Pug Mast Cell Tumor Treatment and Prevention

A mast cell tumor is one of the most common skin tumors in pugs. It makes up almost twenty percent of skin tumors among our fur babies. Keep reading to learn more about this disease and how can you maintain the health of your pug so they can be free of this disease.

What are mast cells? They are white blood cells located in connective tissues. Mast cells are a part of a pug’s immune system. They are also responsible for allergic responses.

Unfortunately, these skin tumors do not have symptoms at all. So, it is important for our dogs to have regular check-ups. We should look for any masses on their skin. Do not hesitate to visit the doctor when you noticed an unexplained allergic reaction or a new skin mass.

What Are the Symptoms of Mast Cell Tumors in Pugs?

pug dogs mast cell tumors

These mast cell tumors appear as a skin mass. Diagnosed pugs usually have smooth pink lumps and ulcerated (raw) skin lesions. Many people call mast cell tumor as the “great imitators”. Remember that any lump or bump in our fur babies may be cancerous. So, we should bring them to the veterinarian immediately.

Some of the common symptoms of cancerous mast cells are:

  • Vomiting
  • Welts
  • Collapse
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Bloody or black, tar-like feces

Remember that dogs of all ages can develop mast cell tumors. But, some breeds have higher risks. Some of them includes Pugs, Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, Pugs, and Boston Terriers.

For diagnosis, veterinarian will ask for a microscopic examination. They will collect your pet’s cells from the tumor. They usually use a fine-needle aspiration. The doctor will insert a needle into the tumor. Then, he will withdraw some cells and place it on a microscope slide. Doctors can also use biopsy or even special stains in detecting some mast cell tumors.

General Health Assessment

mast cell tumours

If you want to check your pug for mast cell tumors, he will undergo complete physical examination. You will also have a detailed medical history. A complete urinalysis, blood cell count, and serum chemistry panel will occur. Why? To check general health.

If your pug’s skin tumors is in an accessible area, vet can remove it through surgery. If the tumor is in a spot where surgical removal is not possible, your fur baby will undergo extra diagnostic tests. This way, the specialist can come up with a special treatment plan.

Roughly 80% of mast cell tumor surgeries are unlikely to reoccur after surgery. It means that most cases are curable. In situations when surgery is impossible, we have lots of treatment plans. One of the common is radiation therapy.

Some of the diagnostic tests are:

Abdominal ultrasound or sonogram

This test is for the spleen, liver, and abdominal lymph nodes. It is useful for collecting samples from the said organs for microscopic examination.

Radiographs or x-ray studies

This test is very useful in identifying diseases that can complicate anesthesia during surgery. Yet, it cannot detect mast cell tumors. Why? Because these cancerous cells rarely spread to the lungs.

Bone marrow aspiration

Bone marrow aspiration is the best test to check the metastasis of the mast cell tumor.

Buffy coat smear

This test is for identifying how much mast cells are in the bloodstream. But, some recent studies have proven that this test alone is not reliable. Yet, it can still help doctors in setting up a treatment plan.

What Are the Stages of Mast Cell Tumors in Pugs?

Mast cell tumors have different grades that different on how aggressive it is. Low-grade tumor is less aggressive while high-grade tumor is more aggressive. We can consider a tumor high-grade if it spreads to other locations. For instance, outside the original tumor.

After diagnosis, doctor will develop the best treatment plan based on your dog’s tumor grade level. If he has high-grade, your pug may need to consult an oncologist for radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of mast cell tumor stages.

Grade I

Mild and simple surgery is enough.

Grade II

Requires wide surgical excision.

Sometimes, it also requires radiation therapy. Pets with Grade II tumor has 95% success rate. They also have a tumor control for two to five years.

Grade III

Requires systematic chemotherapy. Doctors administer it to target cancer cells that may have spread to distant sites. Sometimes, this therapy is enough. Yet, fur babies with Grade III tumors need medicines. This way, they can mitigate the side effects of treatments.

Side effects depends on the selected treatment. But, side effects are usually caused by anesthesia. For instance, you pug may have localized redness and irritation. He can also experience some gastrointestinal upset like vomiting and diarrhea. Besides that, lethargy and decreased appetite may also occur.

We should be responsible and cautious in taking care of our pets. We should give them the prescribed medications for nausea and diarrhea. It is best to follow the veterinarian’s advice at all times. Some pugs with mast cell tumors also experience increased urination, hunger, and thirst. If you have any questions, your veterinarian can assist you.

Are Mast Cell Tumors Fatal to Pugs?

The fatality and survival rate of pugs with mast cell tumors depends on the grade. For low-grade, we have a small chance of recurrence. Dogs can live out their natural lives after surgery.

For high-grade, survival tie with surgery is only about five months or less. But, if your dog undergoes treatment or chemotherapy, the average survival time is one year or more.

What Are the Treatments for Mast Cell Tumors in Pugs?

cell tumors in dogs treatment

Your veterinarian will test your dog’s condition before developing a treatment plan. This way, you can get the best treatment option. Treatments almost always include surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy gives a small dose of x-rays for many treatments. It is the best treatment for tumors that cannot be removed due to its location and size. Potential side effects are ulceration, hair loss, and redness at the treatment site. If tumor is in the mouth, gum inflammation and hyper-salivation may occur.

Combination Chemotherapy

Combination chemotherapy include many FDA-approved drugs. These medicines show a great promise in cancer treatment among pugs. Most veterinarians choose this treatment for many factors. First, it has milder side effects. It also does not make your pet susceptible to any infection.

Chemotherapy is very helpful or reducing the tumor’s size prior to surgery. It also lowers the risk of the cancer’s reoccurrence.

Occasionally, veterinarians give antibiotics during chemotherapy to tolerate low white blood cell count.

  • Vinblastine is an injectable chemotherapy medication. It is a microtubule poison that deceases neutrophils. This is an effective way to prevent bacterial infections.
  • Lomustine (CCNU) is an oral chemotherapy that alters proteins. It prevents cells from multiplying rapidly. It also prevents too much DNA and RNA strands.

How to Prevent Skin Tumors Among Pugs?

Currently, we don’t have known prevention against this disease. So, if your dog has new skin lesions, bumps, or lumps, you should bring him to the veterinarian immediately. This way, it can be treated as quickly as possible.

However, not all veterinarians are knowledgeable with mast cell tumors. So, ask for referral to another specialist that would be best for you and your fur baby.


A pug’s mast cells is quite common. They treat allergic reactions and inflammation. When a tumor develops, it will usually spread to the blood, lungs, lymph nodes, and bone marrow. If the cancer cells continued to spread, the pug must undergo a multi-modality therapy.

Hope you learned what it is, the treatment options and prevention in this article.

For more info about your growing pug, read our other blogs.