Pet Wellness Guides > Skin Cancer in Dogs: What Every Pup Parent Should Know

Skin Cancer in Dogs: What Every Pup Parent Should Know

Posted: 03/20/2023 | BY: Erin Cain | Categories: Dog , Health problems , Top Tips

It’s a common misconception amongst some pup parents that their dog is safe from developing skin cancer because of her fur. Unfortunately, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of tumor in dogs, and it is very similar to the disease in people. Even though our pups have fur, their skin can still be affected by the sun. As the better weather arrives, your dog will be outside in the sun more often, so it’s a good time to learn about skin cancer in dogs and what every pup parent should know about it.

Dog with stick runs in the sun.

What causes skin cancer in dogs?

Sun damage

Some causes of skin cancer in dogs are still unknown by the veterinary community. Still, one certainty is skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) due to exposure to dangerous UV rays. Despite the fur on their bodies, dogs can get a sunburn, especially on areas of their bodies that do not have much hair, such as around the ears, nose, mouth, paws, and belly. Sunburn in dogs appears as hair loss or red skin. While sunburn is painful for dogs, repeated occurrences increase the chance of squamous cell carcinoma.

While sunburn can affect all dogs, some pups are more susceptible to this condition than others. Dogs who are white or light-skinned, or dogs who have a short or thin coat or no fur, are more vulnerable to developing skin cancer. Certain breeds are also more prone to skin cancer, including bloodhounds, dalmatians, collies, white bull terriers, and beagles.

What does squamous cell carcinoma look like in dogs? 

This skin cancer appears as lesions, scabs, lumps, or raised wart-like patches firm to the touch. They are typically located on the head, abdomen, lower legs, or rear end.


Certain pet products such as shampoos, flea collars, and even some foods and treats contain carcinogenic ingredients that can increase your pup’s risk of developing cancer.


Research has shown that some bacterial and viral infections can lead to the development of tumors. One such example is the Papillomavirus which causes papilloma tumors in dogs.


Both people and our pets can develop chronic disease due to lifestyle choices. Pets that eat an inadequate diet and lack enough physical activity are at more risk of developing cancer. Your dog can’t choose their own lifestyle habits, you’ve got to make healthy choices on your pup’s behalf.


Certain dog breeds are predisposed to specific types of cancer. Breeds prone to skin cancer are Bloodhounds, Beagles, Poodles, and Dalmations.


Another potential cause of skin cancer in dogs are the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are linked to the development of mast cell tumors, the most common type of skin cancer in dogs. Made up of unstable mast cells, these tumors release toxic granules to create allergic symptoms in a dog. These are growths that become suddenly larger in a short amount of time.

What does a mast cell tumor look like in dogs?

Mast cell tumors are solitary lumps that can appear anywhere on the canine body and are often different in size and shape. The tumor may be red and swollen or manifest as a bump or lump just underneath the skin.

Malignant melanoma

This type of melanoma is a tumor of pigmented cells within a dog’s body. Malignant melanoma is a form of aggressive cancer in canines. The tumor’s capacity to spread quickly makes this type of skin cancer one of the most dangerous. While benign forms of melanoma develop on the skin, malignant melanoma is often located in the oral cavity. This skin cacner can also be found in parts of the body where non-haired parts meet with the haired areas, such as lips, anal region, and vulva. There are even some cases of malignant melanoma spread in a dog’s nail beds.

What does malignant melanoma look like in dogs?

These tumors may appear to be a pigmented mass that ulcerates or bleeds as it grows larger. Sometimes, the tumor may be pink in color or flat and wrinkled. Any tumor discovered in a dog’s mouth may be a sign of this cancer, and an immediate veterinary assessment is necessary.

Shepherd dog in the sun.

What is the treatment for skin cancer in dogs?

If your dog develops skin cancer, what can you expect in terms of treatment? It depends entirely on the type of tumor and its location. In many cases, treatment involves surgery, targeted therapies, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these procedures. Early diagnosis is key in successfully treating the cancer.

How can you prevent your dog from skin cancer?

There are some steps you can take to prevent your dog from developing skin cancer. For example, sun damage can be limited by these actions:

  • Applying dog-appropriate sunscreen on your pup. Make sure to avoid products with zinc oxide as it is toxic to dogs if they lick and swallow it. Apply as needed.
  • Not shaving your dog. A dog’s coat acts as insulation, and it works to prevent overheating. If you shave your dog, you take away her natural ability to protect herself.
  • Purchasing UV-protected clothing for your dog. This pup fashion statement doubles as a way to keep your dog safe from the sun’s rays.
  • Taking your dog to her yearly wellness exams. In case skin cancer does develop on your pet, finding cancer quickly can be the difference between life and death.
  • Grooming and checking your dog each week. Brush your dog and run your hands over her body each week to check for any lumps, bumps, or abnormalities.

Be prepared and get coverage for your dog.

Even if you do everything you can to prevent skin cancer in your dog, it may still happen. Be prepared and purchase a pet insurance policy for your pup. If you have a policy before cancer occurs, your insurer will cover a significant portion of your dog’s veterinary and medication bills. That can save you thousands of dollars and also ensure your pup receives the best, cutting-edge cancer treatment available. Get a free, personalized quote for your dog today.




  1. Memphis Veterinary Specialists & Emergency. (2021). Can dogs get skin cancer? Retrieved from
  2. The Translational Genomics Research Institute. (2018). Canine melanoma study identifies genetic basis of disease. Retrieved from
  3. Animal Allergy and Dermatology Center of Central Texas- Austin. (n.d.) Skin diseases and Conditions. Retrieved from
  4. Davis L., Rau, S. (2019). What Is Canine Melanoma? Retrieved from
  5. Abdelrahman, A. L. (2021). 5 Best Dog Sunscreens to Buy in 2021. Retrieved from
  6. Kucera, T. (2019). How to Treat Zinc Poisoning in Dogs. Retrieved from



The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.

The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.

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