Know the Signs: Skin Cancer in Dogs


Small dog with sunglasses floating on a paddle board in the summer ocean

Skin cancer in dogs? That's a scary idea for any pet parent! Since our dogs are beloved members of the family, we have to be aware of the potential health risks our furry friends might face. 

Can dogs get skin cancer? What types of skin cancer affect dogs? What are the risk factors involved? We’ll answer your most-asked questions, and cover the importance of early detection and prevention. 

Can dogs get skin cancer?

When it comes to our furry companions, wondering about their health and well-being comes with the territory. One common concern among pet owners is whether dogs can get skin cancer. The answer is yes, just like humans, dogs are susceptible to skin cancer

Skin cancer in dogs doesn’t always look the same; in fact, some forms of skin cancer are difficult to detect with the naked eye. Examples of skin cancer include: 

Squamous cell carcinoma –– cancer that forms in the cells of the epidermis (i.e., the outer layer of skin) 

Round cell tumors –– tumors that form subcutaneously (under the skin) but can change the appearance of skin 

Blood vessel tumors –– tumors that form in the cells that make blood vessels or lymph nodes

Melanoma in dogs –– tumors affecting the cells that pigment the skin, called melanocytes 

All pet parents should be aware of the causes of skin cancer, risk factors involved, and what to watch out for to ensure early detection and appropriate treatment. Some cysts, skin tags, and tumors can start off as benign (non-cancerous) but become precancerous or malignant (cancerous) if left untreated. 

Small dog wearing sunglasses on a hot summer beach

Causes of skin cancer in dogs

Causes of skin cancer on dogs can vary. Understanding these causes can help pet parents take precautions to keep our pets safe, and purse early detection if necessary. Here are the primary causes to be aware of:

Excessive sun exposure

Our dogs might love lounging in the sun, but beware that prolonged exposure to harmful UV rays can damage a dog's skin cells, increasing the risk of skin cancer. Dogs with light-colored fur or areas of thin fur are at higher risk for skin cancer from sun exposure.

Genetic predisposition

Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing skin cancer, such as Schnauzers, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Chow Chows, Basset Hounds, and Golden Retrievers. Being aware of the predispositions facing your dog's breed can help you monitor their skin health more closely.

Age and immune system

Older dogs and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing skin cancer––though in general, most of these skin masses are thankfully benign. Regular veterinary check-ups and proactive health management are crucial for your pet if they’re over 7 years old.

Skin cancer prevention in dogs

It should come as no surprise that prevention plays the biggest part in reducing the risk of skin cancer in dogs. Just a few simple lifestyle changes–and habits on your part–can help reduce your pet’s risk of developing skin cancer. 

Limit sun exposure

Limiting your dog's sun exposure, especially during peak hours, can significantly lower their chances of developing sun-related skin cancer. You can also outfit your pup in a sun-protective suit or pet-safe, waterproof sunscreen applied to thinly haired areas like the nose and ears. These are especially important if your dog lives in a sunny environment and spends a lot of time outdoors.

Find shade

Providing shaded areas and considering protective clothing or sunscreen (designed specifically for dogs) can also help. 

Get checked

Regular veterinary check-ups can give your veterinarian a chance to assess any skin-related concerns and detect early signs of skin cancer. 

By staying proactive and taking preventive measures, you can ensure the well-being and longevity of your four-legged friend.

What does skin cancer look like on a dog?

Regularly inspecting your dog's skin for unusual growths, sores that don't heal, bleeding or inflamed areas, and discoloration is essential. 

If you notice any abnormalities, don’t hesitate to consult with your veterinarian right away––it can help increase the chances of successful treatment.

Knowing what skin cancer looks like on a dog can help pet owners identify potential concerns. These are some key visual indicators you should be aware of:

Spots or bumps that rapidly grow

Keep an eye out for new growths or changes in existing ones, such as lumps or bumps on the skin that appear suddenly or grow rapidly.

Color changes

If a growth exhibits changes in color–for example, in the case of a skin tag turned black–it could be a potential sign of skin cancer.

Unusually shaped or irregular masses

The presence of irregularly shaped spots on the skin–like a black mole on dogs–may indicate the presence of skin cancer. Pay attention to any changes in size, shape, or texture.

If you notice any abnormal skin conditions on your dog, don’t wait to talk to your vet. At the very least, take a picture when you notice something ‘off’. Even better: measure unusual growths so that you can monitor for changes in size, color, texture or any other abnormalities. Even if you plan to bring your dog in for a physical exam, snapping a photo can help in case the growth or spot changes. 

Picture of skin cancer in dogs under the fur

How dog skin cancer pictures can help

Being familiar with dog skin cancer pictures is of utmost importance for pet owners. Visual references and understanding what skin cancer looks like on a dog can aid in early detection and give your vet plenty of time to assess the problem. Here's why it's crucial to have access to dog skin cancer pictures:

Identification and awareness

Dog skin cancer can come in many forms, including unusual growths, skin discoloration, or changes in existing moles or tags. Getting familiar with dog skin cancer pictures can help you recognize the signs and promptly identify any potential signs of skin cancer in your own pet.

Prompt veterinary attention

Early detection is key when it comes to treating skin cancer in dogs––and showing pictures to your vet could play a key role in diagnosis. Your veterinarian might also take a sample of the unusual growth and submit it for testing to help identify if it's benign or requires additional treatment. 

Monitoring progress and treatment

In cases where a dog has been diagnosed with skin cancer, keeping a visual record of your pet’s masses helps you (and your vet) monitor the progress of the condition. 

By comparing pictures taken at different stages, you and your vet can determine whether the treatment is helping, or if any changes are needed. This proactive approach helps ensure that your dog receives the best possible care throughout their treatment journey.

Remember, while dog skin cancer pictures found on the internet can serve as useful references, they should never replace professional veterinary advice! If you suspect any signs of skin cancer in your dog, take your dog to the vet for a diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.

When to contact your veterinarian

Knowing when to contact your veterinarian with concerns about skin cancer in dogs can help improve the success of diagnosis and treatment. If you notice any suspicious changes or symptoms, it's important to reach out to your veterinarian right away! Here are some situations when contacting your veterinarian is warranted: 

If there's a black mole on your dog

If you observe a black or dark, irregularly shaped mole on your dog's skin, it could be a potential sign of skin cancer. Prompt veterinary evaluation is necessary to determine the nature of the mole and provide appropriate care.

If a skin tag turned black on your dog's skin

If a previously benign skin tag or growth on your dog's skin turns black or changes color, it could indicate a problem. Contact your vet to have the area examined and determine whether it requires further investigation.

If your dog has unusual growths or sores

Any unusual growths, lumps, bumps, or sores on your dog's skin that don't heal or show signs of improvement should immediately be shown to your veterinarian. They’ll perform a thorough examination and advise on any next steps you should take.

While the risk of skin cancer in dogs exists, being informed and proactive can go a long way in protecting your furry companion. Familiarize yourself with the types of skin cancer that can affect dogs, understand the risk factors, and pay close attention to any changes in your dog's skin. 

Remember, prevention and early detection are vital for ensuring the well-being and longevity of your beloved pet––and your vet will always be there to help!

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Veterinarian Dr. Joya Griffin with a dog patient


Dr. Joya Griffin is an Ohio native and graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has a special interest in fungal and immune-mediated skin diseases as well as feline and equine dermatology. Dr. Joya always strives to care for her patients as if they are her own pets and loves building long-lasting relationships with their pet parents. Dr. Joya also stars in the Nat Geo WILD television series, “Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya,” which highlights the challenging and mysterious cases she encounters in veterinary dermatology.

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