Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?

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You might be surprised to know just how many people have no idea that their dog can get skin cancer. The reality is that both dogs and cats are susceptible to skin cancer. The most common forms of skin cancer in dogs are the same as those humans tend to get, such as melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?

YES!

Your dog's skin is a lot like yours and is just as likely to come down with skin cancer.  You should keep an eye on his skin and note any spots that were not there before. If you have any questions about spots on your dog's skin, you should take him in to see his vet for a complete diagnosis.

If your dog has a white coat, he is likely to be more susceptible to skin cancer resulting from overexposure to the sun's UV rays. In fact, you should limit your dog's exposure to the sun or use some form of canine sunscreen.

Does My Dog Have Skin Cancer?

There are several reasons why your dog may be developing spots on his skin. Some of them are simple discoloration while others may be an indication of a more serious medical condition such as skin cancer.


Symptoms

The most common symptoms of canine skin cancer can typically be seen by the naked eye and may become more obvious as your dog ages. Bear in mind that the sooner you detect the cancer the less your vet is going to have to do in the form of treatment.


Symptoms include:

  • Tumors on the skin, discoloration, lesions that are scaly or crusty

  • New growths on his skin or changes in the color or size of any growths that were already there

  • Tumors that tend to bleed easily or that don’t seem to want to heal

  • Areas he seems to constantly lick

  • Swelling in breast tissues or discharge from nipples

  • Discoloration or lumps under the tail

  • Tissue or masses located in the mouth that seem different from the surrounding areas

Causes

The causes of skin cancer in dogs vary based on the specific form of skin cancer your dog is diagnosed with.


Melanoma

In humans, the most common cause of melanoma is over-exposure to the sun's UV rays. But veterinary experts are still undecided as to whether this is the cause of melanoma in dogs because this form of cancer can occur in areas that are not exposed to the sun such as on the toes or in the mouth.


Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This form of skin cancer starts on the outer layer of the dog's skin and works its way in. It is a direct result of being exposed to UV radiation such as your dog might get if he spends too much time sunbathing.


Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cell tumors are considered to be the most common form of cutaneous tumors in dogs. Unfortunately, vets and medical experts are still not sure what causes it. There is some evidence that genetics, exposure to irritants, and inflammation may be partly to blame.


Diagnosis

To start with, your vet will go over your dog's history with you and then perform a complete physical examination. He should take a tissue sample from at least one of the tumors for lab analysis. He should also:

  • Run a complete blood count (CBC)

  • Run a biochemistry profile

  • Run a urinalysis

  • Order x-rays to see if the cancer has spread to vital organs

To learn more about canine skin cancer, please visit our Condition Guides .

How Do I Treat My Dog's Skin Cancer?

The treatment will vary based on the particular form of skin cancer your dog has and how far advanced it is. Here are the two most common treatments used to cure skin cancer in dogs:


Surgery

The vet will sedate your dog and then surgically remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue to prevent it from recurring, as skin cancer can be quite aggressive.


Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is another very common form of skin cancer treatment for dogs. Unlike humans, dogs seem to tolerate this type of treatment very well, with less than 5% requiring hospitalization. There are, however, reports of hair loss in some breeds.

The most important thing to remember if your dog's tumors have been surgically removed is that you need to keep the wound sites clean until they heal.  Be sure to keep your dog from scratching, licking, or biting the site.

In the event your dog undergoes chemotherapy, he may feel a bit off for a day or two. However, since some of the chemicals may still be in his system, you need to protect yourself by wearing gloves when handling bodily fluids and waste. Be sure to wash your hands any time you handle these fluids.

Your dog should make a full recovery but should be monitored until he is back to normal.

How Is Skin Cancer Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Like humans, dogs can get several different types of skin cancer. There are several ways in which skin cancer in dogs is similar to that in humans. These include:

  • Can be caused by exposure to the sun's UV rays

  • Skin cancer results in tumors that must be removed either by surgery or chemotherapy

  • In most cases, it can be easily and successfully treated with permanent results

  • The symptoms are almost identical in that tumors will form on the surface or just under the surface of your dog's skin that can easily be felt and seen

How Is Skin Cancer Different in Dogs and Humans?

While most of the causes and symptoms of skin cancer in dogs and humans are very similar, there are a few differences you should be aware of. These include:

  • Dogs rarely get basal cell carcinoma, one of the most common forms of skin cancer in humans

  • Dogs tolerate chemotherapy far better than humans

  • While treatment for canine skin cancer can be expensive, it is far less costly than treatment for humans

Case Study

It's Saturday and time to give your pup his weekly brushing, except that this time you notice a lump under his skin that--to the best of your memory--wasn't there before. Worried, you call the vet on Monday morning who tells you to bring your dog in for a checkup.

He runs a CBC, biochemistry profile, takes a sample and tells you to go home and wait for the results but not to worry. Even if it is skin cancer, he tells you, there is nothing to worry about as there are successful treatments for this condition.

He calls you in a few days to tell you that your dog has skin cancer and that you need to bring him in for treatment. He recommends surgical removal and sends you home after the surgery to allow your dog to recover in his home environment. The tumor has been successfully removed and all that is left is for the wounds to heal.

What might seem like a close call is just another routine day for your vet and your dog can enjoy a full and successful recovery.