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Mast Cell Tumor in Dogs… How worried should I be?

Now as we all know, the word “tumor” automatically invokes a certain level of fear; and rightfully so.  This is why we wanted to take a moment and discuss what it might be like to own a dog who has been diagnosed with a mast cell tumor.


We bet your wondering what exactly is a mast cell tumor and how will it impact your dog health?   You might also be wondering what your treatment options and the prognosis?

And while…

We’re probably not going to be able to answer all of your questions in this short little article, with a little luck, we might be able to answer some of the most urgent ones!  So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

What is a Mast Cell Tumor?
Just like humans, dogs can have allergies or inflammation. They also have a response mechanism within the body to deal with it. A mast cell tumor, or MCT, is a skin tumor that has to do with the body’s failure to properly respond to allergies/inflammation.

Now as you…

May know from humans, any kind of skin cancer or skin tumor is a lot less deadly than other types of cancer/tumors. So, while it’s natural for you to become really anxious that your dog has been diagnosed with a mast cell tumor, we would encourage you to relax a little bit until you know the whole situation.

Because the truth is…

Not all “mast cell tumors” are the same.  Some can be serious, while other can be caught early enough so that you may not have all that much to be worried about.

Symptoms & Clinical Signs of Mast Cell Tumors

Because mast cell tumors occur on the skin, you’ll probably easily see it on your dog.  Which is a good thing because this can often lead one to be able to identify and diagnose the condition early on.


Of course, your dog’s fur coat could cover up a lump or mass, but with regular brushing and adequate grooming, you’ll likely come across it on your dog’s body soon enough.

Problem is…

Sometimes a mast cell tumor can be overlooked or mistaken for a common “skin tag”.  This is why we want to take a moment and describe some of the “characteristics or symptoms” which could indicate that you’ll need to have a professional examine your dog.

Characteristics such as:

  • The size and shape of the “skin tag” is not consistent; may even change,
  • Noticeable growth of the skin tag or lump in a short period of time,
  • Enlarged lymph nodes as well as a lump or growth,
  • Loss of appetite and or unexplained weight loss,
  • Vomiting or diarrhea.

Please note that your dog does not need to display all symptoms. As a rule of thumb, if you suspect something is wrong, visit a vet regardless!

Dogs at Risk

Mast Cell Tumors can impact any breed, but Boston Terriers and Pugs are more likely to get them than others. If you have either breed, it would be a good idea to do a body exam once a year to specifically look for lumps and/or canine mast cell tumors.

Stages of Tumor

Just like all types of cancer there are stages of mast cell tumors as well as grades. Grade 1 is much less prone for metastasis than Grade 3. You may see it written as Grade I, Grade II, and Grade III aka “high grade.”

Stages refer…

More to the spread. If there is only a tumor and no metastasis, then it’s stage 1. However, any lymph node involvement automatically qualifies as stage 2. If it’s gone beyond region lymph nodes to farther reaching ones, then it’s likely stage 3. Further spread to organs such as the spleen puts it at stage 4.
The stage of the disease will determine the treatment plan and the prognosis.

Mast Cell Tumor Diagnosis in Dogs

The veterinarian will be the one to give an accurate diagnosis and determine the stage. This will be done using various investigation methods such as a fine needle aspirate followed by a surgical tissue biopsy. Your dog may also be given an abdominal ultrasound to check the organs.

Mast Cell Tumor Treatment in Dogs

Again, this will depend on the stage and grade of the tumor. Your dog will almost always need surgical removal of the tumor. This could be a relatively easy procedure if stage 1.


A surgical excision is done, a surgeon removes not just the tumor but surrounding cells in what is known as the surgical margins. If later it is shown that there are still cancer cells present in the surgical margins, then your vet may need to do a follow-up surgery to prevent spread.

Other treatments….

That may be necessary include: radiation, chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs, anti-histamines if a histamine release was a symptom from your dog’s tumor.

It’s important to note…

That local tumor recurrence is known to happen; in fact, roughly one in ten dogs will have it even after completing treatment. Does that mean your dog’s survival time is lower? Not necessarily.

Now this is…

Probably also a good time to remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors or veterinarians.  All we are is a bunch of folks who are passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them.


If you feel like our dog may be suffering from a mast cell tumor, be sure to have him or her checked out by a veterinarian right away!  This way you can be sure that your pet won’t suffer needlessly plus in addition to possibly saving your animals life, you could also save yourself a ton of money!

You see…

Treating mast cell tumors can be quite expensive.  Particularly as the tumor grows and metastasizes to other parts of your dog’s body.  Which is why catching this disease early is so important.

It’s also why…

We here at IndulgeYourPet also recommend that any new pet owner take a moment and see what it might cost for you to purchase a pet insurance policy for your new animal.

Now will a pet insurance policy be right for everyone?

No, probably not.  But until you fully understand what these policies “will” and “won’t” cover and how much these pet insurance policies cost, how will you know if one might be right for you?

For more information on who we feel currently offers the “best” pet insurance policies out there, we would encourage you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Policies article.

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