Health Symptoms & Solutions What Is Dog Skin Cancer and How to Recognize Symptoms

What Is Dog Skin Cancer and How to Recognize Symptoms

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There are many types of cancer that can affect dogs but the most common are cancers of the skin.

In this article, we will talk about the most common types of skin cancer in dogs, how to recognize their symptoms and how they are treated.

Dog Skin Cancer

Many pet owners don’t think about skin cancer in dogs. They believe that dogs are protected from them since their hair protects them from the sun.

Although this is somewhat true, there are parts of the body where dogs don’t have as much hair or any at all. In short skin cells are exposed. Also, dogs that have thin or light-colored coats are at risk of sun damage all over their bodies. There are also skin cancers in dogs that are not caused by exposure to the sun.

All of this leads to the fact that skin tumors are the most common type of tumors in dogs. However, not all tumors are cancerous and not all skin conditions are cancerous, dogs can get allergic reactions!

Tumor vs. Cancer – What’s the Difference?

Tumors are abnormal growths of body tissue. Some tumors can be cancerous, others can be harmless. Cancerous tumors are malignant; tumors that are not cancerous are benign. If a tumor is cancerous, it will spread to other body parts and destroy healthy body tissue. Some cancers spread more quickly than others.

The chances of success against dog skin cancers grow significantly with early diagnosis and treatment. For this reason, pay attention to your dog’s skin and any unusual lumps, bumps and growths. Most skin cancers in dogs can be spotted as you brush your dog’s hair or bathe him.

If you notice any unusual and suspicious growths, take your dog to the vet immediately. Some types of dog skin cancer are aggressive and can ultimately be fatal if left untreated.

Types of Dog Skin Cancer

As we already mentioned, there are many types of dog skin cancer. We will focus on the three most common types that are also the most dangerous – mast cell tumors, malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Mast Cell Tumors

These common skin cancers occur in mast cells of the dog’s immune system and it is the most prevalent skin tumor in dogs. It is unknown what causes these tumors to develop, although some experts link them to irritants on the dog’s skin or inflammation.

Genetic factors may also play a role, while hormones like estrogen and progesterone can also impact their growth. Some dog breeds like Boxers, Pugs, Boston Terriers and Labrador Retrievers are more susceptible to these tumors.

Symptoms

These cancers are usually rubber-like and mostly slow-growing but they can also be more aggressive and grow faster. Some mast cell tumors may ulcerate and create inflamed areas on the dog’s body.

They commonly appear on the body’s trunk or legs but they can be found anywhere on the body. These tumors can vary in appearance – they may look like a raised lump or bump on the skin or under it. They can also be red or swollen.

Treatment Options

These tumors are usually treated by surgical removal. Radiation therapy may also follow, depending on the size and location of the cancer. In some cases, chemotherapy and steroids may also be used.

Fawn dog lying on concrete platform beside body of water. Part of the "What Is Dog Skin Cancer and How to Recognize Symptoms" article.
Photo by Vignesh Moorthy on Unsplash

Malignant Melanoma

Melanoma is a type of dog skin cancer that affects pigmented cells called melanocytes. Dogs can often develop benign melanoma that doesn’t metastasize and is found on the dog’s body parts with hair.

Meanwhile, malignant melanomas usually occur in the dog’s mouth, lips and toenail beds but they can also occur on hair-covered body parts in some instances. They often grow very quickly and usually spread to the lungs, liver and other organs.

Genetic factors, trauma and compulsive licking can increase the chances that the cells will multiply and become cancerous. Dog breeds that are more likely to develop malignant melanoma include Schnauzers and Scottish Terriers.

Symptoms

Malignant melanomas usually don’t come with any obvious symptoms, especially before they metastasize. The only indicator can be some unusual growth inside the dog’s mouth or on his lips, so pay attention to any suspicious growths in your dog’s mouth or lips when you brush his teeth.

Melanomas that occur in the toenail beds or on the feet can often become infected and they are commonly misdiagnosed as a simple infection.

Treatment Options

Surgery is commonly the first step for malignant melanomas. However, if it cannot be fully removed or if it has spread to lymph nodes, radiation therapy is often used. Chemotherapy usually follows this and in these situations, melanoma can go into remission almost 70% of the time but it can also recur in many cases.

Additionally, there is a melanoma vaccine that prompts the dog’s immune system to fight tumor cells, which can extend the survival time of dogs that have oral melanoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of dog skin cancer is usually caused by exposure to the sun. Some experts also believe that there is a connection between the papillomavirus and squamous cell tumors in some dogs. These cancers are aggressive and can easily spread to surrounding lymph nodes.

Squamous cell carcinomas are more prevalent in dogs between 6 and 10 years of age, as well as breeds with short coats and light skin. This includes Basset Hounds, Dalmatians, Collies, Beagles and Bull Terriers, among others.

Symptoms

Squamous cell carcinomas are raised and firm and have a wart-like appearance. They often occur around the dog’s genitals or somewhere on the abdomen. They can also occur on the dog’s feet, in which case they can be very painful and make the dog limp.

Treatment Options

These cancers are often removed surgically, without radiation or chemotherapy. If they occur in inoperable parts of the body, photodynamic therapy combined with a drug called piroxicam can be effective.

Conclusion

Dog skin cancer can come in many forms. Some of these cancers are slow-growing and easy to treat, while others can be quite aggressive and spread fast.

If you notice any unusual growths, bumps and lumps on your dog’s body, it can be some type of skin cancer. Take him to the vet immediately since early diagnosis and treatment can increase the chances of survival.

For a broader overview and more learning, don’t forget to read our article dedicated to the most common types of dog cancer and their effects.

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