Oral Melanoma In Dogs

Oral melanoma is a type of oral tumor, and it is one of the most common types of cancer in dogs. Despite its prevalence, many pet parents are not aware that the discrete signs and symptoms of this type of tumor are cancer.

Oral melanoma can present itself in the form of a small black lesion inside the mouth. It may appear inconsequential at first, but the tumor is generally embedded inside the oral tissue. The treatment options for this type of cancer are based on the size and severity of the tumors, so it’s important to work closely with a care provider to create a personalized treatment plan for your dog.

Oral melanoma occurs when melanocytes replicate uncontrollably in the mouth. Melanocytes are cells that cause a black pigment to appear in the skin.

Oral melanoma is generally very aggressive. Because the tumors are visible at the surface but are often embedded deep in the tissue of the dog’s mouth, it can be difficult to treat. Additionally, these tumors tend to metastasize quickly, spreading cancer to other parts of the body.

There is no breed that is predisposed to these types of tumors — oral melanoma can occur in any dog breed. However, due to the dark pigment of their skin, certain breeds may be overrepresented in oral melanoma diagnoses. These include Schnauzers and Standard Poodles. Typically, this type of tumor is most common in dogs who are at least 10 years old.

Clinical Signs & Symptoms Of Oral Melanoma

Oral melanoma in dogs can spread quickly and easily, which is why it’s important to be aware of the clinical signs and symptoms of this type of cancer. These are some of the most common symptoms for which to watch:

  • Bad Breath: If you notice that your dog has developed extreme halitosis in recent months, it might be worth mentioning to your veterinarian so that he or she can do an exam.
  • New or Worsened Drooling: Dogs with oral melanoma may begin drooling or their drooling may become excessive.
  • Swelling or Mass in Mouth: Oral melanomas will often appear as a black or dark mass or a red mass or lump in the mouth.  On occasion, they may appear as a swelling on one site on the gums or lips.
  • Sensitivity to Touch: Swelling can cause pain and sensitivity. One common symptom of this type of cancer is that dogs no longer want to be pet on that side of their face.
  • Pawing at the Mouth: You may notice that your dog begins to paw at its mouth because the mass feels abnormal in the mouth.
  • Bloody Saliva: If you notice bloody, ropey saliva in your dog’s drool, or you find it in his or her food bowl, you should schedule an examination with the vet.
  • Weight Loss: Your dog may begin to lose weight because he or she isn’t eating as much as normal or because the cancer is competing with the dog’s body for the nutrients that the dog is eating.
  • Difficulty Chewing or Eating: Your dog may not have a desire to eat, as it can be uncomfortable to have the mass in the mouth, the teeth near the mass can be loose or because the mass makes chewing difficult.
  • Tongue Drooping to One Side: You may notice that your dog’s tongue begins to droop to one side. If this is a new trait for your dog, bring it to the attention of your veterinarian.
  • Loose Teeth: Oral melanoma can result in loose teeth that eventually fall out.

Diagnostics & Staging

There are several steps that your vet will likely take if you suspect that your dog may have oral melanoma. These include:

  • Ordering routine blood work
  • Completing three-view chest radiographs
  • Conducting an abdominal ultrasound
  • Aspirating the lymph nodes

Treatment Options For Canine Oral Melanoma

While this is an aggressive form of cancer, it is important to remember that there may be treatment options available for your pet. These include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the first step in treating oral melanoma. Some vets may opt for a debulking surgery, which removes the tumor itself. However, this surgery may not remove all cancer cells in your dog’s mouth. A more aggressive surgery can be performed in which entire parts of the jaw or mouth are removed. Even with surgery, however, there is a risk that the tumors can recur within months.
  • Stereotactic Radiation: Stereotactic radiation can be used in addition to or in place of surgery. At PetCure Oncology, we can provide your pet three treatments of this advanced form of radiation in order to shrink the size of the tumors in your dog’s mouth. This nonsurgical procedure delivers high doses of radiation to a specific, targeted area.  An additional benefit is that the structures of the oral cavity remain intact and functional.
  • Systemic Therapy: Systemic therapy in the way of a melanoma vaccine is often administered after the completion of localized treatment. This vaccine can help increase the longevity and quality of your dog’s life. Chemotherapy may be recommended for more aggressive oral melanomas as well.

Prognosis For Dogs Diagnosed With Oral Melanoma

Oral melanoma in dogs is an aggressive form of cancer, and if it has metastasized, the prognosis is generally poor. With therapy, the prognosis cold be 6-12-24 months, depending on the stage of disease and the treatment instituted.

Find The Best Treatment Provider For Your Pet Today

If your dog has been diagnosed with oral melanoma, then the best thing you can do for your pet is to partner with a care provider who believes that dogs deserve the same consideration that human patients do when they are diagnosed with cancer. At PetCure Oncology, we can provide the most innovative treatment options for oral melanoma, all with a sense of love and devotion that cannot be found elsewhere. Find a location near you today.

RELATED: Oral Cancers In Cats
Types of Cancers in Dogs

If your dog is displaying any symptoms of cancer or has been diagnosed with cancer, sort below by cancer type or tumor location to learn more about the most common types of cancer in dogs and available treatment options. Click on the links for more specific information on treatment and real patient stories.


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