Protecting Fido from Skin Cancer this Summer

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With summer’s rays beating down on us, it’s time to start thinking about protecting our skin from harmful UV rays. However, when you’re protecting yourself, don’t forget your doggy friend! Although they have fur to protect them, dogs still get skin burns and can develop skin cancer too! One out of every 4 dogs develops cancer, with skin cancer being the most prevalent. Many pet owners are unaware that their dog can get cancer so it is important to recognize the signs and help protect your four-legged pal.

Types of Dog Skin Cancers and their Symptoms

The most obvious sign of skin cancer is a growth or tumor. However, only 20-30 percent of these growths will be malignant. The most common types of malignant dog skin cancers are:

  • - Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Accounting for about 5 percent of all cutaneous tumors found in dogs, squamous cell carcinoma is caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Sunlight genetically damages cells and mutates the DNA genome, creating tumors. These tumors resemble a wart, and they’re slow growing but very aggressive. It is usually found in areas where there is less hair, especially on a dog’s tummy. It generally affects dogs between the age of 6 and 10, and dog breeds such as Keeshond, Standard Schnauzer, Basset Hound, and Collie are at an increased risk.
  • - Hemangiosarcoma: Also known as malignant hemangioendothelioma or angiosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma is a deadly cancer that originates on the skin and invades blood cells. It is more common than any other species and can be found on the skin, under the skin, and on the spleen and heart. When found on the skin, it looks like a red or black growth on hairless areas of skin. It is said to be caused by direct exposure to sunlight. Dogs with less fur such as Dalmations and Pit Bull Terriers are highly susceptible to the disease as well as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors. It is also believed that males are slightly more at risk than female dogs.
  • - Mast Cell Tumors: Described as tumors with multiple lesions, mast cell tumors grow slowly and are rubbery in appearance. They are normally visible for about six months and are almost always fatal. Therefore, it is highly important that you take your dog to the hospital immediately if you notice these tumors particularly around your dog’s armit, mammary tissue, groin, anus or genital areas, lips, or body openings. Boxers have the highest risk for mast cell tumors but it is also reported highly in breeds such as Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, and Schnauzers. It is also more prevalent in older dogs of mixed breeds.
  • - Fibrosarcoma: Found in connective tissue of the skin and beneath the skin, fibrosarcoma are slow-growing cancerous tumors. These tumors are caused by genetic injury to cells which can occur during prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays. Also called neurofibromas, spindle cell tumors, or schwannomas, fibrosarcoma mostly affects larger, older male dogs and starts at their skull, spine, pelvis, or ribs before spreading towards the skin. Although these tumors can be removed surgically, they tend to come back after surgery.

How to Protect Your Dog This Summer

To prevent the development of these skin cancers, it is important that you shield your dog from harmful ultraviolet rays this summer. Here are some tips to help protect your dog while he plays out in the sun.

  • - Don’t Shave Your Dog: Shaving your dog’s hair adds extra exposure to ultraviolet rays. His fur is a protective shield and when it is shaved, he loses his shield. If you do need to cut his hair, simply thin it out with a Furminator or undercoat rake.
  • - Apply Sunscreen: Just like you do for your own skin, apply sunscreen to your dog to help protect his skin. You can use sunscreen that is safe for human babies, or find a dog-specific sunscreen such as the Natural Dog Snout Soother or Epi-Pet’s Sun Protector. Avoid using sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or PABA as these can be fatal if licked off. You will want to apply the sunscreen on his tummy, nuzzle, ears, and any areas without fur.
  • - Limit His Time Outdoors During the Sun’s Peak Hours: The sun is strongest between the hours of 10AM and 2PM. Therefore, limit the amount of time Fido spends outside during these hours. If you see him panting, bring him inside and also prevent him from lying on his back and exposing his bare belly to the sun.
  • - Dress Fido in Protective Clothing: Particularly for dogs with less hair such as Dalmatians, it may be good to put him in a shirt or other protective dog clothing to give him artificial fur that protects against the sun.

It is important that you understand the risk factors and protect your dog from the sun’s rays. If you spot any signs of a tumor or have any questions or concerns, please see your local veterinarian for more information. 

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