothered when I felt it. The vet thought it maybe a mammary cancer even though she was spayed at 6months. Given her age we decided to have the lump removed rather than have a biopsy and then subsequent surgery. The vet successfully removed the lump and pathology results revealed it was a stage II MCT. Vet removed enough tissue and the margins were clean. Dog has recovered well.

    Brian says:

    I have a 9 year old French Bulldog that was diagnosed with agressive
    stage 2 MCT nearly three ago. He had surgical removal of single tumor on abdominin. After initial surgery and staging I decided to see a Vet Oncologist and get opinion. He recomennded second surgery to get wider margins. A local Vet he recomended performed the resect at half the Oncologist price. Happy to report that this boy is doing great three years post op now. I also researched the use of the spice Turmeric and have given my boy a 400 mg capsule of it daily since surgery along with an antacid and Cimitidine that you can get cheap off the shelf at store( research dose). Ive read of the anti cancer benefits of these products in Suzanne Summers book Knockout when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. Dont know if its helped but he is still here dispite the grim outlook we were given three years ago of 2 to 4 months without surgery and 12 to 15 months best case with surgery. I would recommend anyone faced wifh this difficult prognosis with their pet to consult with a Vet Oncologist before doing anything and to research these other supplements that can retard MCT process. For those with deep pockets I was impressed with what I read about the herb nick named “Turkey Tail”. It was pretty expensive but had some impressive studies. I opted for Turmeric after reading some testimonials from some pet owners in our situation. I have unfortunately just began another angjishing journey with this disease. My 14 year old female Frenchie just yesterday diagnosed with MCT on her ear, looks agressive, pending surgery. I know, I know shes 14 but she still so full of life I have to give her a chance.

    Brian says:

    I also want to note that I found a web site for PENN VET, a vet hospital college in Pa. It was a wonderful educator about this disease!!!

    Kathy says:

    I have a 5 yo Boston Terrier female, Ruby, that was diagnosed with stage II MCT in July of this year. The tumor was removed on July 27, 2018 and 4 weeks later, I have discovered another growth that has been dx’d as the same by needle biopsy. I am very pleased to hear about turmeric and Cimitidine. I will give that a try. I don’t want to put her through aggressive treatments, just to prolong her life for 6-12 months. It is extremely difficult, but I am working on acceptance of the diagnosis. I will love this very special baby girl because she deserves it!

    Marla says:

    I am taking my dachshund in to the vet today to have what I believe is a MCT on his neck looked at. It was just a small warty looking thing smaller than a pea a month ago now it has grown to the size of a quarter. ☹️ He’s almost 13 years old. He’s still pretty spunky for 13 years old. Hoping for a good outcome.

    Hi Sherry (is it Sherry?) I’m sorry because I believe I called you Brian in a previous response. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot with your dogs. I highly agree to consult with a vet oncologist. That’s the person with all of the answers and best suggestions.

    Wow! I’ll bet you’re glad she had the surgery instead of a wait-and-see approach!

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