Everything You Need To Know About Skin Cancer In Dogs

Causes, treatment and prevention of dog skin cancer 🤕

dog with red bump on head

Since dogs are covered in fur that helps protect them from harmful UV rays, it might surprise you to learn that they can actually get skin cancer.

But skin cancer can be caused by other things besides sun exposure, and your dog’s fur isn’t always going to keep him safe from the sun. All dogs are at risk for developing skin cancer, so it’s important to know the signs.

We reached out to Dr. Jacqueline Brister, a veterinarian and consultant for Embrace Pet Insurance, to find out everything to know about skin cancer in dogs, including how it’s treated.

Causes of skin cancer in dogs

Just like with people, some types of skin cancer in dogs can be caused by exposure to UV rays.

“For skin cancers associated with sun exposure, light-colored, short-haired or hairless dogs, especially if kept outdoors, are at highest risk,” Dr. Brister told The Dodo.

Other skin cancers are caused by viruses, such as papilloma virus, genetics, exposure to chemicals and hormonal imbalances.

Skin cancer typically occurs in middle- to older-aged dogs. Certain types of dogs can be predisposed to developing cancer, such as beagles, basset hounds, Siberian huskies, West Highland white terriers, schnauzers, Scottish terriers, whippets, boxers, pugs, Boston terriers and Dalmatians.

Types of skin cancer dogs can get

There are a number of types of skin tumors that dogs can develop. Some are harmless, while others are cancerous.

According to Dr. Brister, these are the most common types of skin tumors in dogs:

  • Mast cell tumors
  • Adenomas
  • Papillomas
  • Histiocytomas
  • Melanomas

Adenomas, papillomas and histiocytomas are benign, meaning they’re not cancerous. Other types of skin tumors, such as mast cell tumors and some forms of melanoma, can be cancerous and quickly spread to other parts of the body.

“Other skin cancers of concern in dogs include cutaneous lymphoma, squamous cell carcinoma, sarcomas and cancers that have metastasized from other parts of the body,” Dr. Brister said.

What does skin cancer look like on a dog?

Most skin cancers look like a mass or lump on your dog’s skin. These can look like warts or moles and can be a variety of colors, including brown, black and bright red.

“Sometimes the mass will be discolored compared to the surrounding skin,” Dr. Brister said. “It may be ulcerated or ooze.”

With some cancers, more masses might pop up over time, and they can grow quickly or slowly.

According to Dr. Brister, the best way to find out if a mass is benign or cancerous is to get a biopsy. “It is important to understand that in veterinary medicine, benign, noncancerous masses can look just like malignant, life-threatening, cancerous masses,” Dr. Brister added.

It’s important to keep an eye on any lumps on your dog’s body so you can see if they change. If you notice changes in size, shape or color, or if more masses start showing up, you should take your dog to the vet.

Depending on the type of skin cancer, tumors can show up in different areas of your dog’s body. They can grow pretty much anywhere, but some common spots where skin cancer might develop include:

  • Legs
  • Belly
  • Chest
  • Mouth and lips
  • Around the nails and paw pads
  • Eyelids
  • Head

Aside from unusual lumps, there are some other symptoms associated with skin cancer in dogs. These are additional signs to look for, according to Dr. Brister:

  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of hair around growths
  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Infections
  • Pain (like limping)

How to treat dog skin cancer

Most skin cancers in dogs are treatable if caught early on, and treatment for dogs is very similar to that for humans. Your vet will likely refer you to a veterinary oncologist since they specialize in treating cancer and can provide the best care.

The cancerous mass will be surgically removed, then your dog might need chemotherapy or radiation.

Can you prevent skin cancer in dogs?

Some skin cancers can be prevented, but others are caused by genetic factors, which means there’s no way to prevent them.

One way to help reduce the risk of your pup developing skin cancer is by protecting him from UV rays, particularly during the summer months when the sun is extra strong. Limit sun exposure and use sunscreen made specifically for dogs or clothing that provides UV protection.

Try this dog sun protection shirt from Baxter Boo

Try this Epi-Pet dog sunscreen from Amazon

You can also check your dog’s body for unusual lumps when you pet or brush him, which can help you spot any tumors early.

Getting a skin cancer diagnosis for your pup is scary, but luckily, it can be treated. And if you catch it early, your dog will most likely have a good prognosis.

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