Is mast cell cancer in dogs painful? The Ultimate Guide

What is a mast cell tumor?

A mast cell tumor (MCT) is a type of tumor consisting of mast cells. Mast cell tumors most commonly form nodules or masses in the skin, they can also affect other areas of the body, including the spleen, liver, intestine, and bone marrow. Mast cell tumors (MCT) are the most common skin. Most dogs with MCT (60-70%) only develop one tumor.

Why a particular dog may develop this, or any cancer, is not straightforward. Very few cancers have a single known cause. Most seem to be caused by a complex mix of risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary. There are several genetic mutations that are known to be involved in the development of MCTs. One well-known mutation is to a protein called KIT that is involved in the replication and division of cells.

While any breed of dog can get MCT, certain breeds are more susceptible. MCTs are particularly common in Boxers, Bull Terriers, Boston Terriers, and Labrador Retrievers.

What is a mast cell?

A mast cell is a type of white blood cell that is found in many tissues of the body. Mast cells are allergy cells and play a role in the allergic response. When exposed to allergens (substances that stimulate allergies), mast cells release chemicals and compounds, a process called degranulation. One of these compounds is histamine. Histamine is most commonly known for causing itchiness, sneezing, and runny eyes and nose – the common symptoms of allergies. But when histamine (and the other compounds) are released in excessive amounts (with mass degranulation), they can cause full-body effects, including anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. ( via Wikimedia Commons / Joel Mills (CC BY-SA 3.0.)

What to Do if a Dog’s Mast Cell Tumor Bursts

Some mast cell tumors may become ulcerated or bleed. While this can be messy and may be painful, it is usually not an emergency. Cover the tumor with a light bandage until your dog can be seen by your veterinarian. Excessive bleeding may require an emergency visit.

To prevent bleeding, prevent your dog from chewing or scratching at a mast cell tumor. These tumors can be itchy because of the histamine release, so you may need to use an Elizabethan collar (cone) to prevent chewing and scratching, which can make the swelling and itchiness worse.

Dog Mast Cell Tumors: Symptoms, Diagnose, and Treatment of Dog Mast Cell Tumors with Dr. Dan

Pets have a wonderful way of creeping into our hearts and homes, playing the role of both a family member and best friend. This can make the discovery of illness heartbreaking and leave pet owners desperate for a solution. Understanding the risks of mast cell tumors in dogs and when you need to visit your local vet is an important step in protecting your fur baby.

A normal mast cell has the important job of protecting a body against bacterial or viral invaders but can sometimes lead to uncomfortable and painful allergic reactions when releasing chemicals through a process called degranulation. In some instances, these mast cells form an unstable, cancerous tumor that can present health threats if left untreated.

A mast cell tumor often forms nodules or masses on the skin, which is where you may first notice the abnormality in your dog. However, it can also affect other areas such as the spleen, liver, intestine, and bone marrow.

It’s possible for any breed of dog to develop a mast cell tumor, however certain breeds are more prone to the development. For example, boxers, Rhodesian ridgebacks, pugs, Boston terriers, pit bull terriers, and Weimaraners tend to experience a mast cell tumor four to eight times more than other breeds.

It’s not clear as to what exactly causes these forms of tumors and it seems to be a combination of various risk factors, including environmental and hereditary issues. As mentioned, some breeds of dogs are more at risk of developing a mast cell tumor. This is due to a well-known protein mutation called KIT that is more susceptible in certain breeds.

If you notice that your canine has a strange bump during the next tummy rub, have a vet check it out. A mast cell tumor is a type of tumor that is made up of mast cells. These normally appear as nodules or a lump in the skin.

A mast cell tumor can appear as a raised lump or bump either on or just under the skin. Sometimes, it may appear to be red or swollen. These bumps may grow suddenly in size or even get smaller. The change in size is dependent on the agitation of the tumor which further affects degranulation and swelling surrounding the tissue.

These bumps are often called ‘the great pretenders’ because of their ability to resemble something less serious, so it’s best that they be formally identified by a professional veterinarian.

If you notice an abnormal lump on your dog, then it’s in your best interest to visit a trusted vet to grade the mast cell tumor and diagnose the risks. A professional diagnosis of a mast cell tumor is done with a needle aspirate which collects some of the cells to be examined under a microscope.

Once the sample has been assessed, with the genetic makeup and abnormalities considered, then a prognosis and treatment will be offered. Depending on the severity of cancer, various treatment options will be considered. While there are higher-grade tumors that can present a challenge to treat, the low-grade tumors are relatively simple to treat.

Surgery is often recommended for lower-grade tumors that don’t show any evidence of spreading. This option offers long-term control without the need for any other form of therapy such as radiation.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are sometimes advised for higher-grade tumors, especially those that have evidence of spreading. These options of treatment are also recommended when the location is not suitable for surgical removal, or if the surgical removal has left cancerous cells behind.