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Health & Wellness

Understanding dog skin cancer

Explaining cancerous bumps, lumps and masses.

Cuddles can be one of the most common love languages between a pet parent and their best friend. Think about it, how often do you snuggle with your good boy or girl? So, it’s completely understandable to be startled if you feel a new lump or bump during your daily cuddles — especially as some growths can be a sign of skin cancer. The Dig spoke with Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, to learn more about skin cancer and what different lumps mean. 

Can dogs get skin cancer? 

According to Dr. McCullough, several types of skin cancers can affect dogs: "Skin cancer in dogs has many causes, including genetics, hormones, viruses and unknown causes." 

What does skin cancer look like on a dog? 

The most common types of dog skin cancers are mast cell tumors, adenomas, papillomas, histiocytomas and melanoma — Dr. McCullough explains a brief breakdown of each: 

Mast cell tumors appear as a single bump or multiple bumps that gradually increase in size — swelling can cause them to grow and shrink, too. Brachycephalic breeds (like boxers, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers), Chinese Shar-Peis, Labrador Retrievers, beagles and schnauzers are more likely to develop this type of skin cancer because of genetics.

Perianal adenoma is a mass near a dog’s anus, tail, thigh or near their genitals. “Male dogs that aren’t neutered are predisposed to perianal adenomas because testosterone can stimulate the development of these tumors,” she explains. “Breeds such as cocker spaniels, English Bulldogs, beagles, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, and huskies are predisposed to perianal adenomas likely due to genetic causes.”

Papillomas are single or multiple small bumps, which are usually found on a dog’s stomach area, paws and armpits. This type of skin cancer is caused by a virus called papillomavirus. Pugs, cocker spaniels, Chinese Shar-Peis, Kerry Blue Terriers and miniature schnauzers are predisposed to this type of cancer because of genetics. 

Histiocytomas are single bumps commonly found on a dog’s face, neck, trunk, paws and legs. The cause of histiocytomas is unknown, and there's no breed predisposition for this type of cancer. 

Melanoma are pigmented (or nonpigmented), dark brown to black or pink lumps that can be flat or raised anywhere on a dog’s body. The cause of melanomas are unknown. However, Airedale Terriers, boxers, Brittanys, Cairn Terriers, Chinese Shar-Peis, golden retrievers, miniature poodles, schnauzers and Rottweilers are predisposed to the condition due to genetics.

“The bumps can vary in appearance. For example, they may be pigmented, nonpigmented, haired, hairless, swollen, red or ulcerated,” Dr. McCullough explains. “The bumps can also vary in location, size and number, too.”

RELATED: What causes hair loss in dogs?

Skin tumors and skin growths on dogs

Dr. McCullough says that skin tumors and growths on dogs are common. Your veterinarian can determine if your pup’s growth or tag is benign or malignant (which means cancerous or noncancerous, respectively). 

Symptoms of skin cancer in dogs

Bumps on a dog’s skin may not be the only symptom they experience. “Some skin cancers affect other parts of the body and cause symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea,” Dr. McCullough notes. “Dogs may also lick or chew at their growths.” 

If you notice a new lump, bump or mass on your dog (especially if they’re showing other signs of sickness), visit your veterinarian. 

How do veterinarians diagnose skin cancer in dogs? 

There are multiple ways a vet can diagnose skin cancer in dogs. “Skin cancer is typically diagnosed through a thorough physical examination, skin testing (including a biopsy), blood work, X-rays and abdominal ultrasound,” Dr. McCullough says. 

Treatment options for skin cancer in dogs

Treating skin cancer in dogs depends on the type of skin cancer present. However, Dr. McCullough says that veterinarians may recommend surgically removing the mass or masses, a steroid medication, chemotherapy and/or radiation. 

How can pet parents prevent skin cancer in dogs?

Unfortunately, according to Dr. McCullough, there’s currently no proven way of protecting your dog from skin cancer. However, she urges pet parents to always visit the vet about changes in a dog’s health. “Pet parents should have their dogs evaluated by a veterinarian at the first sign of an abnormal growth or lump."

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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