Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs Featured Image

Foot or toe cancer in dogs is relatively uncommon compared to other types of cancer. But remember that it can still occur.

The prevalence of foot or toe cancer in dogs can depend on various factors, such as breed, age, and gender.

Some dog breeds may risk developing foot cancer more than others.

How, you ask?

For instance, dog breeds like the Scottish Terrier, Basset Hound, and Doberman Pinscher have been found to have a higher occurrence of squamous cell carcinoma of the toes.

And just like with any other sickness or cancer, time is of the essence.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from illnesses, it is best to consult your vet immediately.

Early detection and treatment can help improve the prognosis and increase the chances of a successful result.

This blog will discuss everything you need to know about foot or toe cancer in dogs—different types, symptoms, causes, treatments, and more.

Let's get things started!

Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs

What is Foot or Toe Cancer?

Cancer is the leading cause of death in older dogs (10 years old and above).

Again, the most important thing about cancer is finding it and treating it as early as possible.

That's why, as pet owners, we must closely monitor our dog's health. Ensure that Fido goes to his checkups.

Also, grooming is an essential aspect of owning a dog.

Regularly grooming your pup can help you pick up on subtle changes in your dog's body.

Some of these changes can be an early warning of cancer.

Watch out for swelling on the foot, sores that don't heal, and deformed or missing toenails.

Dogs have different types of foot and toe cancer, each with different symptoms, diagnoses, and prognoses.

Types of Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs

There are digital and soft tissue cancers in a dog's foot or toe, but the five most common types include:

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Typically easy to spot and has an excellent and favorable prognosis if treated early enough. This type of toe cancer in dogs usually affects the nail bed or the webbing between the dog's toes.
  • Melanoma – a fast-moving cancer in dogs made up of darkly pigmented skin cells, commonly found in dark skin and fur dogs like Terriers and Doberman Pinschers.
  • OsteosarcomaA common bone tumor found in giant-sized dog breeds like Great Danes and dogs older than seven years
  • Mast Cell TumorA change in malignancy of the cells that influences allergic reactions. Dogs like Bulldogs and Boxers are more prone to this tumor.
  • Malignant Soft Tissue Sarcoma – A connective tissue disorder typically under the skin. It can easily be seen when grooming or petting.

Each of these types of cancer has its own set of signs, treatments, and prognosis.

But the main symptom you should look out for is a swelling or ulcer on the foot or toe.

We can't stress this enough, but time is really of the essence.

If the cancer is found before it metastasizes, there's a huge possibility that it can be stopped from spreading further.

Digital Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

Dogs can suffer from skin tumors, including on the feet and toes.

And the most common type of tumor that affects the toes is the squamous cell carcinoma.

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

A squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can be defined as a malignant and invasive tumor that takes hold in the scale-like cells of the epithelium (tissues that cover the body).

These scale-like tissue cells are called squamous.

On the other hand, carcinoma is defined as a malignant and persistent form of cancer.

That means it often returns after it has been removed from the body and spreads to other organs.

A squamous cell carcinoma typically originates from the skin around the nail. It usually affects the bone and tissue around it.

It spreads slowly enough to be caught before it can metastasize all over the body. In dogs, SCC usually affects only one toe.

The tumor can look like a small nodule, a red skin plaque, or a papule (small, blister-like appearance).

A squamous cell carcinoma doesn't keep its appearance as a solid mass.

Through time, it will start to grow, necrotize (death of cells), and the tumor will ulcerate.

Large-sized dog breeds and black-colored dogs are more prone to these tumors.

For instance, Labrador Retrievers and Standard Poodles seem more susceptible than other dog breeds.

And while older dogs around ten years old seem to be more vulnerable to squamous cell carcinoma, it is also seen in younger dogs.

Squamous cell carcinomas are malignant cancers that are typically locally aggressive, although they metastasize slowly.

Symptoms of Toe Cancer in Dogs

Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

If owners suspect their dog has foot or toe cancer, it's best to bring him to the vet as soon as possible.

Some owners can have a difficult time determining the signs of certain illnesses. That's why it's best advised to consult with a professional.

Your vet can examine and determine the right cause of some possible symptoms like swollen toes, sore feet, limping, and more.

Below, we've compiled a short list of dog foot or toe cancer symptoms.

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma in dogs include:

  • Pain in the foot
  • Swollen toe or foot
  • Limping, difficulty in walking
  • Ulcer on the toe that doesn't heal
  • Bleeding ulcer on the toe
  • Broken nail on a toe
  • Solid, raised mass of skin on the toe
  • Swollen toe or foot
  • Crusted lump on toe or foot
  • Deformed toenail

Symptoms of other types of Foot and Toe Cancer in Dogs

As we've discussed earlier, the other types of foot and toe cancer have different symptoms.

Signs of Melanoma in Dogs

  • Loose or missing toenail
  • Swelling of foot or toe
  • A sore that will not heal
  • Unable to eat
  • Foul Breath
  • Bloody drool
  • Loose teeth
  • Foot pain
  • Limping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

Signs of Osteosarcoma in Dogs

  • Swelling
  • Limping
  • Severe Pain
  • Swelling in the rubs, spine, legs, or jaw
  • Loss of appetite

Signs of Mast Cell Tumor in Dogs

  • Swollen toes or foot
  • Pain in toes or foot
  • Sores or ulcers on toes or foot
  • Limping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sluggish activity level
  • Deformed toe or toenail
  • Nail loss

Signs of Malignant Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

  • Swelling of the toe/foot
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Large lump in foot/toe
  • Limping
  • Limited mobility
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to walk
  • Misshapen toe or toenail

Causes of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

There is still no known cause regarding squamous cell carcinoma of the dog's toes.

However, cancer is a complex disease.

The risk of a dog getting SCC will vary depending on the dog's genetics, environment, and family history.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is an environmental risk.

Also, canine papillomavirus (papillomas) or wards caused by viruses can cause squamous cell carcinomas.

Some dog breeds are more prone to this disease due to lack of hair or having light-colored fur or skin.

But that's not really absolute because Rottweilers are more prone to squamous cell carcinoma on the toes despite being dark-skinned.

And, like we've said, older dogs are more vulnerable to SCC than younger dogs.

Also, gender doesn't seem to be a risk factor for this disease.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Between the 4th and 5th digits of the right Hindlimb.Image by: Dr. Monique Mayer, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Between the 4th and 5th digits of the right Hindlimb.
Image by: Dr. Monique Mayer, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Diagnosis of Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs

To determine the proper diagnosis of foot or toe cancer in dogs, owners must present a thorough history of their dog's health and symptoms.

Take down notes of the different symptoms your dog exhibits.

List down when Fido exhibited the signs. Tell the vet if you suspect it is caused by trauma or injuries.

Your vet will then look thoroughly for sores or tumors on the dog's body.

He will also carefully check if the lymph nodes are enlarged since it can indicate that the body is reacting to an infection or invasion.

The vet may also take a sample of lymph fluid to look for cancerous cells.

He may also order a complete blood count and biochemistry profile to ensure the dog's organs work fine.

It can also help determine if the white blood cell count is higher than normal, indicating that the body is reacting to an infection or an invasive illness.

X-rays can also be needed so that the vet can look at the lungs and check for signs of abnormalities like tumors.

X-rays of the dog's foot will also be needed to determine how deep the tumor is in the tissue and whether the cancer on the toes has affected the bones in the foot.

A biopsy will be needed so the vet can properly diagnose the specific type of growth.

Your vet will also need biopsies if the dog has sores or tumors in other areas.

Other tests your vet can run:

  • Blood gas
  • Blood chemistry panel
  • Urinalysis
  • Stool sample
  • Fine needle aspiration of swelling or lump

Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs Treatment

The treatment will depend on the number of tumors or sores your dog has and whether or not it has spread to other areas of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma can be treated with surgery or immediate removal of the affected area.

For dogs suffering from only one tumor on one toe, it's best to be treated with surgery immediately.

The toe will be amputated to remove all of the carcinomas.

But don't worry since most dogs recover well from this surgery. They will also be likely to move around or walk normally after.

On the other hand, if the tumor has already spread, surgery alone may not be enough.

Amputation of the foot or limb may be necessary depending on how much cancer has metastasized.

Surgery, together with chemotherapy or other types of therapies, will also be advised. Vets can also prescribe you medication to relieve or minimize your dog's pain.

Osteosarcoma usually requires amputation of the affected toe or the whole foot.

Mast cell tumor and malignant soft tissue sarcoma treatments will depend on the grade.

If the tumor is low-grade, it is a less aggressive cancer and will most likely be treated with surgery.

However, if the tumor is high-grade, surgery together with chemotherapy or radiation therapy will be needed.

Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs Treatment Dog Amputated Paw

Recovery of Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs

The recovery of the dog suffering from foot or toe cancer will depend on the grade of the tumor and if it has already spread around the body.

Again, that's why it's best to find cancer as early as possible to get the right treatment right away, and the chances of recovery are high.

Unfortunately, some of these cancers move fast, and the survival rate can only be about 10 to 12 months short.

Make sure to follow your vet's advice and come in for follow-ups. Let the vet know if there are any changes in your dog's overall condition.

Living and Management

If your dog recently underwent surgery to amputate a toe, it may limp a little and suffer some pain afterward.

The vet will prescribe pain medication to help your dog move and to give him time to adjust.

Limit Fido's activity until he has completely recovered from the surgery.

If your dog lost a digit, he should not have any problem adjusting quickly. Your pup can fully recover if the tumor has not spread to other body parts.

And even though this type of cancer has a small chance to recur, it is still best advised to come in for regular checkups so the vet can see your dog's progress.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a dog live with toe cancer?

Dogs have several types of foot or toe cancer, some of which can move and recur quickly. These cancers can metastasize and damage other body parts, severely complicating things.

The survival rate of untreated dogs with toe cancer is about 10 to 12 months.

Is toe cancer life-threatening?

Foot cancer is curable with early treatment. However, if left untreated, toe cancer can also be deadly.

What are the first signs of cancer in dogs?

A few of the most common signs that could indicate your dog has cancer are:

  • Sores that don't heal
  • Lumps
  • Swellings
  • Bumps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty eating
  • Discharge
  • Foul odor
  • Lethargy
  • Straining to urinate or defecate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain

Dog with Amputated Paw

Foot or Toe Cancer in Dogs: Before You Go…

Veterinary Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer at some point, and about 50% of these dogs are over ten years old.

Luckily, half of all canine cancers are treatable if detected early, and new remedies are continuously being discovered and researched.

Tumors, including paws, can occur almost anywhere on a dog’s body. The most common type of foot or toe cancer is squamous cell carcinoma.

As we've discussed earlier, UV rays or sunlight can cause the development of SCC.

Limit your dog's exposure to the sun, especially during summer or between 10 AM to 3 PM.

If your dog suffers from SCC or melanoma, ensure it cannot rub, scratch, lick, or bite the affected area since it can cause trauma and increase the risk of a secondary infection.

Symptoms of toe cancer include swollen toe or foot, limping, ulcer on the toe, bleeding ulcer on a toe, broken nail, and more.

Like any other health problem, foot or toe cancer in dogs is best examined or treated early before it can spread and develop into more severe problems.

Treatment for this cancer will depend on the severity and number of tumors or sores your dog has and whether or not it has spread.

If the SCC is detected quickly and has not metastasized to other body parts, amputation of the toe or foot is usually the treatment.


Toby loves spending time with his dog and two cats. They are the best stress reliever and affectionate pets, especially his Belgian Malinois, Shawie. Shawie's favorite activity is running or jogging. But their go-to spot is to chill and swim around a nearby river.