Canine melanoma is a relatively common and aggressive cancer affecting dogs. Like its human equivalent, the disease originates from cells called melanocytes, specialized skin cells that produce the pigment melanin, which aids in protecting the skin. The exact cause of melanoma is unclear, but the need for awareness, early detection, and treatment cannot be understated.

In this article, we'll cover the appearance and symptoms of canine melanomas and the diagnosis and treatment options for canine melanoma. Read on to arm yourself with all the facts and give your dog a better chance against this illness.

Stop Googling - Ask a Real Vet


  1. What Do Melanomas Look Like
  2. Where Are Melanomas Frequently Found in Dogs
  3. Symptoms of Canine Melanoma
  4. Canine Melanoma Stages
  5. Diagnosing Melanoma in Dogs
  6. Treatment for Melanoma in Dogs
  7. Canine Melanoma Vaccine
  8. FAQs
  9. Final Thoughts

What Do Melanomas Look Like

Canine melanomas usually appear as pigmented or dark patches on the skin. Some may be flat, while others may protrude more; some can even appear wrinkly and be mistaken for warts. Dogs with dark-pigmented skin tend to develop melanomas more frequently.

It's always a good idea to regularly give your dog's skin a good once-over to look out for anything suspicious. Don't forget to check out their paw pads, eyes, and ears. Any mass on the skin that seems to be growing rapidly should be investigated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Regular check-ups at the vet can be useful in picking up other types of canine melanoma in areas that are hard to check yourself, like the eyes and inside the mouth.

Investing in a Pet Camera is always a great idea for pet owners, not just because of its obvious benefits but also when you need to keep an eye on your best pal for signs of any health complaints.

Where Are Melanomas Frequently Found in Dogs

Various types of canine melanomas can affect different areas of the body. Oral melanoma in dogs (the most common type of melanoma in dogs, making up 30 to 40% of cases) affects the tissues of the mouth, affecting the gums, lips, tongue, and palate. Oral melanomas aren't always easy to see, but because of the good blood supply to the oral cavity, this type of melanoma can grow quickly and spread.

In addition to canine oral melanoma, dogs can also develop melanoma on their skin. Melanoma on dogs' skin usually appears in hairless areas on the body or on lightly pigmented skin, like paw pads.

Eye melanoma in dogs primarily affects the iris and the surrounding tissues of the eye. Also known as uveal melanoma, this type of melanoma in dogs is often benign, but as tumors grow, they can cause significant problems with vision.

Symptoms of Canine Melanoma

Early intervention is crucial with canine melanoma, so it's essential to have a good understanding of the symptoms to look out for. The symptoms of melanoma in dogs can vary depending on the tumor's location.

Oral melanoma

  • Growths or lumps on the gums, lips, tongue, and palate;
  • Difficulty eating, chewing, and swallowing;
  • Bleeding from the mouth;
  • Extremely bad breath;
  • Excessive drooling.

Cutaneous melanoma

  • Dark or pigmented mass on the skin;
  • Ulceration or bleeding of growths;
  • Rapid growth or changes in the mass;
  • Swelling or inflammation around the affected area.

Ocular melanoma

  • Change in the color of the eye;
  • Bulging eyes;
  • Squinting and excessive tearing;
  • Changes in or loss of vision;
  • Inflammation in and around the eye.

Canine Melanoma Stages

Melanoma in dogs is a progressive disease that is broken into various stages based on the extent of its progression. The higher the stage, the further along the condition and the worse the prognosis.

  • Stage 1: Localized tumor with no evidence of spread to distant organs or lymph nodes. Stage 1 melanoma in dogs is considered early-stage melanoma.
  • Stage 2: Tumor with localized spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: Tumor with localized spread to nearby lymph nodes and evidence of spread to distant organs.
  • Stage 4: Advanced metastatic disease with widespread involvement of lymph nodes and distant organs. Stage 4 melanoma in dogs is no longer treatable, and any medical care is purely palliative to minimize pain and keep the dog as comfortable as possible.

Diagnosing Melanoma in Dogs

Because canine melanoma can progress quite quickly, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for effective treatment. To diagnose dog melanoma, your veterinarian may use the following methods:

  • A physical examination is used to identify any growths or skin abnormalities that may be of concern.
  • The affected area is biopsied - a tissue sample is removed and examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of malignant melanoma cells.
  • X-rays, ultrasounds, and CT scans are then used to determine the extent of the disease and to ascertain if it has spread and how far.
  • Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) is where a small needle is used to extract cells from the tumor, which are examined to assess malignancy.

Treatment for Melanoma in Dogs

Treating canine melanoma depends on various factors, including the type, location, and stage of the disease, not to mention the dog's overall health. Treatment options can include:

  • Surgery is commonly used for localized melanomas. Surgical excision involves removing the tumor and some of the surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Radiation therapy is used to target and shrink tumors. Radiation is typically used when tumors occur in areas where surgical removal is not possible.
  • Chemotherapy is used in advanced or metastatic cases to slow tumor growth.
  • Palliative care is employed in cases where the cancer is advanced. Palliative care focuses on managing symptoms and pain and ensuring the dog is as comfortable as possible.

Ensuring that your dog has access to the best care possible is essential in an emergency. Petcube's Emergency Fund is a great way to ensure that you have access to the funds you need for your best pal's care when you need them the most.

Canine Melanoma Vaccine

The canine melanoma vaccine is used as a therapeutic vaccine, not a preventative one. So, you wouldn't give it to a dog that doesn't have melanoma, but your vet may prescribe it as a way to fight existing melanoma. The vaccine is commonly used to treat oral melanoma in dogs. Your vet may recommend this line of treatment in conjunction with surgery or radiation.

How does the melanoma vaccine for dogs work? According to NCBI research the melanoma vaccine works by alerting the immune system to the presence of melanoma proteins, which causes the body and your immune system to begin fighting these cells. The initial treatment with the vaccine is administered in four doses, one every two weeks. After that, your dog will receive a booster dose every six months to keep stimulating the immune response.


What are the symptoms that canine oral melanoma has spread?

You may notice that your dog is drooling more than usual or that they have more trouble eating and drinking than usual. Facial swelling and a worsening of breath may also occur.

Because of the vascularity of oral tissues, oral melanomas tend to spread quite quickly. If it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, you may feel swelling under the jaw or along the neck. Difficulty breathing, lethargy, and a loss of appetite may indicate that the disease has spread to the lungs.

What is the life expectancy of malignant melanoma in dogs?

Various factors can influence the life expectancy of a dog with malignant melanoma. The earlier the disease is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better. The later the stage of the disease when it is diagnosed, the shorter the life expectancy.

Following a stage 1 diagnosis and removal of the tumor, medical survival times are around 18 months. A stage 4 diagnosis can see life expectancy shorten to mere weeks or months. This is why keeping a close eye on your dog and picking up any changes early is critical.

Vaccination combined with radiation therapy is good for managing the spread of the disease and slowing its progression.

Final Thoughts

Canine melanoma is a tough customer, but its impact can be minimized with awareness, early detection, and appropriate treatment. As a pet parent, it's critical to remain vigilant for any unusual growths or changes in your dog's behavior. Regular veterinary checkups and speedy treatment can make a big difference in the outcome for your dog.

If you ever spot something on your dog's skin that concerns you, it's better to have it checked out sooner rather than later. Early detection is key.

While this disease can be challenging, advances in veterinary medicine offer hope for prevention and treatment, ensuring a better quality of life for our best canine pals.

Was this article helpful?

Help us make our articles even better

Yes No

Thank you for your feedback