Home » Pet Health » Sun and Radiation Safety » Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Pets


While pet hair protects your pets’ skin against the sun to some degree, skin tumors and lesions are some of the most common cancers in pets, especially dogs. Sun exposure and sunburn heighten the risk factor of developing skin cancer. Fortunately, skin cancer treatment is usually very successful if you and your vet detect it early.

Types of skin cancer

The skin is a major body organ composed of two main layers, the epidermis, and the dermis. Skin cancer can be of two types:

    1. Non-melanoma skin cancer includes basal cell and mast cell cancer that grows slowly in the upper layers of the skin. Generally, it does not spread to other parts of the body.
    1. Melanoma skin cancer is less common; however, it is more dangerous given its ability to spread to other body parts. This cancer begins in the deep layer of the epidermis in specialized skin cells called melanocytes.

Risk factors for skin cancer

Melanin is a pigment produced by specialized skin cells called melanocytes. Melanin gives color to the skin and fur of your dog or cat, and it also protects their skin cells against the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Exposure to sun UV rays causes the skin to produce more melanin and darken in color, preventing deeper penetration of the UV rays, which may cause cellular damage. This prevents deeper penetration of the UV rays, which may cause cellular damage. Animals with light fur color have less melanin and are more likely to get sunburns and skin damage than those with darker hair coats. Genetics also plays a role in the likelihood of your pet developing cancer.

Signs and symptoms of sunburn in pets 

Sunburn heightens the risk of sun cancer. Some signs that your dog or cat may have sustained a sunburn include:

    • Skin that seems red or warm to the touch
    • Constant itching or scratching
    • Pain when petted or touched
    • Blistering or scaling of the skin

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer in pets

Regularly check your pet for signs of skin cancer. Common indicators of skin cancer in pets include:

    • Lumps or growths on the skin
    • Discolored, thickened, or flaky areas on the skin
    • Bleeding on the skin
    • Constant itching or scratching

Skin cancer treatments for pets

In dogs and cats, repeated sunburns can lead to lesions on the ear tips, nose, skin surrounding the lips, and eyelids. In the initial stage, vets can treat sunburn-related lesions with steroids and antibiotics (to treat any secondary infection). If lesions persist, vets can remove them with surgery, freezing, or laser therapy. Melanoma skin cancer can be more dangerous, and it can spread to different parts of the body if left unchecked. Treatment for melanoma can include chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation.

Be sure to regularly check your pet for sunburn and to talk to your vet if you notice anything suspicious.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s Website Editorial team is comprised of veterinarians, veterinary oncologists, and veterinary technicians, as well as scientific writers and editors who have attained their PhD’s in the life sciences, along with general editors and research assistants. All content found in this section goes through an extensive process with multiple review stages, to ensure this extended resource provides pet families with the most up-to-date information publicly available.

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Last Updated: August 16, 2022

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The following sources were referenced to write the content on this page:

Brønden, LB, Eriksen, T & Kristensen, AT 2010, ‘Mast cell tumours and other skin neoplasia in Danish dogs – data from the Danish Veterinary Cancer Registry’, Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, vol. 52, no. 6, pp.1-6.

Martins, AL, Carvalho, FF, Mesquita, JR, Gärtner, F & Amorim, I 2021, ‘Analysis of risk factors for canine mast cell tumors based on the Kiupel and Patnaik grading system among dogs with skin tumors’, Open Vet J, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 619-34.

Millanta, F, Parisi, F, Poli, A, Sorelli, V & Abramo, F 2022, ‘Auricular non-epithelial tumors with solar elastosis in cats: a possible UV-induced pathogenesis’, Vet Sci, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 34-42.

Nishiya, AT, Massoco, CO, Felizzola, CR, Perlmann, E, Batschinski, K, Tedardi, MV, Garcia, JS, Mendonça, PP, Teixeira, TF & Zaidan Dagli, ML 2016 ‘Comparative aspects of canine melanoma’, Vet Sci, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 7-29.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.