One of the most frequently diagnosed issues in dogs is a skin problem. Skin issues can be due to any number of things, and usually skin irritations are caused by environmental factors, including diet. Whether your pet is allergic to something in your yard, in your home, or ate something that its body didn’t respond well to, skin problems can be highly concerning to pet owners—and rightfully so. In fact, when we notice a concerning-looking skin irritation on our dog, it can be downright frightening; it’s tough not to automatically assume it’s the worst possible outcome: skin cancer. But let’s just take it slowly.
Animals suffer from skin cancer much in the same ways that humans do; they are susceptible to the sun’s harmful UV rays, and extended exposure can be damaging to skin cells, resulting in various types of skin cancer. Combined with genetics, there are many factors to consider when determining what the blemish on your dog’s skin might be, and it’s important to have a basic understanding of the breeds that are most susceptible, what different types of skin cancers look like, the typical symptoms associated, and how your trusted veterinarian can help you through the process, from diagnosis to treatment.
Depending on the breed of dog you have, your pup could be slightly more at risk than others. Dogs between the ages of 5 and 10 years old are particularly susceptible to certain types of skin blemishes; most of them are benign tumors. However, many short-haired, light-skinned dogs are most vulnerable to skin cancers, especially upon prolonged sun exposure. If your pup likes to be out in the sun, limit their time sun bathing and be sure to put sunscreen on them when in direct sunlight.
Malignant melanoma is a concern to animals as well as humans; it develops and spreads quickly. The benign version of this are called melanocytomas and should be monitored carefully. Squamous cell carcinoma can be slightly easier to treat, as they usually only affect the immediate area on the skin and the tissue. The most frequent type of skin cancer in dogs is a mast cell tumor, which attacks the immune system. Looking out for the symptoms of these various types of skin cancer can help catch it early, potentially making it more treatable depending on the situation.
The different forms of skin cancer can occur in different places on your dog, so it helps to know where to look. Melanomas that spread quickly are usually found on the more vulnerable areas on your pup, usually where there is less hair and frequent licking can occur, such as: the mouth area (internally or externally), and the paws and beds of the toenails. Benign melanocytomas usually occur where there is more hair on the animal’s body. Usually appearing on the pup’s stomach, lower belly, and paws squamous cell carcinomas are raised like bump. Alternatively mast cell tumors are mass-like in appearance and can grow quickly or slowly. They can be found most frequently on the dog’s legs and torso.
Surgical removal is the most typical first step in treatment, alongside chemotherapy in some cases that warrant such treatment modalities. If caught early, many tumors and cancerous blemishes can be treated; however, sometimes cancers can be more aggressive and spread to areas that cannot be treated with only surgery and clean margins. Treating a dog’s cancer is a difficult series of decisions to make, and can be expensive. It’s important to speak with your veterinarian about your options and the best course of treatment for your pet.
At Dr. Ron’s Animal Hospital & Emergency, we have helped a large number of families and individuals treat various types of cancer in canines. Residents of Simi Valley, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Chatsworth, and other areas nearby Ventura County bring their pets to us in these times of need because we handle every situation with immediacy, integrity, and respect for our patients and their beloved animals. We know that cancer is a scary diagnosis to receive—animal or human—and it is our mission to help our clients through the stressful time. If you have concerns about your own pet, please contact our office to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.