Dogs have luxurious fur coats that protect them from harmful UV rays. Obviously, dogs cannot have skin cancer, right? Wrong! Skin tumors are the leading type of cancerous growths in dogs. Early detection can stop the cells in the tumors from propagating and spreading to other organs.
Sunlight is just one of the factors that contribute to skin cancer. Other causes include genetics and trauma to the skin caused by cuts and abrasion. Compulsive licking of certain areas on the dog’s body can lead to increased growth of cancer cells. Female hormonal imbalance such as estrogen and progesterone may also lead to the growth of cancer cells. Skin cancer could be fatal if left untreated.
Types of Dog Skin Cancer
Dogs have many non-cancerous lumps such as sebaceous cysts caused by the accumulation of sebum from a clogged pore. However, certain tumors will need immediate attention.
Malignant melanoma affects melanocytes, which are responsible for giving the skin color. Non-threatening or benign tumors typically develop in dogs. The cells in these tumors do not metastasize or spread aggressively.
Malignant tumors are the nasty, aggressive kind, that develops on the lips, nail bed, and mucous membranes such as the mouth. Only 10 percent of the time, will malignant tumors develop in parts covered with hair.
Malignant tumors spread quickly to other parts such as the lungs and liver. They require treatment using conventional cancer therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Mast Cell Tumors
Mast Cell Tumors (MCTs) are another form of skin cancer in dogs. The condition can be defined as the abnormal growth of mast cells. These cells reside in connective tissues near external surfaces in the skin, mouth, nose, lungs, etc.
Mast cells play a role in immune response since they contain histamine and heparin. Also, they play a role in the formation of blood vessels and tissue repair.
In dogs, mast cell tumors are the most common type of skin tumor. If left untreated, the tumors spread to other parts of the body such as the spleen, bone marrow, and tract.
The tumor is least aggressive since cells are well differentiated. There is a low chance of metastasis (spread to other organs).
The degree of differentiation is still good, but there is the potential of spread of the tumors locally.
Tumors are considered highly aggressive, and there is poor differentiation. They can spread regionally to bone marrows, lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs as an open wound or white mass on the skin that refuses to heal. Most of these wounds result from exposure to UV rays and high-altitude living.
Researchers believe that the papillomavirus causes the development of squamous cell tumors in dogs. You can identify this cancer by searching for its wart-like lesions, which are firm, raised, and appear on the abdomen, anus, ears, legs, nose and any white-skinned area. Your dog could start limping when the lesions occur on the feet.
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma that occurs in the skin is called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. It often occurs in areas of heavily pigmented skin and areas of the skin that are often exposed to sunlight.
Subungual squamous cell carcinoma
Subungual squamous cell carcinoma refers to tumors that appear in the nail beds. This is the most common type of squamous cell carcinoma in dogs.
Oral squamous cell carcinoma
If the tumors are in the mouth of the dog, then veterinarians refer to the cancer as oral squamous cell carcinoma. Oral squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of mouth cancer in dogs.
Dogs with a Predisposition to Cancer
Skin cancer can affect all dogs. However, some dogs through studies indicate a certain disposition to cancers. The different types of cancer that can occur in specific breeds include:
- Benign melanocytomas or benign tumors commonly affect Airedale Terriers, Bay Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, and Vizslas. The dogs affected are between 5 to 11 years old.
- Squamous cell carcinomas appear in dogs from the age of 6 to 10 years old. Dogs likely to suffer from this condition include the Basset Hounds, Beagles, Bull Terriers, Collies, Dalmatians, Keeshonds, and Standard Schnauzers.
- Malignant melanomas will appear more in black breeds such as the Scottish Terriers and Schnauzers.
- Mast cell tumors occur commonly in Boxers and Pugs. They also emerge in Beagles, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Schnauzers.
Early Warning Signs of Dog Skin Cancer
Dogs may exhibit early signs of cancer, which you might be able to recognize. Depending on the type of skin cancer, symptoms may vary.
Symptoms of Malignant Melanoma
One sign of malignant melanoma in dogs is swelling of the lymph nodes. The swelling may occur beneath the jaw or around the shoulder.
Another sign of melanoma is a high concentration of skin pigment known as melanin. However, there are many times where the melanoma does not appear to be dark or pigmented.
In general, melanoma tumors may be found in areas such as the mouth, eyes, face, feet, and beneath the dog’s coat.
Symptoms Of Mast Cell Tumors
Symptoms of mast cell tumors in dogs include bumps on the skin surface. Most tumors, roughly 50 percent, are in the region between the anus and vulva in females. In males, it is the area between the anus and scrotum.
Look for bumps which can be reddish and ulcerated, even in parts such as the paw. Most lumps occur singly, but it not uncommon to find multiple bumps.
Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma in dogs will vary depending on the location. As a general guide, the main symptoms you will see are crusty, bleeding sores that won’t heal, or white-colored growths of skin.
Here is a list of the most common symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma in dogs:
- Bleeding sores
- Inflamed sores that look like warts
- Signs of limping and lameness
- Difficulty swallowing and chewing
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Inflamed skin in the mouth
Detection Of Dog Skin Cancer
Detecting masses and lumps on your dog’s skin can stop cancer cells before they propagate. The best time to examine your dog physically is during bath time. You will be looking for lumps, growths, scabs or sores that have taken a long time to heal.
Run your hands all over your dog’s body beginning from the head to the face, armpits, and paws. Focus on each paw pad and nail bed. Remember to check the back, belly, flanks, legs, buns, and tail. If you find a suspicious lump, you can mark the area using a sharpie or trim the spot with a pair of scissors. That makes it easy to show it to the veterinarian.
Sudden weight loss accompanied by the loss of appetite are indicators that something is wrong. Dogs with tumors can become lethargic, and hesitate to run or exercise. It is recommended that you search for signs of cancer more frequently as the dog grows older.
Treatment Options For Dogs With Skin Cancer
Treatment of Malignant Melanoma
Finding and cutting cancer out is the first approach in removing malignant tumors. The veterinarian administers radiation to kill the leftover cancer cells after surgery. These procedures lead to remission in nearly 70% of the cases. Chemotherapy is also paired with radiation therapy or surgery.
Treatment of Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The good news is that squamous cell carcinoma in dogs is one of the more treatable forms of canine cancer. The complete cure of any type of cancer in dogs is very rare. When the cancer is caught early enough, however, squamous cell carcinoma is usually treatable and the dog’s life expectancy can be significantly increased.
If cancer has not metastasized to other parts of the body, a dog that has surgery to remove squamous cell carcinoma has a 95% chance of surviving for at least another 12 months or more.
If repeat surgery on a dog is required to remove the tumors, then 60% of those dogs can be expected to survive for at least a further 12 months. Unfortunately, however, in cases where internal metastasis is present, the 12-month survival rate is only 10%.
With squamous cell carcinomas, the most common treatment option to remove these tumors is surgery. The dog will not need radiation or chemotherapy. When the tumor is removed, 2 centimeters of the surrounding tissue will also be removed to ensure that all the cancerous tissue has been taken out. If the cancer is in the nails, that can mean that an entire digit will need to be amputated.
As squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer of the skin, the surgery required to remove it is usually not very invasive. This improves the chances of survival and makes recovery from the surgery relatively easy for the dog. However, the area of skin where the tumor used to be will need to be kept clean and steps will have to be taken to stop the dog from scratching or licking the wound. It is likely that the vet will ask for a return check-up a few weeks after surgery to assess the dog’s progress.
Other than surgery, there aren’t many alternative options available for the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma in dogs. Alternatives might be suggested if the cancer is caught in the very early stages, or if the dog is not fit enough to undergo surgery.
One alternative to surgery is chemotherapy via an implanted gel, which has been shown to be effective in some cases of squamous cell carcinoma in dogs. There has also been some success with a medication called Etretinate, which is a medication that is usually used for the treatment of very severe cases of psoriasis in dogs.
Cryotherapy, which is a treatment that freezes the tumor, may also be used. For oral squamous cell carcinoma in dogs, a combination of surgery and cryotherapy is often employed.
In cases where the surgery is thought to have not removed all the cancerous tissue, or where the tumors are in a location that makes surgery difficult, radiation therapy may be recommended. Follow-up chemotherapy may be recommended, particularly in cases where there is evidence of metastasis.
Treatment of Mast Cell Tumors
MCTs are a diagnosable condition, requiring a trip to the vet. The veterinarian using a needle will draw a sample of the suspicious mass and conduct further diagnostics on other parts of the body.
Next, blood work is performed to gauge the grade of the tumor cells. After the diagnosis, the doctor recommends suitable treatments.
Sometimes surgery is appropriate for dogs. Especially when they have grade I or II cells since the tumors are localized. According to a clinical study, 84% of dogs are completely free of MCT after complete resections or removals of the tumor masses. In some cases, two surgeries are necessary as well as radiation or chemotherapy.
The use of radiation involves targeting of tumor sites with high energy beams. It is done for curative and palliative reasons, in which the effectiveness depends on the number of frequency of treatments. The therapy can cause side effects such as hair loss, pain, inflammation, among others. Unlike surgery, it is useful in treating regional tumors associated with grade 3 cells.
It involves the administration of drugs such as prednisone and vinblastine. However, chemo drugs have various side effects since they destroy the cancer mass and healthy cells in the process.
Mast cell tumors are best-defeated using surgical removal without the need for radiation therapy. It all depends on the size and location of the cell mass. For example, chemo drugs can target and kill cancer cells if they have spread throughout the body.
CBD & Dog Skin Cancer
Although the FDA prevents us from making any medical claims on our website about the medical benefits of our CBD pet products, we encourage you to do your own research about using CBD to treat any health condition.
There have been studies and tests done on people as well as animals involving the use of CBD for many treatments. These studies are readily available with just a click of a mouse. The results of these studies are very impressive, to say the least.
Many people are now using CBD and other Cannabinoids to treat many different ailments & conditions. We encourage you as a proud pet parent to learn all about CBD and all that the Cannabis plant has to offer your pet.
We offer a wide variety of CBD products for pets including: CBD Dog Treats, CBD Pet Capsules, and CBD Pet Tinctures. All of them are 3rd party lab tested and vet approved! Please refer to our CBD Buyers guide if you are interested in buying CBD products or just visit our CBD Pet Products page.
How to Prevent Dog Skin Cancer
Genetics among other factors can result in skin cancer. Thus, stopping dog skin cancer might prove impossible. Exposure to direct sunlight is a factor in your control. The dog’s hairless areas such as the abdomen, ear, nose, and paw pads are the most susceptible to sun damage.
You can minimize sun damage by ensuring your pooch spends time in shady areas when it goes outside. Watch out for surfaces like concrete, sand, and asphalt that radiate heat.
If you are going to use sunscreen, opt for dog-safe sunscreen. You will apply the sunscreen on hairless areas such as the abdomen, ears, muzzle, and nose.
Protect your dog with protective gear made of a breathable fabric. These doggy clothes act as tank tops and rash guards. If you need to go that extra mile, you can consider getting your dog a pair of dog sunglasses or goggles.
Warts or papilloma can act as precursors for dog skin cancer. Infected pets are the transmitters for this disease. Steer your pooch clear of infected dogs.
Obsessive licking also has a role in stimulating uncontrollable cell replication. Dogs exhibiting this behavior may be suffering from hotspots or seasonal skin allergies that cause itchy skin in dogs. Home remedies such as oatmeal baths, a favorite among dog owners, can reduce the itchiness. You can use coconut oil, aloe vera, neem oil, and olive oil to treat dry, itchy skin.
Thanks for reading!
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