Skin Cancer and our Pets

Cancer is the number one disease that kills our dogs and cats. Therefore, detecting cancer early can be lifesaving. Skin cancer is especially prevalent. Here is what to do:

A pet owner should feel for new lumps and bumps monthly. Make a picture diagram and document the appearance and date of your findings.

Warts (papillomas), cysts and fatty tumors (lipomas) are common. However, some fatty tumors and bumps can look like a cyst, pimple, or tick bite and can turn out to be a mast cell tumor (MCT). Mast cell tumors are what veterinarians like to call the “great pretender” because they can pretend or look like anything. Usually they are small, slightly raised, slightly bald and slightly red relatively safe benign looking bumps. It is ok to watch it for a few days or even a few weeks. If it goes away it was probably a pimple, cyst, tick bite reaction, scrape, etc.

If it does not go away or even if you are convinced it is just a fatty tumor, let your veterinarian look at it. We will safely insert a small gauge needle into it to extract some cells. This is called an FNA or a fine needle aspiration. It doesn’t hurt and is inexpensive to perform. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you in 2 minutes if it is just a cyst or fatty tumor.

Dr. Heather Simon, VMD, examines Pudgie

Dr. Heather Simon, VMD, examines Pudgie

And guess what? If this is the case, you won’t have to remove it or do anything about it. If we get microscopic cells that look like a mast cell tumor (MCT), then we can take further steps to save your pet’s life.

MCT’s typically only spread after about 6-12 months. They spread to the liver and spleen, and the pet’s lifespan is shortened to usually a few months to a few years. If caught within 6 months and removed, you just saved your pet and lengthened his life. You have also saved yourself lots of worry, pet surgery and chemotherapy.

Melanomas are the other malignant skin cancer that if overlooked even for a few weeks can be deadly. Malignant melanomas again don’t look like a big deal. They are usually small, dark (black) lumps or bumps on the gums (in the mouth) or near the toes. Call us immediately if you find a lump that matches this description. Remember that lots of dogs have dark pigmented smooth gums, which is normal. A pigmented mass, however, may be cancer. Small black lumps near the eye or on other areas of the body are usually benign.

No need to talk about the large, firm, faster growing or oozing, draining lumps. Most clients will bring pets with these conditions in right away. Again, the thing to remember is that time is of the essence. The earlier you bring in your pet to have a lump or bump checked, the better chance for a cure, and costs will be decreased.

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