a pug wearing a sun hat

Skin Cancer and Your Pets

There’s no doubt that many of us think of pets as members of our family. Did you realize that your pet can get skin cancer, just like the other members of your family can?

Types of skin cancer pets can get

The most common type of skin cancer for humans, basal cell carcinoma, is more uncommon for pets, but your dogs and cats can still develop BCC, along with squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

There’s another type of skin cancer found in pets, though, that isn’t commonly found in people, and that is a mast cell tumor. Mast cell tumors are fairly common for dogs, especially Boxers, Labrador Retrievers, Bull Terriers, and Boston Terriers. Unfortunately, mast cell tumors can be invasive and spread to lymph nodes, organs, and bone marrow which can make them more difficult to treat, so prompt treatment is recommended.

Treatment for mast cell tumors can include wide cell excision if the location allows, or radiation and/or chemotherapy if the tumor is in a difficult area to excise.

We can't always tell

Skin cancer in animals can present some of the same issues as with skin cancers in people, in that we can’t always tell what is skin cancer and what isn’t. Cancerous areas on pets may look like an insect bite, or a wart, or an allergic reaction and should be diagnosed by a veterinarian. The vet may do a fine needle aspiration (using a small needle to obtain a sample of cells for examination) to help in diagnosing skin cancer.

What to look for

So what should you look for on your pet?  If you feel a lump or sore on your pet, or notice an unusual swollen or red area or open wound on your pet’s skin, keep an eye on it. If it doesn’t get better within a week or two, it’s probably time to call the vet. But don’t just keep an eye on your pet’s skin; pets (especially dogs) can get melanoma not just on the skin but also in their mouth, on their gums, and around their nail area.

Your pets need sun protection too!

You may be surprised to learn that even though your pet may love it, sunbathing isn’t good for them--especially if your pet has a short coat or white fur. Also, ears and noses of white dogs and cats are especially susceptible to sunburn, as are the stomachs of dogs who like to sunbathe on their backs. And as we know, sunburn can lead to skin cancer. Other animals with very little hair, like pigs, hippos, and elephants, are also more susceptible to skin cancer, so if you have pigs, hippos or elephants, keep a close eye on them.

What you can do

So what can you do to help your pet not get skin cancer? Provide them with shade. Don’t leave your pets in a sunny spot outdoors for hours on end. You may want to look into sun-protective clothing for your pets. Use shades or sun protection film on the windows of your car and at home to help block UV rays. While there are some sunscreens marketed for pets, though, be cautious with these as your pet may want to lick off the sunscreen and if the sunscreen includes zinc, that could make your pet sick.

Having your pet diagnosed with skin cancer can be scary. Much like in humans, though, skin cancer in pets can be treatable, especially with early diagnosis.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

How often to do you speak to family and friends about skin cancer?