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Can dogs get skin cancer?

Pet Health and Safety  •   Mary Shaughney  •   Sep 18, 2018


You take care to protect your dog in the summer by ensuring he’s hydrated, keeping him cool and always watching him in the pool, but should you be doing more? As your dog spends more time outside during the warmer months, you should ensure that you’re caring for his skin as well. Unknown to many pet owners, dogs can get skin cancer. While sun exposure does play a large role in the development of skin cancer, there are many other factors to consider.


Factors Causing Skin Cancer


Sunlight is a major factor in the cause of skin cancer in many dogs. Short-haired or light-haired dogs don’t have much protection when they’re outside playing under the sunny sky. Even dogs with a good coat of fur have places on their body that are less protected, such as their nose or belly.


There is a large genetic factor that plays a role to determine if your dog will develop skin cancer, so do your research to see if your dog’s breed is more susceptible.

Compulsive Licking

 It’s believed that compulsive licking can cause cells to reproduce faster increasing the likelihood of cancer-causing mutations. If your dog is suffering from hotspots that are causing itchiness and irritation, consider using an oatmeal bath or cooling sprays to help reduce his need to lick.


Some viruses, such as the papillomavirus can cause squamous cell carcinomas. Papillomavirus causes warts around the mouth of your dog and is transmitted through contact of the infected saliva.

Secondhand Smoke

It’s well documented that smoking is bad for the human body, but secondhand smoke can also be dangerous for your dog! Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral squamous cell carcinoma in dogs.


Types of Skin Cancer

There are several different types of skin cancer that dogs can develop; however, many of the symptoms are the same. The main types of skin cancer include melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas, basal cell tumors and mast cell tumors. Skin cancer often presents as a bump, so if you notice any new lumps on your dog, you should contact your vet. The earlier that cancer is detected, the better the chances are for effective treatment and recovery.


Melanomas are common in dogs with a darker pigmented skin. They are usually dark in color (brown/black) and are solitary mole-like growths up to 2.5 inches in diameter. Malignant melanomas often occur in the lips, mouth or nail beds, but they can occur anywhere that the skin pigment occurs on the body. Some breeds, such as Vizslas, Miniature Schnauzers, Dobermans and Airedale Terriers, are more at risk for melanomas.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinomas are a considerably rarer form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas have a firm, raised, wart-like appearance and often are located on the nose, ears, legs or anus. However, any white-skinned area of the dog with little or no hair is also at an increased risk. Because of this, squamous cell carcinomas are more frequently found in breeds with short, thin, light-colored coats such as Bassett Hounds, Collies, Dalmatians and Beagles.

Basal Cell Tumors

Basal cell tumors are one of the most common skin cancers in animals and account for 3 to 12 percent of all skin tumors in dogs. These tumors originate in one of the deepest skin layers, the basal epithelium, and often occur in older dogs. Malignant basal cell tumors, called basal cell carcinomas, appear as red, hairless, raised masses in the skin and are generally located on the head, neck or shoulders. Some breeds that are more commonly known to develop basal cell tumors are Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Kerry Blue Terriers and Brussels Griffons.

Mast Cell Tumors

Mast Cell Tumors are one of the more common skin cancers found in dogs. They are visible, hairless lumps that usually appear on the main body of dogs and feel rubbery. Mast cells are responsible for the itching and redness that occurs in the skin when it encounters an allergen, so mast cell tumors tend to be red and itchy. These tumors can shrink or grow rapidly, so many pet owners believe the mass can’t be cancerous because it may seem to “disappear” for a few days before reappearing. It is believed that sun exposure does not play a role in mast cell tumors, but that they are caused mainly through genetics. Certain breeds such as Boxers, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Pugs and Golden Retrievers are predisposed to developing this type of tumor.


Provide Protection from the Sun

Sunlight is one of the larger factors in the development of skin cancer in your dog and, luckily, it’s one of the easiest to protect against. Provide shaded areas for your dog to relax and play under in your yard. Plant trees, put up an umbrella or shade your deck so your dog can enjoy being outside without being continually under the sun’s direct rays.

Dog-safe sunscreen is an option for areas of your dog’s body with less fur for protection. Make sure that you use sunscreen that is specified dog-safe, as human sunscreen can be harmful if your dog ingests it. If your dog will be outdoors during peak sun exposure hours from 10am to 4pm, reapply the sunscreen to sensitive areas such as the nose, lips, ears and the belly.

Protective gear can be purchased to cover your dog up if he is more susceptible to the sun. Many companies offer solar-protective shirts and visors. You can even buy your dog Doggles (dog sunglasses) to protect his eyes from the sun!


Safe for Summer!

By providing shade and applying sunscreen, you can help reduce your dog’s likelihood of developing skin cancer. Regardless of the season, make a habit of checking your dog for new lumps every month. Little preventative measures that you take each day can help ensure that your dog lives well into his golden years!

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