The message regarding sun safety seems to be getting through loud and clear for most humans these days, but did you know that sun safety is a big consideration for your pet – including your dog?
Almost any disease a human can get, so can other animals, especially mammals – including, in particular, cancer.
Even though your dog is covered in fur, dogs can and do get skin cancer. In fact, skin tumours are the most common tumours found in dogs, and many of these can be cancerous (meaning they have the ability to spread to other organs and areas of the body).
Some skin cancers in dogs are caused by sun exposure, while others result from other causes. Most at risk are:
- Breeds with thin or very short coats
- Dogs with light coloured fur
Dogs can develop different kinds of skin cancer.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is caused by sun exposure and also the papilloma virus. They can be very locally aggressive and destroy much of the surrounding tissue if not treated. It tends to appear most in middle-aged dogs with short coats, and breeds more susceptible include Collies, Dalmatians, Beagles, Bull Terriers, Keeshonds, Basset Hounds, and Schnauzers. These tumours appear firm and raised, resembling a wart, and may appear on the belly or near the genitals or on the feet. They can be painful. Treatment is usually surgical removal.
- Malignant Melanoma
This is a cancer that can spread throughout the body. It is found in hairy areas of the body in dogs, yet most cases appear on the mouth, lips, toenail beds and foot pads. Very fast growing, it can spread to lungs, liver, brain, and bones. If this happens, the disease is fatal. Sun exposure is a factor, yet so are genetics and even possibly compulsive licking to a certain area. Scottish Terriers and Schnauzers are statistically at higher risk of malignant melanoma, and the development of the disease on the toe or toenail bed is most common in black dogs. Treatment includes surgery, a special vaccine, and even chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Benign melanocytoma is a variant that doesn’t spread. It is not deadly, and is seen most in dogs that are middle aged. It appears black, red, brown, or grey in colour. It needs to be assessed by a vet to determine if it is harmless benign melanocytoma or deadly malignant melanoma.
- Mast Cell Tumours
The most common dog skin tumours, vets believe they may be related to skin inflammation and female hormones. They tend to grow slowly and are rubbery. They can be aggressive and may cause ulcers. They usually occur on the trunk or legs. These tumours are most common in Boxers and Pugs, and are also more frequently seen in Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Boston Terriers and Schnauzers. Surgery is the main treatment, with options for chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or steroid treatment.
Signs and Symptoms to Watch for:
- Any new lump, bump, or pigmented area
- Any sore that won’t heal
- A sore mouth
- Any spot the dog is obsessed with
- If your dog is limping or unwell
Not all lumps and bumps will be cancer – so don’t panic. Most tumours are benign and very easy to treat (if treatment is even required). The majority of lumps on dogs are fatty tumours (lipomas), which are benign. Other common lumps and bumps are cysts, warts (papillomas), or abscesses; even cancers, if found and treated early, are very curable.
If you find anything out of the ordinary on your dog’s skin, take him to the vet to get checked out.
Coming into the sunnier and warmer months, it’s important to have some thought for your dog’s safety in the sun.
- Go dog walking in the early morning or late afternoon – avoiding the sunniest part of the day
- Provide plenty of shade and always locate food and water out of the sun
- Place bedding area in the shade
- Sun-safe dog clothing is available to protect your dog in the sun, especially at the beach – coats, belly bands, and visors
- Maintain at least a centimetre and a half of fur when you get Fido his summer clip
- Use vet-available pet sunscreen
- Check your dog from nose to tail once a month. If you find anything new or unusual, get it checked at the vet.