Cancer is scary, but being proactive about your dog’s health is your best chance to minimize its effects.
Dogs are susceptible to many types of cancer—just like humans—and cancer is the cause of about a quarter of all deaths in purebred dogs, up to a shocking 60% in golden retrievers. And the older a dog gets? The more likely tumors (and the big ‘C’) are to become a part of their life.
10 Early Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs
What can we do? As a pet parent, providing a good diet, daily exercise, and regular check-ups are the way to maintain a healthy dog. As your dog ages, keep an eye out for the top 10 cancer warning signs and regularly check over your dog for unusual lumps, bumps, and growths between vet visits to significantly improve chances of spotting a potential problem before it gets out of hand.
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
Skin Cancer Screening for Dogs
At a time when your dog is normally quite calm, you can kneel on the floor or have them hop up on a bench or table to get a closer look. Bath time is also the perfect time to get an all-over look at your pet.
Starting with the head, check inside the ears, run your hands all over the face and jowls, and check the lips for new or unusual lumps, growths, wounds, or scabs. Next, run your hands all over the neck and chest, parting the hair to get a closer look at anything suspicious.
Run your hands from armpits to paws, and take a look at and between each paw pad and nail bed. Now you can check the belly, back, and flanks, making sure that the mammaries and groin especially are free from heat, swelling, lumps or crust. Finish up with the hind legs, buns, and tail, paying special attention to swelling or redness in the anal area.
How often you check your dog for skin cancer will increase as your dog ages, especially if they have been treated for a lump in the past. The earlier you find and treat a potential cancer, the less you will have to do in regards to surgery and treatment.
What to look for when checking your dog for skin cancer:
- Tumors, areas of color change, or scaly, crusty lesions
- New growths or a change in color or size of an existing growth
- Tumors that bleed easily or areas that do not to heal
- An area the dog is continually licking or scratching
- Swelling in the breast tissue or discharge from a nipple
- Suspicious lumps or areas of discoloration under the tail
- Masses or tissue that seems different from surrounding areas in the mouth
Make Your Mark
If you do find an unusual lump or bump on your dog, you’ll want to make sure you can find it again to track any changes and to show your veterinarian. Consider using a sharpie marker to circle the area, or if you have clippers on hand, you can carefully shave on or around a concerning area (even trimming a little hair with scissors can help you quickly find the areas that need attention.)
Now you’re ready to show your vet your findings and get the proper testing done early.
Most Common Lumps and Bumps
An abscess is typically the result of an infected wound such as a bite, and can occur anywhere on the body. Blood and pus build up under the skin causing a painful red swelling or lump. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics after determining which bacteria are causing the infection, and may drain the wound or take a blood sample to check that the infection hasn’t spread.
Basal cell tumor
Also known as Trichoblastoma, basal cell tumors are a mostly benign tumor of the base skin layer. These tumors appear as hairless lumps on the head, neck, and shoulder of older dogs. A cancerous basal cell tumor will appear red and ulcerated, and can apear anywhere on the body. The cocker spaniel, poodle, kerry blue and wheaten terrier, and Brussels pointing gryphon breeds are most known for this disease.
Like eczema, a red, rashy irritable patch of skin that may crust over and ooze. A unique type of dermatitis in dogs is the result of too much concentrated licking due to anxiety, boredom, or stress, frequently on the leg or paws.
Red bumpy skin on your dog may be the result of an allergy. Your vet may prescribe an antihistamine, or cold oatmeal baths.
Lipoma ‘fatty tumor’
The most common and benign tumor in dogs, these are soft lumps of fat underneath the skin that are easy to move around. This type of tumor may be left alone unless it affects the comfort or movement of the dog, and usually come in multiples.
Melanocytomas are non-cancerous tumors of the coloration skin cells. These dark mole-like blotches are generally found in the front half of the body and can come in a wide range of shape and sizes. Surgical removal is recommended.
Moles and warts
Just like humans, your dog may have a beauty mark or two, and may have encountered papilloma (wart) virus playing at the dog park or through sexual contact. Keeping track of these is probably more important than removing them, and knowing your dog tip to tail includes knowing which spots and blots are normal for your individual dog. Show your vet any new moles you find on your dog, or any moles that have changed, so that they can determine they are not melanoma.
These are benign sacs of fluid or gunky sebum from a blocked pore. They can be left to heal on their own, or surgically removed. Don’t give in to the temptation to squeeze, as you may cause more harm than good, leading to a potential skin infection.
The Top 3 Skin Cancers in Dogs
If it seems like there are a lot of non-cancerous lumps and bumps to be found on your dog, that’s because it’s true. Here’s the 411 on the top skin tumors of a cancerous nature to be on the lookout for.
Mast cell tumors
Mast cell tumors can be under the skin or come through the skin. These tumors most frequently appear on the trunk or main body of the dog, and may feel rubbery to the touch. These tumors also can shrink or grow very rapidly, and may also be hot to the touch. Surgical removal with clean edges is required for these deep rooted tumors. Some mast cell tumors may be benign, and some evidence suggest they can be brought on by an allergic reaction or a lowered immune system.
Malignant melanomas are most often found on the lips, in the mouth, or in the nail beds, but can occur anywhere pigment occurs. Usually, but not always dark in color, these tumors have a deep root and require surgery.
Squamous cell carcinoma
An open wound or white mass that won’t heal may be a squamous cell carcinoma. This cancer in dogs has been linked to high altitude living and UV exposure. These lesions appear most frequently on the nose, ears, legs, anus, or any white-skinned or lightly furred area of the dog’s body.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.