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Melanoma In Dogs: Types, Symptoms And Treatments

Verlota Author
Published: January 8, 2020
Categories: Dog Ailments | Pet

Discovering why melanoma appears on dogs isn’t as clear cut as with humans. When melanoma is discovered in humans the cause is usually ultraviolet light, the over exposure of sun. But with dogs, this is less likely the case. The cause of melanoma in dogs is not exactly known, researchers believe it’s due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Melanoma is a tumor of pigmentation cells called melanocytes, as a group it can either be benign or malignant. Benign melanomas are more common while malignant melanomas are the more serious melanomas, as they grow quickly and have a higher risk of spreading to other organs.  Malignant melanomas look like a raised lump that is commonly found in the lips, mouth and nail beds of a dog, while other areas like the neck, scrotum and head have been known to be areas for concerns as well.

Melanoma In Dogs: Types, Symptoms And Treatments

Types of Melanoma In Dogs

Types of Melanoma in Dogs

There are different types melanoma on dogs depending on the location it is found on the dog:

  • Cutaneous Melanoma: Is a common cancer found in dogs with 5-7% of all diagnosed skin tumors. This comes from melanocytes which is the cells that supply pigment to the skin and most commonly occur on haired skin as small, brown or black masses. They are usually spherical to oval and can develop in the mouth, nail bed, foot pad, eyes, G.I tractor the mucocutaneous junctions.
  • Ocular Melanoma: Is a type of cancer in and around the eye, usually beginning in the middle of the three layers of the eye. There are two kinds of ocular melanomas found in dogs, unveal melanomas and limbal melanomas.
  • Oral Melanoma: Oral melanomas accounts for 30-40% of all oral tumors in dogs. They are seen along the gums, the lip, the palate and sometimes the tongue. It is a malignant form of melanoma. These tumors metastasize to the head and neck and may also sometimes invade adjacent bone tissue. It can readily spread to the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and kidneys. So, early detection is critical when looking for melanoma on dogs.
  • Subungual Melanoma: Subungual (nail bed) melanoma is uncommon in dogs but represents one of the more frequently identified nail bed disorders with the regional lymph nodes and lungs are the most commonly affected sites when dealing with melanoma on dogs.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms

Melanoma in dogs are mostly benign in dogs but when it’s malignant it can be very subtle and show very few symptoms until the disease has spread to other areas of the body. This is why it’s so vital to have your dog examined on a regular basis and if you do notice an unusual lump of discolored area on your dog make sure to contact your veterinarian. It important to understand the canine melanoma symptoms and how those canine melanoma symptoms can potentially save your dogs life.

Signs and Symptoms of: Cutaneious Melanomas

Unlike humans, most cutaneous melanomas is usually benign in dogs. Also known as Skin Melanomas it can be hard to distinguish between a benign and malignant melanomas. When looking for Cutaneious Melanomas it most likely will appear in these ways:

  • Round, firm, slightly raised and darkly pigmented masses on your dog’s skin
  • Masses are usually from 1/4″ to 2″ in diameter
  • They occur most often on the head, back or toes
  • Coloration can vary from black, brown, gray or red

Dogs who have heavy skin pigmentation such as Scottish Terriers, Airedale Terriers, Bost Terriers and Cocker Spaniels are known to develop Cutaneious Melanoma most commonly then other dogs.

Signs and Symptoms of: Ocular Melanoma

Melanoma found in or around the area of the eye of a dog are almost always benign and aren’t known to metastasize. When Ocular Melanoma develops on or around the eye it can effect the dogs vision and cause discomfort. Indicating signs that your dog may be developing Ocular Melanomas are:

  • A dark-colored mass in the eye or eyelid
  • Darkening of the iris
  • Eye redness
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Swelling in or around your dog’s eye
  • Twitching muscles around the eyes

Ocular Melanoma occurs within middle-aged to older dogs with the average age of diagnosis being 9 years old. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Schnauzers, and Cocker Spaniels are predisposed to developing primary ocular melanomas. Breeds that have greater skin pigmentation may be predisposed. Labrador Retrievers have been known to be effected by this disease at a young age, as early as 1-2 years old. Diagnosing Ocular Melanoma isn’t straight forward, with most causes not having a single known cause. Like other melanoma cancers it comes down to environmental, genetic or hereditary, there is evidence that there are at least in part heritable and caused by one or more genetic mutations.

When identifying Ocular Melanoma there are few indicators that could mean your dog might have melanoma of the eye. When a melanoma grows around the eye it can alter the shape of the pupil, a pooling of blood in the middle layer of the eye, inflammation of the middle layer of the eye which makes it look cloudy looking or glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyeball), a painful condition that will cause the eye to bulge and can lead to blindness.

Melanoma Signs And Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of: Oral Melanoma

Oral Melanoma on dogs accounts for over 80% of all melanoma in dogs. When Oral Melanoma develops it can penetrate deep into the bones and become cancerous in most cases. Like other melanoma cancers in dogs there are a mix of factors that can cause Oral Melanoma such as environmental, genetics and hereditary aspects. Different breeds can be more suspectable such as Chow Chows, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Gordon Setters, and Miniature Poodles.

When looking for Oral Melanoma on dogs it may appear as a thickened and pigmented abnormal tissue. It may appear small when looking at it but it can extend much deeper into the tissues which can invade the underlying bone. At times the bone can be the first area effected resulting in oral swelling. Dogs will begin to feel the oral pain with other signs such as bad breath, drooling, panting, movement or loss of teeth, lack of appetite or difficulty eating, reluctance to be touched on the head, facial swelling, and swelling of the lymph nodes.

Signs and Symptoms of: Subungual Melanoma

Melanoma in the nail bed accounts for 15-20% of all melanomas in dogs and the metastatic rates are just as high as the oral form with 80% becoming cancerous. Subungual Melanoma usually occurs first as toe swelling and can result in the loss of toenails. When a tumor develops around the nail and feet it can cause a secondary infection which usually leads to a misdiagnosis. Melanomas in nail beds or toes often lead to:

  • Limping
  • Swelling, bleeding or discharge from the affected toe
  • Licking or chewing at the affected area

Symptoms usually can be found in older dogs (average age of 9 years) and approximately 75% of cases involve large breeds and over two thirds have black coats. The bone is almost always destroyed at the site of the tumor. Nail bed melanomas are potentially malignant tumors with a high risk of metastasizing (spreading) to distant organs.


Dog melanoma treatments all depends on the location of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread within the body.


This is the most common and primary dog melanoma treatment option when dealing with the removal of melanoma, including benign tumors. To obtain a clean margin a complete surgical removal of the tumor is required, also there needs to surgery on the surrounding tissue and any affected bones that may contain the melanoma. When the tumor is completely removed the odds of the tumor returning is low throughout the rest of their life. The removal of the tumor increased curative intent and is known to be less expensive in comparison to other options. Success of the surgery all depends on the location and size of the melanoma. Cutaneous melanomas are removed by lumpectomy/surgery, while other locations require a more aggressive excision.

Surgery for a Subungual Melanoma often includes the amputation of the specific toe, while also removing all three phalanges to ensure there is no regrowth. When surgery is performed on paws that are weight bearing legs as there is a potential for loss of leg function, with amputation being a possible option.

When Ocular Melanoma becomes confined inside the eye opposed to the outside then the suggested treatment is enucleation, the surgical removal of the eye.

For dogs dealing with Oral Melanomas, especially dogs with Oral Melanomas that started in the bone then surgery may be required to remove the jawbone. This may sound extreme but most dogs who do encounter this type of surgery experience little to no impact on their daily functions. It is one of the safer dog melanoma treatment. 

Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy is shown that it can achieve local primary tumor control, specifically it can be effective for malignant melanomas that cannot be surgically removed due to size or location or for tumors that couldn’t be completely removed or for cases where the disease has metastasized to the lymph nodes.

Tumors treated with radiation therapy can shrink significantly and may even become undetectable; they can remain stable for a period of time. Compared to melanomas treated with surgical removal, however, those treated with radiation therapy alone have an increased incidence of recurrence. About 25 to 31% of dogs with oral malignant melanoma that is treated with radiation therapy respond partially and 51 to 69% respond completely.

CBD for Dogs With Cancer

With CBD being so new to the market of treating various ailments and diseases, research has shown that CBD can help positively affect various symptoms. From nausea to pain management, CBD is showing promising signs in dealing with a wide variety of ailments.

Appetite stimulation is important when a dog is dealing with cancerous symptoms. Like humans, it can be hard for dogs to eat when they have cancer. This is especially true when they are going through chemotherapy or radiation. CBD has been known to stimulate appetite by boosting the anadamide. Anadamide binds the CB1 receptors which is a primary function when regulation appetite in the body.

CBD has shown great results when dealing with pain relief. Cancer is known to cause chronic pain or long-term pain in dogs, this can be from a cancer growing into nearby tissue, with the tumor growing and putting pressure on the surrounding area. There are even cancers that release chemicals that cause pain. When CBD is ingested it binds to our CB1 and CB2 receptors, these receptors amongst other things are what tells the brain that parts of the body are feeling pain. When CBD binds with the receptors it reduces the pain signals that go to the brain, making the pain feel less intense. This is also true when dealing with pain in the joints which is a common source of pain for dogs with cancer.

CBD in no way has proven to cure cancer, but research indicates that it can help with some of the symptoms that come with cancer. CBD has very little side effects and is usually made with natural ingredients, so there is almost no risk in trying CBD for your dog. To start we recommend trying CBD Dog Treats , packed with delicious flavors and CBD dog treats are easy to feed your dog and have them coming back for more. If your dog is having trouble eating and we recommend trying a CBD Pet Tincture , a few drops under your dogs tongue or into its water dish and they should start to feel better in no time. It’s important to start slow when giving your dog CBD and increase the dosage after you see how your dog reacts.

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DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Verlota Inc. products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information contained in or made available through Verlota.com website is not intended to constitute or substitute legal advice or consultation from medical or veterinary professionals. See verlota.com/terms-and-conditions

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