Dogs With Histiocytoma

icon May 30, 2024

Histiocytoma is a relatively common skin tumor in dogs, typically benign, arising from a type of immune cell called a histiocyte. This article aims to provide a thorough understanding of histiocytomas, their treatment, potential for malignancy, causes, differentiation from other tumors, and breed predispositions.

What is a Histiocytoma in Dogs?

A histiocytoma is a benign tumor that originates from Langerhans cells, a type of dendritic cell found in the skin. These tumors most commonly appear as small, solitary, button-like growths, often on the head, ears, and limbs of young dogs under three years old. Histiocytomas are typically hairless, firm, and dome-shaped, ranging in color from pink to red.

Characteristics of Histiocytomas

♦  Appearance: Smooth, round, hairless, and sometimes ulcerated.

♦  Size: Generally small, about 1-2 cm in diameter.

♦  Location: Frequently found on the head, ears, and limbs.

♦  Behavior: Fast-growing but usually not painful or itchy.

Natural History

Histiocytomas are often self-limiting, meaning they can regress on their own without treatment. This spontaneous regression usually occurs within 2-3 months, as the dog's immune system recognizes and attacks the abnormal histiocytes.

Malignant Histiocytoma in Dogs

While most histiocytomas are benign, there is a rare malignant form known as malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) or histiocytic sarcoma. This aggressive cancer arises from histiocytes and can occur in various tissues, including the skin, spleen, lungs, and bones.

Characteristics of Malignant Histiocytoma

♦  Appearance: May resemble benign histiocytomas but tends to grow more rapidly and aggressively.

♦  Behavior: Invasive, with a higher potential for metastasis to other organs.

♦  Symptoms: Can cause systemic signs such as weight loss, lethargy, and decreased appetite.

Treatment of Malignant Histiocytoma

♦  Surgery: Aggressive surgical removal is required, often with wide margins to ensure complete excision.

♦  Chemotherapy: May be recommended to address metastatic disease or reduce tumor size before surgery.

♦  Radiation Therapy: Used in cases where surgical excision is incomplete or not feasible.


The prognosis for dogs with malignant histiocytomas is generally poor due to the aggressive nature and high metastatic potential of these tumors. Early detection and treatment are crucial for improving outcomes.

Benign Histiocytomas in Dogs

Benign histiocytomas in dogs are common skin tumors arising from Langerhans cells. They typically present as small, round, hairless growths, often red or pink, on the head, ears, or limbs of young dogs. These tumors are usually not painful and grow rapidly but tend to regress spontaneously within 2-3 months as the immune system targets them.

Treatment is often unnecessary due to their self-limiting nature, but surgical removal is an option if the tumor causes discomfort, becomes ulcerated, or fails to regress. Cryosurgery is another minimally invasive treatment option. The prognosis for benign histiocytomas is excellent, as they rarely cause long-term issues or recur after regression or removal. Regular monitoring ensures any changes are promptly addressed.

What Causes Histiocytoma in Dogs?

The exact cause of histiocytomas in dogs is not well understood. However, several factors may contribute to their development:

Genetic Predisposition

Certain breeds are more prone to developing histiocytomas, suggesting a genetic component. The increased incidence in specific breeds implies a hereditary predisposition.

Several dog breeds have a higher predisposition to developing histiocytomas. These breeds include:

  • Boxers: Known for a higher incidence of various skin tumors, including histiocytomas.
  • Dachshunds: Prone to a variety of skin conditions, including benign histiocytic tumors.
  • Cocker Spaniels: Often seen with histiocytomas, particularly in younger dogs.
  • Labrador Retrievers: Have a genetic predisposition to various tumors, including histiocytomas.
  • Scottish Terriers: Commonly affected by histiocytomas and other skin tumors.

Immune System Factors

Histiocytomas are thought to be related to the dog's immune response. The spontaneous regression seen in many cases indicates that the immune system plays a role in recognizing and eliminating the tumor cells.

Environmental Factors

While less clearly defined, environmental factors such as exposure to certain chemicals, UV radiation, and chronic skin irritation may contribute to the development of histiocytomas.

Histiocytoma vs. Mast Cell Tumor in Dogs

Mast cell tumors (MCTs) are another common type of skin tumor in dogs, often mistaken for histiocytomas due to their similar appearance. However, there are key differences between the two:


♦  Cell Type: Arises from Langerhans cells.

♦  Behavior: Typically benign and self-limiting.

♦  Appearance: Smooth, round, hairless, often pink or red.

♦  Age of Onset: Most common in young dogs under three years old.

Mast Cell Tumor

♦  Cell Type: Arises from mast cells, which are part of the immune system.

♦  Behavior: Can be benign or malignant, with a potential for aggressive growth and metastasis.

♦  Appearance: Variable, can be smooth or ulcerated, often itchy, and may change size rapidly.

♦  Age of Onset: More common in older dogs, but can occur at any age.

Diagnostic Differentiation

♦  Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA):
Cytology can help differentiate between histiocytomas and MCTs. Mast cell tumors typically contain characteristic granules that stain metachromatically with certain dyes.

♦  Biopsy and Histopathology:
A definitive diagnosis requires a tissue biopsy and microscopic examination to identify the type of cells and their behavior.

Histiocytoma in Dogs Treatment

While histiocytomas often resolve on their own, treatment may be necessary if the tumor causes discomfort, becomes ulcerated, or does not regress. The primary treatment options include:

Surgical Removal

Surgical excision is the most common treatment for histiocytomas, especially if the tumor is causing problems. The procedure is straightforward, involving the removal of the tumor under general anesthesia. This method ensures complete removal and allows for histopathological examination to confirm the diagnosis.


Cryosurgery involves freezing the tumor with liquid nitrogen. This method is less invasive than traditional surgery and is suitable for small, superficial tumors. The frozen tissue eventually falls off, and the wound heals over time.


In cases where the histiocytoma is not causing any issues and is expected to regress, veterinarians may recommend a "wait and see" approach. Regular monitoring ensures that any changes or complications are promptly addressed.

Can Histiocytoma Turn into Cancer?

Histiocytomas are benign tumors and do not turn into cancer. However, it is essential to differentiate them from malignant histiocytic disorders, such as histiocytic sarcoma, which are aggressive and require different management. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring of any skin growths are crucial to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Is Histiocytoma Common in Dogs?

Histiocytomas are relatively common in dogs, particularly in young animals. They are one of the most frequent benign skin tumors seen in veterinary practice. The incidence is higher in certain breeds and younger dogs, but they can occur in any dog regardless of age or breed.

Incidence and Prevalence

♦  Young Dogs:
Most common in dogs under three years old.

♦  Breed Predisposition:
Certain breeds show a higher incidence.

♦  Overall:
Generally, histiocytomas represent a significant proportion of skin tumors diagnosed in dogs.


Histiocytomas are common, benign skin tumors in dogs, typically affecting young animals and certain predisposed breeds. While they often regress spontaneously, treatment options such as surgical removal and cryosurgery are available for problematic cases. Differentiating histiocytomas from other tumors, such as mast cell tumors, is crucial for appropriate management. Although benign, regular monitoring of skin growths is essential to ensure accurate diagnosis and timely intervention if necessary. Understanding the nature, treatment options, and breed predispositions associated with histiocytomas can help dog owners and veterinarians effectively manage these tumors.

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