Skin Cancer in Pets – What You Need to Know!
9 May, 2017

Summer is here and we tend to be outside more with our pets either swimming, walking or just at the dog park.  While outdoors, we put on sunblock as a preventative.  And we need to remember that just as in humans, our pets can get skin cancer too.  There are precautions you can take to prevent your pets from getting skin cancer and signs of what to look for on your pets.

First and most important is to always keep an eye on any lesions, bumps or growths on your pet’s skin. If you notice any changes or have any concerns, check with your veterinarian immediately.

The most common form of skin cancer in pets are melanomas

Both dogs and cats can develop skin cancer, and the common forms of skin cancers found in pets are melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinomas are relatively uncommon in pets, but melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma are all too common. The good news is that veterinarians can usually treat skin cancer successfully as long as it’s identified early on.

The most common malignant skin tumor in dogs is the mast cell tumo.

In dogs, the most common malignant skin tumor is the mast cell tumor which usually are formed from allergens.  Not all dogs and cats that suffer from allergies are prone to developing mast cell skin tumors.  There are certain breeds of dogs including Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, Pugs and Golden Retrievers that are predisposed to developing this type of tumor.

Any dog owner should be concerned about raised, hairless, pinkish-yellow masses, which could be mast cell tumors. Pugs are especially prone to simultaneously developing multiple mast cell tumors.  Luckily, the tumors can be removed successfully via surgery if it gets to that stage.

Mast cell tumors in cats looks like those in dogs

Mast cell tumors in cats look very similar to those in dogs. Because mast cells induce itching, swelling and redness, mast cell tumors may be red, itchy and periodically swell up and then return again later. This can make any pet owner think that because the mass disappeared, it can’t be cancer.  Which is why you should always consult your veterinarian.

Melanomas of the mouth are a serious cancer that need to be addressed immediately

Melanoma also occurs frequently in dogs and much less so in cats (but can and do occur). Melanomas of the skin in dogs are usually benign and the bad ones occur in the mouth, on the gums and where the nails meet the toes. If detected early, veterinarians can now treat melanomas with a vaccine coupled with surgery or radiation therapy.  Some orange cats develop freckles on their lips and gums, but as long as they are flat, the pigment should be normal.

Sun exposure can be harmful to both dogs and cats- particularly those with white fur

Our cats and dogs dense fur does act as a natural sunscreen, but white-coated dogs and cats are the exceptions to this rule.  Also, dogs that sunbathe on their backs are also prone to developing squamous cell carcinoma in the thinly haired region of the tummy.  This type of cancer can be treated with surgery or radiation therapy if found early.

Injections in cats, usually from vaccinations, can sometimes cause a form of skin cancer

A rare tumor that can affect cats sometimes forms at the site of an injection. The injection induces inflammation that can turn into a malignancy. Millions of cats get injections, but only a few develop these tumors, which are known as injection-site sarcomas.

Prevention of skin cancer

In the summer months, walk your dogs in the shade and limit your outdoor cats’ time outside.   Dogs and cats don’t sweat like we do so it helps if you can keep them in cooler places (also provide lots of water).  If you have a dog that is out at the beach or a long hot hike during the summer, you might consider some protective clothing.  Even UV-protective T-shirts that are made for people could be an option for some dogs.

Cats and dogs love to lounge in the sun rays even inside and need to be protected

Remember that windows allow dangerous UV rays to penetrate, too, both at home and in your car, so you might consider getting sun protection film or shades for the windows.

Sunscreen for pets

There are some sunscreens on the market designed for pet. If you do use one of these products, make sure that the ingredients are safe enough that if your pets lick it, they will not get sick.

This article only touches the surface on skin cancer  in pets but as always, protect your pets from too much sun.  And if you see anything unusual on your dog or cat’s skin, go to your vet immediately.

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