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May 29, 2020 4 min read

Most dogs love running around in the yard, going for walks, and playing outside. All those activities are fun and healthy for dogs, but does all that sun exposure put your pup at risk for skin cancer?

As pet owners, we want to do everything we can to keep our loyal companions as safe and healthy as possible. Dogs can get skin cancer, just like humans can, but sun protection works a little differently for them.

Here are a few tips on how to safely protect your dog from the sun, as well as some advice for recognizing different types of skin cancer in dogs.

What causes skin cancer in dogs?

Did you know that skin tumors, which can be cancerous, are the most commonly found tumors in dogs? Knowing what causes skin cancer is the first step in preventing it. Experts believe the main factors that put dogs at risk for skin cancer are:

  • Sun exposure
  • Genetics
  • Chemicals in the environment
  • Hormonal abnormalities
  • Certain types of viruses
Black Dog in Swing with Skin Cancer

 

Just like with humans, not all these factors are within our control, and some of them aren’t even very well understood, but the risk factor we have the most control over is sun exposure. Protecting your pet from the sun can go a long way in preventing skin cancer.

Can I put sunscreen on my dog?

Human sunscreen is not safe for dogs, so sadly it’s not as simple as sharing a bit of your own sunscreen with your furry buddy. Most of the SPF products we use contain ingredients that are poisonous to animals. For example, zinc oxide is a powerful active ingredient in most mineral-based sunscreens. It’s FDA approved and completely safe for humans, but it’s toxic for dogs.

Luckily, there are many sunscreens and other sun-protective products specifically formulated for dogs. Let’s look at a few of them.

How to safely protect your dog in the sun

Look for a non-toxic, canine-specific sun protector, like My Dog Nose It -- a natural and water-resistant formula that actually soothes and heals your dog’s skin as it protects. Use it on your furry friend’s nose, ears, and any other unprotected areas before you head outside.

 

It’s not so easy to apply wet or creamy products over fur, but even furry areas need sun protection, especially if your dog has a thin coat, sparse hair, or light skin. A cooling dog sun vest, like the one below, acts as a shield from the sun and keeps your pet cool and comfortable even when the sun is blazing. Plus, it’s lightweight and machine washable, so it can be used over and over again.

 

How to spot different types of skin cancer in dogs

Even if you know what you’re looking for, skin cancer isn’t always easy to identify. If your pup is feeling pain or discomfort, they may have an instinct to pull away when you try to get near the area that’s bothering them, which can make it even harder.

If you’re worried your dog might have skin cancer, a trip to the vet is the surest way to get an accurate diagnosis, but in the meantime, here’s what you can look for:

Malignant melanomas usually look like raised skin lumps (sometimes with ulcers) and are most common on the lips, mouth, nail beds, and foot pads, but they can show up in other areas too. This type of skin cancer grows fast and easily spreads to other parts of the body, so it’s important to get your dog checked out as soon as possible. You should also know that benign (not cancerous) melanomas, which are typically dark colored and well defined, are actually more common than cancerous ones.

Squamous cell carcinomas are firm and raised and may look a little like a wart. They’re most commonly found around the abdomen and near the genitals. Unlike melanomas, they tend to grow slowly and don’t metastasize to the lymph nodes, but they are aggressive and can destroy the tissue around them.

Mast cell tumors are the most common skin tumors for dogs. Unfortunately, they’re hard to identify but are usually rubbery and slow growing. Sometimes, dogs loose hair on the skin around them. Some types of mast cell tumors are faster growing and can cause inflammation and/or develop ulcers.

A special note about dogs with less hair

Dogs can experience hair loss for many reasons, just like humans. This is especially common with rescue dogs who may have lost hair due to a skin infection, parasite infestation, poor nutrition, or even severe stress. There are also a variety of other health conditions that can cause hair loss in dogs, and some breeds are simply more prone to baldness or have even been bred to be hairless.

Dog with Short Hair in Sun

As you can probably imagine, dogs with less hair are at a higher risk for sun damage. If your dog has areas with little or no hair, good sun protection becomes especially important.

Looking for products to protect your dog’s skin, soothe a sunburn, and more?

We know how important your dog’s health and happiness are. We’d love to help you find all the products you need to keep your four-legged family member safe, comfortable, and healthy.

Shop online or stop by our store at King Duke’s in Beaverton, OR. We can’t wait to meet you and your pet!


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