Your pets may enjoy their time in the sun as much as you do this summer. And although they may love basking in the warm rays, skin cancer is a risk for pets just as it is for humans. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in dogs. Cats, too, are often affected by skin cancer, especially cats with short hair, light-colored coats, and lots of sun exposure. Regular annual wellness visits with your veterinarian are essential, including a complete nose-to-tail physical exam and looking for signs of skin cancer. Your pet’s veterinarian can detect skin cancer at these visits, but it’s also essential for pet owners to understand and recognize signs of pet skin cancer, especially as pets age.

Skin Cancer In Pets

The most common skin cancers diagnosed in dogs and cats include:

  • Malignant melanoma
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Fibrosarcoma

Certain risk factors contribute to the likelihood that a pet will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. As a pet parent, you can mitigate some of these risks by limiting your pet’s time in the sun, applying sunscreen if necessary (yes, pet sunscreen is a thing!), and limiting exposure to cigarette smoke. Your veterinarian can talk with you about breed-specific cancers so that you can be on the lookout early. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Short hair, no hair, or a hair coat that is too thin to protect from the sun
  • Light colored skin
  • Length of time exposed to sun light
  • Breed pre-disposition
  • Environmental factors, including exposure to cigarette smoke

Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

It is vital to catch skin cancer as early as possible. Early detection and treatment often mean a better outcome for your pet. You can monitor your pet at home when you pet or groom them by looking for abnormalities on their skin, between their toes, and in their mouth. Signs and symptoms to watch for include:

  • Any changes to the skin’s appearance, including unusual lesions on the skin
  • Redness or flaky patches of skin
  • Sores that will not heal
  • Swelling of the skin or under the skin

Skin cancer treatment typically involves surgical removal, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination. Our veterinarians will discuss a treatment plan with you based on the type and stage of the cancer. A veterinary oncologist can speak with you and examine your pet should you ever need one. 

If you have noticed something unusual about your pet’s skin or have questions about skin cancer in pets, please call us to schedule an appointment.