Take Charge

Do You Know the Tell 'Tail' Signs of Canine Skin Cancer?

July 06, 2018

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By Nancy Gay

We tend to share everything with our dogs, from our beds to our food, but we also share a scary skin cancer statistic. More Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined, and according to the American Kennel Club, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of tumor found in dogs.

Genetics play a large part in which dogs are more likely to get skin cancer. Factors such as too much sun exposure, environmental chemicals, hormonal abnormalities and certain viruses may also lead to skin cancer in dogs.

While we can’t control genetics, we can manage risk factors such as exposure to sunlight. Just like in humans, prolonged exposure to the sun can lead to sunburn and skin cancer in dogs. Dogs most at risk for sunburn include hairless breeds, dogs with short, thin coats and dogs with white or light colored fur. What can you do to protect your pup? The American Kennel Club recommends two types of doggie sunscreen including Ice on Ice Spray and Warren London Dog Sunscreen.

There are five types of skin cancer in dogs. Each one appears a little differently and impacts different breeds:

  • Malignant melanoma — These tumors usually have dark pigment or lack pigment and are commonly found on the lips, mouth and nail beds. Miniature and standard schnauzers and Scottish terriers are at an increased risk.
  • Mast cell tumors — These are the most common type of skin cancer tumor and can grow anywhere on your dog’s skin or internal organs, with the most common sites being the limbs, lower abdomen and chest. Boxers, pugs, Rhodesian ridgebacks, Boston terriers and older mixed-breed dogs are more susceptible.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma — These are the most commonly diagnosed skin cancer and appear as raised patches or lumps that are firm to the touch. They are usually found on the head, lower legs, rear and abdomen. Bloodhounds, basset hounds and standard poodles are most affected.
  • Histiocytic cell tumors — These skin cells can proliferate into common tumors that are usually found in dogs under the age of 3 with Scottish terriers, bulldogs, greyhounds, boxers, Boston terriers and Chinese shar-peis being impacted most often.
  • Fibrosarcoma — These tumors begin in the connective tissues of the skin and beneath the skin. They are slow growing and rarely metastasize.

If your dog is diagnosed with skin cancer, the prognosis and treatment options depend on the type of tumor, the location of tumor and the stage of cancer. Some skin cancers may be removed while others may require radiation or chemotherapy. Keep in mind that malignant melanomas are resistant to radiation therapy, while others, such as mast cell tumors, are more sensitive.

The key is catching it early by keeping an eye on any strange lumps or bumps on your dog, especially as he or she ages. This can be done by familiarizing yourself with your dog’s bumps and rashes during your daily grooming or snuggle routine. Changes in size, shape, color or ulceration of any growth or lump are also a cause for concern. The American Kennel Club recommends contacting your veterinarian if you find an unusual lump or area of discoloration on your dog.