Mast cell tumours are one of the most common tumours of the canine skin and have a reputation for being difficult to manage because of their variable clinical presentation, behaviour and response to treatment. This review of recent literature on canine mast cell tumours suggests that the majority of such tumours may not be as bad as their reputation suggests. Most grade I and grade II tumours can be managed successfully by good surgery. Recent literature also calls into question the utility of clinical staging systems and the value of assessing surgical margins for prognosis and highlights the paucity of well-conducted, case-controlled clinical trials in assessing the efficacy of medical management of high-risk tumours. In terms of more basic research, recent studies have implicated the stem cell factor receptor KIT as having a role in the aetiology of canine mast cell tumours and there appears to be an association between c-kit mutation and higher grade of tumour. This may offer a possible target for new therapeutic approaches.