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Dogs and Skin Cancer

Dog Skin Cancer: Which Breeds Are at Risk?

All dogs can get skin cancer, but certain types of cancer more commonly occur in particular breeds.

Benign melanocytomas are often seen in Vislas, Miniature Schnauzers, Doberman Pinschers, Airedale Terriers, and Bay Retrievers, typically in animals between 5 and 11 years old. Malignant melanomas on the toe or in the toenail bed appear more frequently in black dogs.

Squamous cell carcinomas tend to appear in dogs that are between six and 10 years old. Breeds that are more likely to get this type of skin cancer include Keeshonds, Standard Schnauzers, Basset Hounds, Collies, Dalmatians, Bull Terriers, and Beagles. In general, dogs with short coats (especially those with light skin) are more prone to squamous cell carcinomas.

Mast cell tumors are most commonly seen in Boxers, and are also found with some frequency in Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, and Schnauzers.

Signs and Symptoms: How to Spot Skin Cancer in Dogs

Dog skin cancer symptoms depend on the type of cancer it is and where the tumor is located on your dog’s body.

Melanomas. Benign melanocytomas may range in size from very small to more than 2.5 inches in diameter. They appear on areas of the skin covered with hair and may be black, brown, gray, or red in color. Malignant dog melanomas tend to occur in the mouth, on the lips, and in the toenail beds, and pads of the feet. When dog melanomas occur in the feet, they often become infected, leading to misdiagnosis as a simple infection.

Squamous cell carcinomas. These tumors are firm and raised with a wart-like appearance. They often occur on the abdomen and around the genitals. When they occur on the feet, they may be painful and cause your dog to limp.

Mast cell tumors. These skin cancers in dogs are typically slow-growing and rubber-like. More aggressive mast cell tumors grow faster and may ulcerate, leading to the development of sore, inflamed areas on the dog’s body. Mast cell tumors most commonly occur on the trunk of the body, though they are found on the legs about 25% of the time.

Treatment Options for Dog Skin Cancer

The treatment depends upon the type of tumor and its location. 

Surgery is often the first step for malignant melanomas. If the melanoma cannot be removed in its entirety or if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, radiation is commonly used. In these situations, the cancer may go into remission nearly 70% of the time, though recurrence is common. Chemotherapy is often used in combination with surgery and/or radiation therapy. There is also a vaccine that causes the dog’s own immune system to attack tumor cells, which often successfully extends the survival time of dogs with oral melanoma.

Squamous cell carcinomas can often be removed surgically, with no need for radiation or chemotherapy. If the tumors occur in inoperable locations, photodynamic therapy and the use of a drug called piroxicam may be beneficial.  

Dog mast cell tumors are best treated by surgical removal with or without radiation therapy, depending on the size and location of the skin cancer. Based on the grade of the cancer and the degree to which it has spread, chemotherapy and/or steroids may be used as well.

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WebMD Veterinary Reference

Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM on August 20, 2009

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