Skin cancer in cats and dogs

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Many types of skin tumors, both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous), exist. Approximately 20-40% of primary skin tumors are malignant in dogs and 50-65% are malignant in cats. Not all forms of skin cancer in cats and dogs are caused by sun exposure, but it can happen occasionally. On dogs, the nose and pads of the feet contain sensitive skin and no fur to protect from the sun. Also, cats and dogs with thin or light-colored coats are at a higher risk of sun damage over their entire bodies.[1]


Typically, either cytologic or histopathologic analysis of the suspected mass is done prior to initiating treatment. The commonly used diagnostic procedures for skin tumors are fine-needle aspiration cytology and tissue biopsy.[2]

Cytology is an important tool that can help the veterinarian distinguish a tumor from inflammatory lesions. The biopsy technique used will largely depend on the tumor's size and location. Small masses are usually completely excised and sent to the pathology lab to confirm that the surrounding healthy tissues that were excised along with the tumor do not contain any cancer cells. If the tumor is larger, a small sample is removed for analysis and depending on the results, appropriate treatment is chosen. Depending on the tumor type and its level of aggressiveness, additional diagnostic tests can include blood tests to assess the pet’s overall health, chest X-rays to check for lung metastasis, and abdominal ultrasound to check for metastasis to other internal organs.[3]


The specific treatment will depend on the tumor's type, location, size, and whether the cancer has spread to other organs. Surgical removal of the tumor remains the standard treatment of choice, but additional forms of therapy such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy exist.

When detected early, skin cancer in cats and dogs can often be treated successfully. In many cases, a biopsy can remove the whole tumor, as long as the healthy tissues removed from just outside the tumor area do not contain any cancer cells.


  1. ^ "Dogs and Skin Cancer". WebMD. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Withrow SJ, MacEwen EG, eds. (2001). Small Animal Clinical Oncology (3rd ed.). W.B. Saunders Company. 
  3. ^ "Mast Cell Tumors in Cats". Retrieved 27 September 2011. 

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