Yes, dogs can get skin cancer. You might think with their fur, they would be protected from the sun’s rays and, it is true that dogs with light or thin fur are susceptible to skin cancer, but all dogs can get skin cancer. Older dogs are more at risk for developing skin cancer.
Mast Cell Carcinoma
Mast cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer found in dogs. Tumors from mast cell carcinoma can develop anywhere on the body and sun exposure is not considered a cause. The tumors are surgically removed, however, because they can spread, your vet might suggest a biopsy to determine if further treatment, such as chemotherapy, is needed. These are most commonly seen in boxers, Boston terriers, labrador retrievers, beagles and schnauzers.
- Hairless, raspberry-like tumors
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is seen most often in dogs who live in high altitudes. Some breeds are more susceptible than others; Scottish terriers, Keeshonds, Standard Schnauzers, Basset Hounds, collies, boxers, poodles, Norwegian elkhounds, dalmatians, beagles, whippets and white English bull terriers develop SCC more often than other breeds according to PetMD.com.
You should be on the lookout for:
- Sores that don’t heal
- Crusting or bleeding from a sore that isn’t healing
- Sores in area where there isn’t any hair, such as the nose, toes, legs, scrotum
- White colored growths that are similar in appearance to warts
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) occurs most often in older dogs, especially in Cocker Spaniels and Poodles. It is one of the most common types of cancer seen in animals. Although most BCCs do not metastasize (spread to other areas), early diagnosis and treatment is important. This type of cancer appears most often on the head, neck or shoulders.
You should be on the lookout for:
- Raised, solitary, hairless masses on the skin
Melanoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, is more common in dogs than BCCs or SCCs. If the melanoma appears on the trunk and limbs, it usually is noninvasive and surgical removal is generally successful. If the melanoma appears on the toe or in the mouth (which is more common), it can be more dangerous and may spread to other areas of the body. Melanoma is more common in dark-haired dogs, such as black labs or cocker spaniels.
What you should be on the lookout for:
- Tumors or growths anywhere on the body
- Tumors or growths on the toes or in the mouth
As with all types of skin cancer, early detection is essential. Just as you should check your skin on a monthly basis, you should check your dog’s skin, especially as your dog ages. Comb through your dog’s fur, parting in regular places to check the skin. Because melanoma can develop in the mouth, it is important to open your dog’s mouth to look for tumors. Pay attention if your dog continually licks a specific area, especially the toes. Be aware of any sores and check to make sure they are healing. Regular check-ups, including dental check-ups are important but if you notice anything unusual, have your vet check for warning signs of cancer. When skin cancer is found and treated early, the survival rate is high.
Protecting Dogs from the Sun
If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, make sure there is shade available. If there is no shade, consider building a structure with a roof where your dog can enjoy the outdoors but still have a place to lie down out of the sun.
Sunscreen can be applied on the nose and the feet. It is generally well tolerated by dogs but you should pay attention to how your dog reacts to sunscreen the first few times you apply it. If you have questions about sunscreen for your dog, talk to your veterinarian.
"Dogs Get Skin Cancer, Too: An Interview with Veterinarian Ann E. Hohenhause, DVM," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation
"Skin Cancer (Basal Cell Tumor) in Dogs," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, PetMD.com
"Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, PedMD.com
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.