Dog Skin Cancer: Natural Options To Help Manage It

a dog's mass clipped and prepped for surgery

Skin cancer isn’t just a disease in people and it isn’t just caused by too much time in the sun without sunscreen. Half of all dogs get cancer, and all forms of cancer are on the rise, including dog skin cancer.

In fact, skin tumors are the most common tumors in dogs.

So let’s look at the most common types of dog skin cancer. Then we can review a few natural treatment options that will help your dog safely … and could help him avoid the risks and stress of surgery.

Types of Dog Skin Cancer

There are several different types of dog skin cancer. Three of the most common are:

  • Melanoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Mast cell tumors

But there are few others you’ll want to know about too, including:

  • Histiocytoma
  • Cutaneous hemangiosarcoma
  • Cutaneous lymphoma

My goal with this post is to help you …

  • Get more familiar with what these growths look like.
  • Know how they act in the body.
  • Know when you need to be aggressive with care at home.

So here’s what you need to know about the 6 skin cancers dogs can get.

1. Melanoma

Melanomas are abnormal growths that involve melanocytes – the cells that produce pigments (color). These cells exist throughout your dog’s entire body, wherever tissues have color.

Melanomas can either be benign or malignant.

Benign melanomas:

  • Range in size from very small to 2.5 inches or more in diameter
  • Are usually less of a worry than malignant melanomas. That’s because the risk of them spreading is not very high
  • Are black, brown, gray or red in color
  • Usually, appear on hairy areas of the skin

Malignant melanomas:

  • Are more aggressive, invasive melanomas that often spread quickly to other areas of the body.
  • It can spread to any part of the body, including the lymph nodes and lungs. This makes them a much more serious threat than benign melanomas.
  • Are often in a dog’s mouth, around the lips, or on the feet, in toenail beds or on the pads

The cause of melanoma in dogs isn’t clear.

In people, melanoma is usually caused by damage to the DNA of skin cells (especially by UV light). But this isn’t likely with dogs since many of the melanomas are in places that aren’t exposed to UV light.

Genetics also seem to play a role. The breeds most at risk include:

  • Vizslas
  • Schnauzers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Airedale Terriers
  • Bay Retrievers
Dog with melanoma Skin Cancer

2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that originates in the outer layer of the skin. This skin layer is known as the squamous epithelium. 

Carcinomas are characteristically malignant and especially invasive.

Squamous cell carcinomas:

  • Typically grow quickly, getting bigger with time
  • Are usually resistant to healing
  • May appear as crusty, bleeding sores that don’t heal for months.
  • Or can be hard, white-colored wart-like growths
  • Usually appear on the lips, gums, belly, around the genitals, or on the feet

Like melanomas, there’s some debate over the causes of squamous dog skin cancer. Extended exposure to sunlight, which damages cells, is the most common theory.

A weak immune system may allow these cells to become malignant. Genetics may also be a factor. The breeds most at risk are:

  • Keeshonds
  • Standard Schnauzers
  • Basset Hounds
  • Collies
Squamous cell carcinoma in a dog'd mouth

3. Mast Cell Tumor

Mast cell tumors are the most common type of dog skin cancer. As the name suggests, they appear in the mast cells.

Mast cells are a type of immune cell. They play a role in allergic reactions and inflammatory responses. 

Mast cells contain histamine, heparin and enzymes to fight off predatory foreign invaders … but damage from allergies or inflammation can cause problems.

Mast cell tumors:

  • Usually develop in the skin
  • Can also develop internally, but this is less common
  • Can vary widely in size, shape, appearance, texture and location
  • Show up as an isolated lump or mass or can appear in clusters
  • May grow in size, then shrink
  • May appear red in color, may be hairless or ulcerated (an open wound)

Most dogs won’t have any symptoms of irritation or illness, other than the lump.

The causes of mast cell tumors in dogs are unclear. The sun is a potential culprit, but genetics also seem to play a role.

The dogs most at risk include:

  • Boxers
  • Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Beagles
  • Bullmastiffs
  • Dachshunds
  • Schnauzers
Dog with mast cell tumor Skin Cancer

4. Histiocytoma 

A histiocytoma is a benign skin growth that originates from a Langerhans cell. Langerhans cells live in the skin and serve as part of the immune system. They help process incoming antigens and match them with the best immune cell. 

Histiocytomas:

  • Are often found in young dogs under 2 years of age 
  • Are round and often appear on the front half of the body 
  • Often disappear on their own in 3 months
  • Can occasionally grow on rear legs
  • Sometimes occur in older patients as well

 … So it’s always best to have your holistic vet diagnose them to be certain.  

The dogs most at risk include:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Staffordshire Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Dachshunds
histiocytoma - submitted by a DNM reader after diagnosis from her holistic vet

5. Subcutaneous And Dermal Hemangiosarcoma

The skin forms of hemangiosarcoma are less serious than blood forms.  They can be managed topically or surgically removed.

These masses are either dermal or subcutaneous. The subcutaneous forms can also be called hypodermal; both these terms mean below the skin

Dermal hemangiosarcomas:

  • Are often related to sun exposure that damages cells
  • Appear as rosy red or black growths in thinly haired spots on the body
  • Will often appear in multiple areas of the body at once
  • One-third of cases can spread internally … so getting an early diagnosis is important

The dogs most at risk include:

  • Dogs with short white fur
  • Dalmatians 
  • Pit Bull Terriers

Subcutaneous or hypodermal hemangiosarcomas:

  • Develop below the skin or become dermal growths that have spread
  • Are more aggressive – 60% spread into the body quickly
  • Often appear as dark red blood growth under the skin – but the skin above can look normal
  • Require staging due to the risk of them spreading in the body so quickly. (I’ll explain staging in a bit.)
  • Surgery … although itself risky … decreases the risk of the growth spreading deeper into the body 

These growths are more aggressive. You’ll need to start treatment with your holistic vet immediately.

So … I mentioned the need to stage these growths. Let’s get into that.

Staging A Skin Hemangiosarcoma

The subcutaneous form of hemangiosarcoma wants to spread quickly. Staging is how your vet determines the extent of the cancer and the risk of spreading.  

Staging helps your holistic vet develop the best treatment plan for your dog.

There are a few diagnostic tests your vet can run, including:

  • Chest x-rays to make sure the cancer isn’t spreading into the lungs
  • Abdominal ultrasound, specifically the spleen as this tumor likes the spleen tissue 
  • Heart ultrasound. Ultrasound can detect a small heart-based hemangiosarcoma.

Once your holistic vet knows if the cancer cells are spreading, she can choose the best treatment. 

skin Hemangiosarcoma

6. T- cell Lymphoma or Cutaneous Epitheliotropic Lymphoma

You might think of lymphoma cancers as being only inside the body. But these cancer cells can develop in any part of the body that has lymph tissue – and that includes your dog’s skin.

Skin Lymphomas:

  • Tend to be itchy 
  • Can look like a rash initially 
  • Can sometimes lead to secondary skin infections

If your dog is battling a skin issue that you can’t clear up, check in with your holistic vet to be sure.

There are three types of skin lymphomas:

  • Mycosis fungoides
  • Sézary syndrome
  • Pagetoid reticulosis

Mycosis Fungoides

This form got its name due to its mushroom-like appearance … but it’s not a fungal issue.  It can appear on the skin and also on your dog’s gums. It can be ulcerative in the mouth.

Sézary Syndrome 

Mycosis fungoides can progress to Sézary syndrome. This is very rare in dogs but can happen in 5% of people. The cancer cells move into the bloodstream and create leukemia.

But these cells are not like typical leukemia cancer cells … so they are called Sézary cells. 

Pagetoid Reticulosis

Pagetoid reticulosis and mycosis fungoides can’t be seen with the naked eye. The cells can only be confirmed under a microscope. So your holistic vet would need a biopsy to know.

These cancers tend to stay on the surface of the skin and don’t spread to tissues below.  

T-cell lymphoma

Is Surgery Right For Skin Cancer?

In some cases, removing the tumor may help prevent its spread. But there are some risks with surgery you’ll also need to weigh …

First, surgery is invasive. Any time you cut into your dog’s body, there are small risks from the anesthesia, blood clots and post-op infections. And the anaesthesia and pain meds are an additional immune insult your dog needs to deal with.

Some research suggests surgery can cause the cancer to spread. There’s also a risk that the surgeon won’t be able to remove all microscopic cancer cells … which means that the mass may grow back. 

So you may opt out of surgery for your dog. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

One of the good things about skin cancers is that they’re easy to get to … and they respond well to natural therapy.

Related: How chemotherapy can make cancer worse

Cancer As A Systemic Disease

Cancer is systemic. This means it affects the whole body.

For example, if your dog has a malignant melanoma, you may see the tumor itself … but you can’t see how the cancer is affecting the rest of your dog’s body. 

So, when you choose to remove a tumor, you’re just removing one part of the problem. That’s why tumors often come back, especially with skin cancer.

There’s something else at work that’s causing the problem to begin with. Cancer in your dog means his immune system isn’t working as well as it should. So you need to support the whole body.

How can you do that?

Your attitude towards cancer also plays a role. Changing your perspective on cancer can make a big difference. Cancer is not a death sentence. Your emotions can have a significant impact on how happy – and healthy – your dog is.

Topical Solutions for Dog Skin Cancer

Here are the two most effective natural treatment options for dog skin cancer.

1. Neoplasene

Neoplasene is a cream made from bloodroot extract. It works by causing apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. Once applied to the tumor, the tumor cells actually die and the tissue will eventually slough off.

The Pros: It works and it’s not as invasive as surgery. With surgery, it’s really hard to get all of the microscopic cancer cells. Neoplasene helps to seek them out and helps the immune system seek and destroy them.

The Cons: It’s a veterinary treatment and requires frequent office visits. Because the cancerous tissue sloughs off, it leaves a hole. This means proper wound management is crucial afterwards. It looks scary and it can also be painful for your dog. So it’s hard for some dog owners to deal with.

Dog Skin Cancer treatment progress
Dog Skin Cancer treatment progress

2. Turmeric

Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin – which is its active ingredient. Curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, wound healing and anticancer abilities.

There have been thousands of studies done on turmeric. In fact, nearly a third of the studies are cancer research. The results are very promising. 

Turmeric has been shown to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It can also stop precancerous changes from becoming cancerous. 

Turmeric also kills only the cancer cells and leaves healthy cells alone.

The American Cancer Society claims,

 “Curcumin interferes with cancer development, growth, and spread.”

The Pros: Turmeric works, it’s inexpensive, it isn’t painful and you can use it to treat dog skin cancer at home.

The Cons: Turmeric stains your hands, carpets and furniture. If you use it you’ll need to wrap your dog after each application.

One of the easiest ways to use it is with a salve. Here’s an easy recipe you can make at home …

Recipe For Healing Salve For Dog Skin Cancer

You’ll need equal parts:

  • Organic turmeric powder
  • Raw coconut oil (cold pressed)
  • Organic lecithin powder

Mix the ingredients together to form a paste and store in a glass jar. Keep it refrigerated.

Here’s how to use it:

  • Apply it once a day for 7 days
  • After 7 days, let it air for 24 hours
  • If there is still a lump, reapply for 2 to 5 more days, until the lump pops or falls off

You can also get a ready-made turmeric healing salve instead of making it on your own.

Immune Boosters To Help Beat Dog Skin Cancer

When battling cancers, it’s never a bad idea to use a few remedies. After all, the sooner you can stop cancer cells from spreading, the better.

You’ll want to add these important supplements to support your dog’s immune system. After all, your dog’s immune system is what will stop cancer cells from growing and spreading.

1. Full Spectrum Hemp CBD

CBD oil from organic hemp has many health benefits … and a big one is fighting and killing cancer cells.

But what you may not realize is that you can use this healing oil topically too. It can help prevent cancer cells from multiplying and spreading. So it’s a great choice, whatever kind of skin cancer your dog has.

2. Medicinal Mushrooms

Reishi and Turkey tail mushrooms are well-known cancer treatments in China and Japan. Several research studies have used turkey tail mushrooms successfully in cancer therapies.

One 2012 study used turkey tail mushrooms on dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma. The researchers found that “development or progression of abdominal metastases was significantly delayed” in the dogs who received higher doses.

Giving your dog daily mushroom supplements can boost immunity and help fight cancer growth.

Related: 5 Mushrooms Proven To Fight Cancer In Dogs

What Your Vet May Prescribe For Your Dog’s Skin Cancer

If you take your dog to the vet and ask for a non-surgical treatment option … you might get a prescription for fluorouracil, a topical antimetabolite cream. 

This compound prevents cells from metabolizing to stop cell growth. Sounds good, sure. But it’s toxic and is killing dogs.

People are prescribed this cream to deal with their own cancer. There are several scary reports of dogs getting hold of the bottles and eating a small amount … only to die a few hours later. 

So doesn’t this make you wonder why a vet would even prescribe it for dogs??

The FDA has warned:

 “People using this medication should use care when applying and storing the medication if they are also in a household with pets, as even very small amounts could be dangerous to these animals.”

If your dog can’t safely eat even a small amount, how can it possibly be safe for him? It can’t. So if your vet offers this cream you should politely decline. You can then reach for one of the more natural treatment options that work.

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