Identifying and Treating Mast Cell Tumors in Dogs

DogsIt is never easy to deal with the prospect that a beloved pet has cancer, so when owners discover skin tumors on their dogs, they become understandably concerned. Because of the possible severity of these mast cell tumors (MCTs), it is very important that pet parents have these skin growths inspected by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

What to Do When You First Discover a Mast Cell Tumor

Owners who find growths on their dogs’ skin should make an appointment with their vet offices as soon as possible. It is a good idea to write down the dog’s recent activity—where he has gone, what he has ingested, etc. Owners should also closely observe their pets for any changes in behavior or eating habits. Bringing the animal’s recent activity and behavioral changes to the attention of a dog’s vet can help to ensure a proper diagnosis is made.

Common Tests

When vets review a dog’s condition, it is common for them to run various tests. These may include blood tests, urinalyses, and biochemical profiles. The findings from these are used to give the vet a better idea of the dog’s overall health and to determine whether the animal is suffering from a systemic disease due to the MCTs.

Mast cell tumors that metastasize tend to do so to lymph nodes, the spleen, bone marrow, and the liver. Because of the tendency for the tumors to spread to these particular organs, it is common for testing to be done on these areas. This can include collecting cells from lymph nodes, taking radiographs of the thorax and abdomen, and assessing bone marrow.

Understanding the Enemy: Grades of Tumors

Mast cell tumors are categorized according to grades:

  • Grade I – least likely to metastasize
  • Grade II – may metastasize, but most do not
  • Grade III – highly aggressive and likely to metastasize

If a tumor is determined to be grade I or II and can be completely removed, there is an excellent chance that the dog will make a full recovery. Dogs with grade I or II tumors that are mostly removed are often also given post-surgery radiation treatments, and over 90 percent of these dogs are tumor-free within three years.

Dogs with grade III MCTs are likely to have the tumors spread or experience local recurrence. Because of this, vets often recommend chemotherapy as part of the treatment for this type of tumor.

Learn more about the classifications of MCTs here.

Potential Treatment Options

Most vets will recommend surgical removal of the tumors; depending on the situation, radiation or chemotherapy may also be suggested. The type of treatments a vet will offer will greatly depend on the test results and the tumor’s grade.

Earlier Identification Is Always Better

Mast cell tumors in dogs can be very serious. The testing and treatments for these growths and their consequential conditions can vary according to your preferences and your vet, but it is always a good idea to try to prevent the problem rather than fighting it after the fact. Pet parents should note that dogs that develop MCTs are more likely to continue to grow them, therefore any dog that has a history of these growths should be regularly monitored to ensure that new tumors are quickly spotted and dealt with appropriately. One of the best ways of doing this is maintaining regular visits with the dog’s vet and routinely checking the dog’s skin for any new growths.

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