Dog outside in the sun.

Although no one likes to hear the word “cancer,” is is unfortunately a common diagnosis, especially in older patients. There are many types of pet cancer that can affect our furry friends in a multitude of ways, with each type behaving somewhat differently. At Blue Valley Animal Hospital, we are often asked about skin cancer and skin cancer symptoms in pets. Read on to learn about the signs to watch out for and ways to avoid skin cancer in your four-legged family member.

Pet Cancer Symptoms

The term cancer refers to a condition in which the cells in a certain body tissue begin to divide outside of the normal regulatory controls. Depending on where it is located, how quickly it grows, how it affects other nearby tissues and organs, and whether or not it spreads, cancer can be benign or malignant and can have a variety of side effects.

Even within the category of skin cancer, pet cancer can have a variety of presentations. In general, skin cancer symptoms in pets might include:

  • A lump or bump
  • Scaly areas
  • Non-healing wound or sore
  • Change in pigmentation
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased energy levels

Common Skin Cancer Diagnoses

Any age, breed, or species can be affected by skin cancer. There are certainly some types that are more common than others, though. Our veterinarians most often diagnose:

  • Mast cell tumors—A normal cell in the skin that mediates allergic reactions through the release of histamine, mast cells sometimes get out of control. These skin-based tumors can appear red and irritated in later stages, and can occur in both dogs and cats. Short-coated breeds like pitbulls, boxers, and pugs are more often diagnosed. 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma—A cancer of one of the layers of the skin itself, SCC is seen many times on less-pigmented areas that are vulnerable to sun exposure. It may appear as a discrete tumor or a more scaly-type sore. 
  • Melanoma—Derived from the pigment producing cells in the skin, melanomas are often dark in color and can occur anywhere including on the mouth or nail beds. 

Depending on the type and location of the tumor, we often recommend surgical biopsy and/or removal.

Ways to Avoid Skin Cancer

While we are still in the infancy of understanding how to completely prevent cancer both in people and pets, there are definitely some ways to avoid skin cancer in pets that you can employ. 

  • Keeping light-colored and short-coated pets protected from the sun when possible
  • Do not shave down your pet so that the coat can offer protection
  • Consider a pet-specific PABA and zinc oxide free sunscreen for vulnerable areas like ear tips
  • Look for UV protective pet clothing
  • Use Doggles to protect your pet’s eyes from UV light
  • Treat skin trauma such as licking from allergies promptly to avoid potential long-term changes in cells that could contribute to cancer formation
  • Give your pet a good once over periodically so that you can be more aware of changes
  • Keep up on your pet’s annual wellness visits
  • Notify us right away if you have a concern

Skin cancer in pets is not uncommon, but working together as a team to prevent and detect trouble early in its course is key to minimizing any damage. The sooner we diagnose pet cancer of any kind, the better options and prognosis we have.