Where To Begin If Your Dog Has A Mast Cell Tumor

Where To Begin If Your Dog Has A Mast Cell Tumor

Posted by Volhard Dog Nutrition on Dec 22nd 2020

As dog owners, we tend to think of our canine companions as furry playmates whose only job is to keep us happy and safe. However, we often forget that both internal and external factors are going to affect our dogs’ lives in the future, with the grimmest perspective being the one of cancer.

It is inevitable, due to genetic or environmental factors, that some dogs develop a form of cancer. While in the past centuries, the cancer diagnosis was more or less the “kiss of death” for many dogs, nowadays, with the help of scientific developments, improved detection techniques, and the application of holistic therapies our canine companions have a chance at enjoying a healthy life once again.

Out of all, some of the most common forms are mast cell tumors (MCTs), which account for around 20% of all canine skin tumors. Even in an early development stage, these tumors can take an aggressive turn and spread to other body parts, making them difficult to be contained locally.

Although there is no telling how these tumors will behave in the future, proper medical treatment, alongside a diet effective at starving off cancer cells, are your dog’s best fighting gear against mast cell tumors. Let us dive deeper into this subject and work out the best medical and nutritional plan against this disease! 

What is a Mast Cell Tumor?

A mast cell tumor is a cancer form that mostly manifests itself as a nodule or a mass in the skin. While MCTs are generally restricted to the dermis, they can spread to and affect other body parts and organs, including the spleen, intestines, and the bone marrow, in a process called metastasis. MCTs can take a variety of shapes and forms, which is why a specialist should examine every single lump on your dog’s skin.

Our next step towards better understanding mast cell tumors is taking a closer look at what specifically causes them.

What is a Mast Cell?

Mast cells are a type of white blood cells derived from the bone marrow, which plays an essential role in several processes, such as defense against parasitic infection, the formation of blood vessels, etc. A particular function of mast cells is connected to the allergic response system: when your dog is exposed to substances that stimulate allergies, your dog’s immune system, through the process of degranulation, instructs the mast cells to release histamine and heparin as local immune responses.

These substances are responsible for the allergy symptoms we are all familiar with: sneezing, itchiness, etc. However, when the process of mass degranulation (excessive release of compounds) takes place, MCTs, or mastocytomas, can form.

What is The Cause behind Mass Degranulation?

As in the case of most cancer forms, the particular cause for an MCT to develop is unclear. Usually, a complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors is to blame. In the particular case of MCTs, genetic mutations are another contributing factor; for example, the c-KIT proto-oncogene (known as the KIT protein) plays a significant role in the replication and division of mast cells. MCTs stem from the body’s inflammatory and histamine responses. MCTs have an affinity for the blood, digestive system, skin, spleen and liver. Although virtually every dog breed can develop a mast cell tumor, specific breeds are more susceptible. In this category, we can include Bull Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Boxers. Other dogs who might be prone to MCTs are dogs who often suffer from:

  1. Food sensitivities
  2. Allergies – food and environmental
  3. Chronic inflammation – stemming from problems like skin complaints, ear infections, arthritis, poor diets, or autoimmune issues
  4. Leaky Gut or dysbiosis – inflammation of the intestinal lining that allows food particles, bacteria and toxins to get into the bloodstream.

By looking at this disease, we now know that mast cell tumors can be dangerous to your dog’s overall well-being and that treating them is imperative. Now, let us turn our attention towards detecting and curing our dogs of them altogether.

What are The Signs of a Mast Cell Tumor?

The main concern about this cancer form surrounds its unpredictable development. While it could take the shape of a small, undetected lump for several months on end, the tumor’s growth, associated with redness that is more pronounced, swelling, and ulceration, can occur spontaneously. They may even appear to experience an increase in size on a daily basis!

When the process of mass degranulation takes place, several chemicals can reach the bloodstream, creating problems in other body areas. Mast cell tumors contain histamine, enzymes and heparin that can be released into the system. This would typically trigger such side effects as blood in the stool, itching, blood clotting problems, duodenal ulcers and vomiting. Other organs that could fall prey to these chemicals are the spleen and the liver. Rarely, however, anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, can be triggered, putting your canine companion’s life in danger.

Being quick to act can undoubtedly save your furry playmate’s life. If any of these symptoms apply to your dog, contacting a specialist is mandatory!

What are The Known Treatments for The Mast Cell Tumor?

As we have seen, the direction in which a mast cell tumor can evolve is hard to predict. Because of that, in the case of an MCT diagnosis, undergoing a series of tests for discovering the true extent of the cancer spread is essential. This way, it will be easier for a specialist to develop the best treatment option for your canine friend. Here is a comprehensive list for proper cancer detection in dogs:

Blood and urine samples

Abdominal ultrasound

Fine Needle Aspirates

Chest Radiographs

Tissue biopsy

CT scan

Despite their unpredictable behavioral patterns, today’s scientific progress has developed multiple ways of treating mast cell tumors. The key to an efficient recovery mainly depends on when we detect the tumor. Higher-grade tumors (grade III) require chemotherapy, but for lower-grade tumors (grades II and I), surgery is a viable solution.

Specialists prefer radiation therapy when the tumor is not in a suitable location for surgical removal; additionally, they can include this treatment form when cancerous cells are left behind after surgical removal.

There are also homeopathic remedies, herbs and supplements that are aids in strengthening the dog’s immunity system to be able to ward off the cancer more easily. Some of the effective herbs include Burdock root, an aid that encourages liver function that would, thereby, aid in toxin and waste extraction. Red clover is helpful toward warding off tumors while acting as a cleaning and strengthening agent. Alfalfa is a good cancer-preventative herb. Astragalus consists of an alkaloid that prevents cancer from spreading as well as strengthening the immune system. Dandelion helps to motivate liver function and the digestive process working as a diuretic. Garlic, echinacea, mushrooms and green tea encourages immunity, helping cell growth as well. Milk thistle acts as a protectorate of the liver and can be an aid in reversing liver insult due to chemotherapy.

The Effects of a Proper Diet against Mast Cell Tumors

As we have seen earlier, today’s scientific developments are capable of removing mast cell tumors and restoring your canine friend’s well-being and happiness. However, these methods can become less effective when they are not backed by an adequate diet.

The key to stopping MCT progression and healing tumors is to deal with the disease at a root level:

  • Calm the inflammation response
  • Nourish and feed the immune system
  • Help the body push through stagnation by supporting circulation and the nervous system

Tumors need sugar for energy. To counteract this process, dog owners must choose a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates for their dogs; this way, as numerous documented cases testify, your dog’s body will literally starve tumors out, impeding them from metastasizing!

Dr. Gregory K. Ogilvie, director of the Angel Care Cancer Center at California Veterinary Specialists and professor at the University of California-San Diego, proposed the following percentages for a proper cancer diet:

37% animal protein

32% fat – mostly from animal sources

21.6% carbohydrates

3.5% Omega-3 fatty acids

2.5% DHA (fatty acids)

3.4% Arginine (amino acid)



Though the prospect of a mast cell tumor is forever looming, as a dog owner, you are now aware that medical treatments, holistic therapies and proper diet are what your dog needs to fight against this disease. Getting your dog on a fresh, natural species appropriate diet early helps to stave off chronic inflammation in the body. Preventing the start of inflammation is better than trying to reverse damage once it has been allowed to linger. A proactive wellness strategy is your best approach if you have a dog you think is prone to this circumstance (refer to blog series on proactive wellness- I wrote)

An important test discussed in this blog is a chronic inflammation and cancer screening test offered by VDI labs. Incorporating this test into your wellness plan could help you identify weaknesses in the dog’s system- something you can build up and support before problems manifest themselves.

If you are looking for more information concerning proper nutrition for your canine companion, feel free to contact us or check out our blog!








7) Wendy Volhard, Kerry Brown, D.V.M., Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, Howell Book House, Foster City, CA, 2000.