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Everything there is to know about dog skin cancer

By Alice Lang Copywriter

Updated on the

We all know that humans can get skin cancer, but did you know that dogs can too? In fact, skin cancer is one of the most common forms of doggy cancers. It’s essential to educate yourself on dog skin cancer and how to spot it, to help protect your pooch

You’ve heard that sunbeds are bad and that you should apply your SPF whenever the suns out, if not every day, to protect yourself from developing skin cancer. But the dangers of the sun are just as prevalent for your pooch.

What is dog skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer found in dogs” explains Kevin A. Hahn, director of oncology services at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists. “In fact, nearly one-third of all dogs diagnosed with cancer have a tumour that originated on the skin or from the tissues of the skin.”

Dog skin cancer can appear in multiple forms, from scabs and bumps to lesions and lumps. There are several different types of skin cancer which dogs could develop.

“Dogs tend to be diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma or mast cell tumours. Squamous cells are the cells that make up most of the skin, so squamous cell carcinoma refers to an abnormal growth of these cells,” says Dr Hahn.

“Basal cells line the deepest layer of the skin, so that's what is affected with basal cell carcinoma. Mast cells are a bit different because they can be found in other parts of the body. They are specialized cells involved with your dog's immune system.”

The good news is that finding dog skin cancer early means a high chance of a full recovery. That’s why it’s so important to know what to look out for.

What causes dog skin cancer and who is at risk?

In some ways, dog skin cancer is similar to human skin cancer. It’s most commonly caused by excessive exposure to the sun and/or severe sunburns.

If you have a dog with white fur, a thin coat or no fur at all, they’ll be much more at risk of developing skin cancer because their skin is constantly exposed to the sun. And if they’ve previously been burnt by the sun, their risk is increased even more.

However, dog skin cancer isn’t always down to sun exposure or fur colour. Skin traumas such as cuts, excessive licking of a certain area, and female hormones and inflammation can also increase the risk of developing the disease.

It’s also important to note that certain breeds are genetically predisposed to skin cancer. Pets Web MD advise that “Benign melanocytomas are often seen in Vizslas, Miniature Schnauzers, Doberman Pinschers, Airedale Terriers, and Bay Retrievers, typically in animals between 5 and 11 years old. Malignant melanomas on the toe or in the toenail bed appear more frequently in black dogs. Schnauzers and Scottish Terriers are at greatest risk.”

Symptoms of dog skin cancer

As a proud, devoted pet parent, it’s so important to be aware of the symptoms of dog skin cancer. That way, you'll be able to spot any problems before they progress.

Although doggy skin cancer is most likely to show itself as a lump somewhere on your pup’s skin, the following signs and symptoms can also be an indication of skin cancer:

  • General sickness, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Weight loss (with no diet change or increase in activity)
  • Loss of appetite or difficulty finishing meals
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Swollen lymph nodes

How to spot dog skin cancer

You should aim to give your pooch a regular skin check-up so you can spot any early signs of dog skin cancer.

Choose a time when your dog is calm and content, and start with the head area. Have a gentle look inside your pup’s ears and on their lips to identify any changes in the skin and spot any suspicious sores, lumps or bumps. Then, run your hands all over the face area, keeping an eye out for anything strange and feeling for odd textures.

Then check the entire body, neck and chest by using your hands. Feel for strange textures and (you guessed it) lumps or bumps. Remember to part the fur if you feel anything strange and have a really good look.

Continue all over your dog’s body, including their belly, back, groin, tail, armpits and paws. It might seem a bit fussy and intrusive, but spotting it early can be the difference between easily treatable cancer and a fatality.

If you find any of the following concerns when checking your dog’s skin, you should head to the vet immediately for investigation:

  • Skin colour changes
  • Slow or no healing of wounds or sores
  • Lumps, bumps, and ulcers
  • An existing lump which has changed shape, colour, or size
  • Crust or discharge around the nipples or swollen breast tissue

Remember that you can do your part to protect your dog from developing skin cancer by providing shade for them when it's sunny out, use doggy sunscreen during the summer, and using sun protection shades on your car windows.

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