Animal Friends Blog
You might be surprised to hear that dogs can get skin cancer, but their skin is a lot like ours and can come down with a lot of the same conditions we can, too. There are a few different forms of skin cancer in dogs and not all kinds are caused by overexposure to the sun.
What is skin cancer?
When most people think about skin cancer, they probably never picture a dog as we rarely think about our pets being susceptible to the disease. It might be because they’re covered head to toe in fur (most of them!) and therefore hidden from the sun burn and harmful rays, but this isn’t the case.
There are different kinds of tumours that vary in size, characteristics, location and risk. While exposure to the sun can increase the chance of our dogs developing skin cancer, any dog is at risk of developing the disease, especially if their genetics play a role.
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
Because our pets are covered in fur, sometimes long and thick, it can be quite difficult to see or spot any signs of skin cancer. As we know, the earlier we diagnose any type of cancer, the better, so knowing what to look for will help you spot things early for the best chance of recovery if the growth is found to be cancerous.
Regularly grooming your dog will help you to consistently check for any unusual lumps, bumps, lesions, scabs or changes to their skin. Don’t forget to check their armpits, groin and under and around their tail.
Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Lesions, ulcers or sores that won’t go away or heal
- Unexplained lumps, bumps or growths
- Any unusual swelling, itchiness or constant licking
- Changes to their skin, including colour and texture
If you find anything unusual about your dog’s body or skin, then it’s best to get it checked with a vet as soon as you can.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
Your vet will perform a complete physical examination and if they suspect skin cancer then they will usually extract cells from the tumour and examine them under a microscope. This will help determine whether or not the lump is cancerous.
How is skin cancer in dogs treated?
Surgery will usually be recommended once your vet finds signs of skin cancer, with chemotherapy or radiation also available, depending on the cancer and its stage.
Are any dog breeds prone to skin cancer?
Dogs that are light-coloured, have thin coats or have a lack of fur are more susceptible to sun damage that can lead to the development of skin cancer. Older dogs are also at a higher risk of tumours and cancers of any organ, including their skin.
How to prevent skin cancer in dogs?
As other factors play a part in skin cancer it’s only possible to minimise your dog’s risk of environmentally caused tumours, or sun-related skin cancer.
Minimise exposure to sunlight
It’s a good idea to discourage your dog from lying in the sun for too long, especially if they have light skin or a thin coat.
Pet sun cream
You can buy sunblock, sunscreen or sun cream specifically for dogs but it’s important to bear in mind that our dogs can often remove the protection while grooming themselves, which would mean there is a reduced effect.
Always provide a shaded area outside, especially if your dog likes to spend time in the garden. It’s a good idea to make sure any walks you might go on have a place for you and your pooch to hide from the sun and catch your breath in the cool shade provided by trees or houses.
UV protection clothing
If you go on long walks with your dog in the summer you might want to invest in a doggy rash guard, which is often infused with SPF for extra protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
The importance of regular checks
The most important thing to do is to keep checking your dog’s body for any anomalies and speak to your vet if you have any concerns – this way you can catch any potential issues at an early stage and minimise any damage to their skin before it becomes serious.
Depending on the type of cancer and its treatment, many dogs go on to live normal lives relatively unaffected by the condition, but remember that prevention is always better than the cure, so reduce the risk of sun-induced cancers by taking extra care and precautions to keep your dog safe in the sun.
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