Dog Tips

Skin Cancer in Dogs

Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?

Cancer is a terrifying prospect for any dog parent so, of course, a lump or growth on your pet is cause for concern. But could it really be skin cancer? Seems strange, right, because dogs are (usually) covered in fur. Unfortunately, your pooch is at a greater risk than you may think.

Like humans, the skin is a dog’s largest organ and tumors are quite common. While most growths are benign (60%-80%), any new growth or lump on your dog should always be evaluated by your vet. The most common growths on dogs are lipomas, which are fat cells, and sebaceous cysts, which can become cancerous.

It’s normal to worry about your dog’s skin issues and health. Fortunately, with the amount you pet and love on your pooch, you’ll likely notice any new growths and get him to the vet quickly. If caught early, skin cancer usually won’t progress beyond a treatable stage.

What Causes Skin Cancer in Dogs?

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Americans, with more cases per year than all other cancers combined. Skin cancer is also the most commonly diagnosed type of tumor found in dogs and the causes are similar, too.

Related Article: Common Cancers in Dogs

According to the American Kennel Club, genetics are the number one risk factor for skin cancer in dogs. Some breeds are more susceptible to certain types of cancer like hairless breeds. Dogs with short, thin, and light fur coats are also at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. Interestingly, boxers and golden retrievers have the highest skin cancer rates.

Just like people, other factors that play a large part in developing skin cancer are too much sun exposure, hormonal abnormalities, and environmental chemicals. It’s also been suggested that excessive licking of an area can damage the skin and increase the risk of cancer in that area.

What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Dogs?

Skin cancer can appear in a variety of shapes, forms, and even colors on dogs. These growths may look like warts, lumps, bumps, or lesions. They may bleed easily or change color or size. If your dog has an area that they’re continually licking or scratching, this may be a sign as well. Common colors for these lumps and bumps are black, brown, grey, pink, or red. Any unusual area on your dog’s skin should be looked at by your vet right away.

If you’re seeing growths or abnormalities on your pup’s skin, it is best to have a vet check it out. A dog insurance plan can help you with the costs of a cancer (or other skin condition) diagnosis.

What are the most common types of skin cancer in dogs?

Mast Cell Tumors: The most common type in dogs, MCTs account for approximately 20% of all skin tumors. They are often aggressive and regrow even after surgical removal. MTCs may spread and have a variety of appearances. If caught early, they can be treated successfully. While they can occur in any dog, boxers, boston terriers, golden retrievers, and schnauzers are at a higher risk.

Malignant Melanoma: A relatively common tumor in dogs, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that affects the pigmented melanocyte cells, often causing these tumors to be dark in color.  They can be found anywhere on a dog’s body, although they are most common in the mouth, or on their paw pads. These tumors tend to grow very quickly and can spread to other organs.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: These usually appear as a white mass or raised lump found on the skin, nail beds, or mouth. Sometimes these carcinomas will bleed as they get worse.

Can it Be Something Besides Skin Cancer?

If you find a lump or bump on your dog, don’t panic. Definitely schedule an appointment to see your vet, but there are lots of things these abnormalities could be. Some of the most common skin issues a dog may have are abscesses, basal cell tumors, lipomas, warts, cysts, hives, dermatitis, and even acne.

Check Your Pup

When your pup is calm and relaxed, give them a good skin cancer screening by running your hands over their faces; check out their ears and mouths, paws, nail beds, armpits, and so on. Most likely, they’ll love the attention. Pay special attention to anything that looks suspicious or new and unusual. Check your dog more as they get older, especially if they’ve had skin conditions in the past. As with all cancer, the earlier you catch it the better.


The best prevention of skin cancer in dogs is to provide them with ample shade. If you’re going to be spending the day having fun in the sun, consider doggy clothing or rash guards. Lots of companies make UV protective clothing for pets and dog-safe sunscreens, too. So get your buddy loaded up before you hit the beach or even just take a walk on a sunny day.

Checking your pup’s skin for abnormalities and fitting them with protective gear and sunscreen are essential in preventing doggy skin cancer. But because growths, tumors, lumps, and bumps are so common in fur babies, make sure you have their skin checked regularly by your vet, too.

Get a quote for pet insurance now and see what kind of help you can get on your vet bills. It’s best to get pet insurance when your pet is healthy, that way any skin issues that need treatment won’t be classified as a pre-existing condition.

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