Skin Cancers in Pets

Suncream  for my pet?

Our next instalment of Jo Blogs discusses the risk of sun exposure in our pets. We have discussed heatstroke and the risk that this poses but did you know our pets can be at risk of skin cancer too? 

Skin cancer in pets – what is the risk?

Pets, especially those with white fur and pinker skin are at a higher risk of developing solar dermatitis. This is a condition where the skin is damaged by exposure to the sun. Less furred areas such as the ear tips and eyes can be most affected and you may see redness, crusting or scabs forming. As a result of the damage these areas may develop cancerous tissue known as a squamous cell carcinoma.


What is a squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a malignant type of skin cancer. They are normally isolated to one area which can be small and irregular. The edges may be scabby and pink. If left untreated then squamous cell carcinomas will invade the tissue surrounding them often leading to painful, swollen and ulcerated lesions. These tumours can spread to the lymph nodes and then to other areas of the body.


How are these cancers diagnosed?

Normally if there is a suspicion of SCC then a biopsy of the area will be taken. This is normally done under a general anaesthetic. The biopsied tissue will be submitted for histopathology where it is examined under the microscope to ascertain the cells within the tissue.


Can it be treated?

If a squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed then surgical removal of the affected area is normally the next step. This may involve removing a portion of the animal’s ears if the ear tips are affected. There are multiple other therapies which may be chosen depending on the area affected including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and cryotherapy. Most animals go on to make a full recovery following treatment but recovery does depend on the type of cancer and the speed it grows and spreads.


What can I do to prevent this skin cancer?

A few tips can help to reduce the risk of skin cancer for our pets. Whilst we can never fully prevent the development of the cancer, reducing the time our pets spend in strong sunlight or in the middle of the day can help. Use a pet formulated sun cream on the at risk areas which would include the ears, nose, around the thinner haired areas on the head. SPF should be at least 15 but preferably 30 but always check the label before applying. Use a pet formulated sun cream as certain ingredients may be toxic to our pets. Sun cream may need to be applied multiple times throughout the day.


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