Knowing the risk of cancer in poodles can help you decide if this is the right breed for you, or if you need to make changes to your dog’s lifestyle and what precautions you can take to reduce your pet’s cancer risk. Cancer is as serious a threat to dogs’ health as it is to humans, catching it as early as possible is key to giving your beloved dog the best chance of survival.
Cancer in poodles is not as common compared to other dog breeds, but poodles are also prone to certain types of cancer, specifically breast cancer and squamous cell carcinoma.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in female dogs, with the highest incidence among miniature and toy poodles, as well as German shepherds, English springer spaniels, and pointers. Studies have shown that female dogs that are not spayed or were spayed after their first heat cycle are more likely to develop breast cancer. Other causative factors include age (being older than 7 years), being overweight or obese, and having a diet high in meat.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a cancer that affects the squamous cells found in the epidermis. Squamous cells are present in the nail bed, paw pads, abdomen, back, ears, and the nose, and the cancer can arise from any of these areas. As a type of skin cancer, one of the risk factors is exposure to UV rays, but the high incidence in certain breeds also point to a genetic predisposition. Dogs with sparse hair and have-light colored hair and skin are more prone to SCC of the skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma of the digit or SCCD is an aggressive cancer that affects the bones of the toes and commonly afflicts standard poodles, and especially dark-colored ones; light-colored poodles rarely develop the cancer. In addition to a high susceptibility to SCDD, dark-colored, standard poodles also often experience multiple recurrences of the disease. One study has established that genetic mutations in these dogs are associated with the development of SCDD.
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the mammary glands, which may be detected during a physical examination. The mass usually arises in the glands nearest the groin, and multiple masses may also develop in different locations throughout the breast tissue - which extends over the chest and abdomen.
The mass can either be soft or hard, and may be flesh colored, red, or purple; some masses also become ulcerated. If the breast cancer has spread, the dog may also experience lameness or weakness, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and poor appetite.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include lesions that develop on light-skinned areas of the skin. The lesions may have crusts or plaque, and the affected area may look irritated, red, and even ulcerated. The lesions usually spread and become bothersome and painful, and your pet will often bite, lick, and scratch the affected skin.
SCC lesions that affect a digit (toe) usually become ulcerated and very painful. Bleeding is also common, and a secondary infection may occur if your dog aggressively chews on or licks the toe. It’s also normal for the affected nails to fall off.
If you notice your poodle obsessively biting, chewing, or licking a specific area on his skin or a particular toe, check him for lesions and have him checked by a vet as soon as possible.
Mammary masses can be detected during a physical examination as the lumps can often be felt underneath the skin. About 50% of all mammary tumors are cancerous, or malignant, and by the time a definitive diagnosis is made, approximately half of these tumors have already spread to other areas of the body.
While benign tumors usually do not become malignant, they still need to be biopsied to be correctly identified. Multiple mammary tumors are also usually a mix of both benign and malignant tumors, so a biopsy of all the masses must be done to identify which ones are cancerous.
Squamous cell carcinoma can be identified through a simple aspiration, wherein a needle is used to extract sample cells from the suspicious lesions. If the results are inconclusive, a biopsy is also done, which involves surgical excision of a tissue sample from the tumor.
Treatment and Prevention
Early spaying, particularly before the poodle’s first heat cycle, significantly reduces the risk of mammary cancer to less than one percent. If spayed after the third heat cycle, the risk increases to 26%. Because being overweight or obese is a risk factor for mammary cancer, it’s important that you keep your poodle at a healthy weight by giving her a balanced diet and regular exercise.
You can reduce your pet’s risk of developing SCC by minimizing her exposure to the sun’s UV rays. You should also always keep an eye out for any suspicious skin growth or irritation and have it checked and treated right away to prevent spreading, discomfort, and pain.
For SCC surgical removal of the tumor provides the best outcome; however, if complete removal of the tumor is not possible, treatment may also include radiation therapy. Radiation has not been shown to be an effective treatment for SCC, so you should also discuss chemotherapy as an option with your veterinarian. Amputation may also be necessary depending on the size and location of the tumor.
Surgical removal of the affected mammary gland/s or the entire mammary chain is typically the best treatment option for mammary cancer. Chemotherapy is often recommended to ensure that all tumors are destroyed and minimize the risk of recurrence.