Canine Skin Cancer: Advice for Owners of Short-Haired Dogs by Diane Black

I would like to write about my experiences with white short-haired dogs and the risk of skin cancer.

I previously owned two white short-haired dogs, both of whom enjoyed sunbathing on their backs. Gus, the first dog, loved to sunbathe. He would lie up on the roof of his dog house, on his back and enjoy the warmth of the sun on his belly.  He did this not only during the summer months, but during all months of the year.

He had annual blood tests done as well as had any vaccines for which he was due routinely. He was a playful dog with lots of energy and he loved people. When Gus was about eight years old, I took him to my veterinarian for his annual blood work and the tests results came back normal. This gave us a baseline to compare any further tests. At this time there were no abnormal findings on his physical examination. A month or two later, I noticed a new growth in his inguinal (groin) area near his penis and I returned with him to my vet. At this time, a biopsy was performed and the growth was removed. The sample was sent to the specialist for histopathology and diagnosed him with melanoma (skin cancer). Gus’s blood work was done again and came back completely out of whack with changes on his white blood cells and liver values. Within a month of his diagnosis, the cancer progressed and Gus’ attitude changed. He was not the same loving, playful dog I had known and loved since he was a puppy. We made the decision to perform euthanasia.

I missed Gus so much that I got another short haired dog named Augustus. At the age of five years old, I found a growth on Augustus, in his groin area, although not as bad as Gus. From my past experience with Gus, I thought it was cancer and should take him to the veterinarian right away for testing. When tests were performed, the vet confirmed my suspicion and the results as skin cancer. I did not want Augustus to go through the experiences of Gus, so I made a very tough and personal decision and euthanasia was performed at a young age. With the ever evolving medical field there are methods of treatment such as surgery, referral, chemotherapy, radiation or palliative care. These options should be discussed in detail for each individual case with your veterinarian.

People may think I am stupid or foolish for this, but I now have another short haired dog. I am smarter now than I was with Gus and Augustus. I protect my dog, Woodrow, with children’s sun block with protection of 50 or  higher, regardless of the weather conditions. Sometimes the sun block is applied three or four times a day, because of the UV rays and length of time outside, or perhaps it is just my paranoia about losing another dog to skin cancer. Regardless of the reasons, Woodrow is now six years old and has no issues at this time.

With all of these dogs, I continued to do annual blood work. Our pets age much more quickly than humans and performing routine blood testing gives us baseline and comparison blood levels to trend any changes throughout the pets life.  This allows the veterinarians to monitor any changes and begin to treat early signs of disease before the pet is showing clinical signs.  I firmly believe that annual blood work should be done on young dogs and semi-annual blood work should be done on dogs aged six years and older.  I believe that sunscreen should be applied on the bellies, nose, ear tips and any areas of exposed skin of short haired dogs regardless of whether they are indoor or outdoor dogs. They still need protection regardless of whether the sun is bright and shiny or if clouds are covering the skies. UV rays coming through clouds can be just as dangerous as clear skies with sun. The less hair a dog has, the more the need for protection is necessary.

I am not writing this blog to scare people. I am not writing this blog to intimidate people or make them paranoid about their animals. I am writing this blog to warn people, to make people aware, that their short haired, four legged friends can get this cancer just as humans can. I am writing this blog to advise people to take care of their pets and protect them from the harmful rays of the sun just as you would protect yourself or your children.

People should always get wellness testing done for their short haired friends, regardless of the color of the animal as all of these dogs are vulnerable to this illness if they sunbathe. This includes people who own Jack Russells, Pitbulls, American Bulldogs, White Boxers, and many more. I would like people to be aware that this illness is not certain to happen to your pet, but, it is a possibility. I found out the hard way when I lost my two best friends, Gus and Augustus, to this horrible illness called Skin Cancer. Don’t find things out the hard way as I did. Pets need to have check ups on a regular basis as well as being checked by their owners in between vet visits. Pets should be taken to the vet upon discoveries of anything unusual with the  animal.

People may appear to disregard checking their pet over; that check could save your pet’s life.