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Vet Talks: Mast Cell Tumors In Dogs

Vet Talks 5 min read
Mast cell tumors in dog

Mast cell tumors in dogs are unfortunately a common condition. If your furbaby has been diagnosed with a mast cell tumor, it is important to understand what the condition is, treatment options,  and what you can do to support them.

What Is A Mast Cell?

Mast cells are important cells of the immune system and are present in connective tissues throughout the body and in the bloodstream. They play important roles in the maintenance of many physiological functions, like vasodilation and vascular homeostasis, and are the ones involved in allergic inflammatory responses and gastrointestinal disorders. Mast cells are responsible for releasing components like histamine, which is most commonly known for causing signs of allergies like itching, sneezing, runny eyes, and runny nose.

What Is A Mast Cell Tumor (MCT)?

A mast cell tumor (MCT) is a type of tumor consisting of mast cells and is the most common type of skin tumor found in dogs. Although they commonly form nodules or masses in the skin, they can also affect other areas of the body like the spleen, liver, intestines, and bone marrow.

Diagram of a mast cell which may be affected by mast cell tumors in dogs
Diagram of a white blood cell, mast cell, mastocyte, or a labrocyte. Mast cells are the cells responsible for causing allergic reactions or anaphylaxis, also aid in the healing of wounds and defense against invading pathogens.

MCT’s are mostly diagnosed in middle-aged to older pets and while any breed of dog can develop it, breeds like boxers, bull terriers, pugs, and labrador retrievers make up for almost half of the cases in dogs.

MCT’s are mostly diagnosed in middle-aged to older pets and while any breed of dog can develop it, breeds like boxers, bull terriers, pugs, and labrador retrievers make up for almost half of the cases in dogs.

Most tumors are solitary and are most often noticed in the skin especially in sites like the limbs, lower abdomen, and chest, although they can also develop in subcutaneous tissues. The cause of MCT is still unknown, but because certain breeds are prone to this cancer, genetics are thought to play an important part.

Mast cell tumors can have a variety of appearances, from small lumps or bumps to swollen or ulcerated masses. They can also quickly change in size because of the reactions around the mass. They can get larger or smaller even on a daily basis and this can occur spontaneously or with the agitation of the tumor, which causes degranulation and subsequent swelling of the surrounding tissue.

Some pets can even show signs of systemic diseases due to reactions to the active compounds found within the mast cells like histamine and heparin. Ulcers due to histamine release can also form in the gastrointestinal tract causing symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Yellow lab resting it's head on a woman's lap


In order to diagnose MCT, a fine-needle aspirate (FNA) of the suspect mass is recommended. In this process, the veterinarian removes a sample of cells from the tumor with a small needle.

A biopsy of the tissue is recommended to verify the grade of the MCT which varies from I-III. MCT’s with grade I act more in a benign manner, and most can be cured with surgical removal while MCTs of grade III are more aggressive tumors that are locally invasive and have a higher rate of spread.


The veterinarian will be able to look for the spread of cancer to other areas of the body and suggest a treatment based on the findings.

For lower-grade tumors with no evidence of spread, normally surgery to remove the mass is recommended. In higher-grade cases, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy can be recommended. Antihistamine medications may be given to control the problems associated with histamine release as well.

You should avoid touching and manipulating the tumor as well as you should avoid your pet chew, lick, or scratch it. MCT’s are very reactive and the degranulation is easily triggered with pressure. Degranulation can lead to itchiness, swelling, discomfort, and even bleeding. Your pet might have to use an Elizabethan collar (E-collar or cone) to prevent licking the tumor while on treatment as well.

jack russell sitting on wood floor wearing an e-collar

The prognosis for MCT depends upon the tumor grade, whether surgery has resulted in complete tumor removal, and if the MCT has spread or not. If the tumor was grade I or II, free of metastasis, and completely removed, the prognosis is good. With aggressive treatment in more advanced grade MCT, the prognosis is fair.

Early tumor detection and treatment can help with improving treatment outcomes and prognosis. If you notice any abnormalities in your little one’s skin, you should take him to the veterinarian for an evaluation immediately since although sometimes these tumors can mimic simple lesions like insect bites, in reality, they can be very aggressive.

Natural Support For Mast Cell Tumors in Dogs

NHV supplements may provide good support for your little one with Mast Cell Tumors.  Besides providing a balanced diet, supplementing your little one’s regimen with Natures Immuno, Yucca, and Petomega 3 can definitely help.

Natures Immuno is a blend of mushrooms known for their extensive health benefits. These mushrooms are reported to help improve the body’s ability to produce white blood cells, it can be used as an adjunct with chemotherapy, it supports the immune system and helps fight against viral infections. It’s very beneficial as anti-cancer and anti-tumor support. It’s useful for cardiovascular, liver, kidney, diabetic, and endocrine health as well and helps promote general well-being. One of the mushrooms in this formula is the Turkey Tail mushroom. Studies have shown that it is beneficial for a wide variety of cancers, including mammary gland cancer and lymphoma. Researchers believe that Turkey Tail mushrooms contain properties that fight cancer while also helping to strengthen the immune system. The mushrooms in this formula also reduce the common side effects of chemotherapy in pets who become neutropenic, allowing pets to maintain a quality of life relatively close to their normal.

Yucca contains steroidal saponins that stimulate the body to produce its own natural corticosteroids. Corticosteroid is the most used drug for the therapy of mast cell tumors. It is well tolerated by dogs and is usually employed for a minimum of six months. Yucca’s extract is a powerful anti-inflammatory with nutritive properties that may help with symptom relief related to inflammation, discomfort, and loss of appetite as well.

Petomega 3 is a great source of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid 600mg) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid 460mg) which are essential fatty acids that can be beneficial to a pet with cancer. They can decrease IgE-mediated activation of mast cells in several animal models and in human cells. They not only prevent weight loss, but they can also decrease inflammation and may inhibit metastasis as well.

When you find or see a lump or mass on your pet, we tend to think the worst. Even though the thought of our loved ones having a tumor may be scary, it’s important to go to the veterinarian right away to get a diagnosis as early as possible so that your furbaby has the best chance to get better. Our pet experts are always here for you in case you have any questions, so feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Dr. Aline Dias DVM

Dr. Aline Dias DVM

Dr. Aline Dias is a veterinary graduate from the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil. She worked for five years with research in Bacteriology and Virology fields, but she found her true passion in feline medicine. As soon as Dr. Aline immigrated to Canada, she adopted two kittens: Chilli and Keke. Dr. Aline is now a full-time crazy cat lady and when she’s not working at NHV she spends her time spoiling her furbabies or going for walks at the beach.

Published: October 17, 2020

2 replies

  1. Kathryn Palmer says:

    7 yr old Jack Russell had lump on right ear -surgically removed without good margins-oncologist says remove ear? On benadryl-any recommendations?

    1. Team NHV says:

      Hi Kathryn,

      We’re so sorry to hear your pup is struggling with a tumor!

      NHV Stimmune and Natures Immuno are good options for helping with mast cell tumors due to their immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties.
      A hypoallergenic diet is also helpful because this type of cancer releases histamine, which can impact the gastrointestinal system.

      You can find more information on these formulas here:

      We hope this information helps! Please feel free to let us know if you have any questions whatsoever, our team is always here for you.

      Sending all our love and healing vibes your way!

      Yours in wellness,
      Team NHV

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