Nobody wants their pet to be diagnosed with cancer. But studies show that it is the leading cause of death in dogs between two and ten years old, with it typically being more common in larger breeds.
A dog’s skin is their largest organ and the primary barrier against injury, illness, disease and harm for the rest of their body. That’s why it’s vital that all owners look after their dog’s skin as best they can. In fact, the most common lumps found in dogs are skin tumours, and they may be malignant.
The cause of skin cancer in dogs: Is it all in the genes?
Sadly, your dog may have a genetic predisposition to some cancers, but statistics say that this is a minority - only about 5% of all cancer in dogs is hereditary. That means an overwhelmingly majority- 95% of all cases of canine cancer - are likely caused by environmental or lifestyle factors.
So, as a proud dog owner, your choices around your dog’s lifestyle and how you groom and care for your pooch can really make a big difference in the fight against skin cancer.
As prevention is always better than cure, let’s first talk about the areas that are under your control:
- Environmental factors.
- Grooming and choice of dog products like shampoos, conditioners, sprays and misters.
Lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of skin cancer in dogs
As a responsible dog owner, you already know that lifestyle factors go a long way in preventing illness.
If you haven’t already, it’s vital to make sensible choices around your dog’s:
- Diet: Provide a wholesome, nutrient-rich diet with little processed food. If you feed your dog kibble, it’s best to reach for the high-end brands. Although they may be more expensive, they are likely to contain more vitamins, be easier to digest and contain a higher quality of ingredients. Also avoid any dog chews with dyes.
- Exercise: Give them plenty of exercise and opportunities for mental stimulation.
- Mood and emotional wellbeing: Reduce stress and anxiety.
- Love and attention: Pile on the care and affection, your dog will thank you for it.
- Sun exposure: Don’t walk your dog in the middle of a hot day. Be sun smart and apply lick-safe products like natural balms to their nose and paws.
How environmental factors can increase the risk of skin cancer in dogs
Most cancers, however, are caused by gene mutations during a dog’s lifetime that were not there when he was born. Being exposed to tobacco smoke, chemicals that are known or potential carcinogens, and sunburn can all increase the risk of cancer developing in canines.
Other environmental factors include:
- Flea treatments and dewormers: Instead of reaching for commercial flea treatments and dewormers, you can apply shampoos and topical sprays that contain ingredients such as Neem and Karanja to naturally keep fleas and other insects at bay. Use these products on your pooch and make sure you maintain his healthy skin, coat and diet for safe and natural flea and insect control.
- Household and garden products: Think about what you use to clean your floors and carpets and the products you use in the garden. If the ingredients could irritate you skin or are poisonous to ingest, then it will be dangerous for your pooch too, and you might want to switch to a safer, but still effective, plant-based brand.
What you can do: Avoid chemical nasties in your dog’s grooming and care products
The first thing to do when browsing for your dog’s shampoo, conditioner, sprays and misters, or other grooming and care products, is to carefully read the labels.
Remember, what is left out on the ingredients list is just as important as what is put in.
If you read an ingredients list that contains any of these chemical nasties, put it straight back on the shelf, because they are known to be carcinogenic or have the potential to cause cancer:
- Cocamide DEA: Don’t be tricked into believing that it’s just coconut oil. Cocamide DEA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that can form cancer-causing nitrates. Europe have already restricted use of this chemical due to its known carcinogenic effects.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate/ Sodium Laureth Sulphate or SLS/SLES: This causes your products to foam and can be found in a huge amount of personal and hair care products, as well as dog care and grooming products. The risks of having these in your dog’s products are too high - think potential eye damage, depression, severe skin irritation and even death. What’s more, it’s a potential carcinogen. Your dog grooming products don’t need to foam - steer well clear!
- Phosphates: These can also be found in many dog care products and use of this increases the chance of cancer and other illnesses.
- PPGs: Irritation can be seen at low levels of Propylene Glycol and is a potential carcinogen.
- Petrochemicals: Made from crude oil and natural gas, these chemicals increase the chance of cancer and other illnesses in dogs. They are not good for your dog, you, or the environment!
This is not a complete list of nasties to avoid. But these specifically are linked to cancer-causing chemicals. Why risk it when you have a choice?
Are natural dog grooming products the answer?
It’s clear that what you put on your dog’s skin and coat is important. Their skin is thinner and more sensitive than ours, and protecting their dermis not only reduces the risk of them getting skin cancer, but also alleviates other skin issues like irritation, infections and disease.
Plus, what you rub onto your dog’s skin and coat will be absorbed into their body or ingested when they lick themselves, so products shouldn’t be toxic. So, what are the alternatives to conventional dog grooming products?
Choose natural, plant-based products with thoughtfully selected ingredients
Thankfully, you can find natural ingredients that do the same or a better job than the harsh, synthetic products claim to do. Natural products that are plant-based, proven to be safe and non-toxic, are kinder on you, your dog and the environment. Look for natural ingredients like Manuka Honey, that are known for their soothing, protecting and healing properties - you don’t need harsh, synthetic chemicals to be effective. In fact, we’re finding out more and more that these chemical nasties can do a lot more harm than good.
But be careful, you still need to be wary of products that have the natural tick. Some natural ingredients can be harmful for your dog. Some essential oils, say, are toxic to dogs because of their potency.
Check to see how your dog grooming product is fragranced, too. Make sure any scent is delicate and naturally formulated, not synthetic.
Overall, it’s important to choose a brand where they have complete transparency around their ingredients and for you to feel confident that they are both safe and effective.
What to do when you notice something’s wrong: How to detect skin cancer in dogs
Consistent, thorough and regular grooming and bathing of your pooch is not only great for bonding and keeping them looking good and smelling fresh, but also is a great opportunity to check your dog’s skin for any abnormalities.
- Sunburn: Look for red, inflamed skin and hair loss. The areas prone to sunburn are around the nose, stomach, inside legs, ears, skin around the lips and any other area with low skin pigmentation.
- Any unusual lumps or bumps.
- Lesions, scabs and warty lumps.
If you notice any of these changes, please take your pup to the vet.
But, if you do receive a diagnosis of skin cancer for your dog, it doesn’t have to be devastating. The good news is, if found early, many cases of dog skin cancer can be successfully treated.
Our top four messages:
- Genes do play a role, but evidence points to most cancers caused by environmental or lifestyle factors.
- Think about what toxins your pooch is exposed to around the home or in the garden. Try to eliminate them as much as you can.
- Regular grooming of your pooch means you can keep an eye out for any changes in their skin and take them to a vet early.
- What you put on your dog’s skin and coat really matters. Your dog skin is their largest organ and it will absorb what you put on it, or it will be ingested. Avoid chemical nasties because they are simply not worth the risk. Always choose naturally effective dog grooming and care products.
We invite you to take your time browsing smith&burton’s complete range of luxurious, naturally effective dog care and grooming products here.