Oral Melanoma in Dogs



Oral Melanoma is the most common oral tumor in dogs. It an aggressive cancer that is known to invade local bone and tissue as well as spread to the lymph nodes and chest. It can be treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and vaccine.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Melanoma in Dogs

Oral tumors are not always the easiest to spot on a day to day basis. There are symptoms that arise which can be an indicator of oral melanoma. These symptoms include: difficulty eating or drinking, bleeding from the mouth, loss of apatite, and weight loss. If you notice your dog isn’t quite acting the same during meals, isn’t eating normally,  or seems less energetic during meals or otherwise, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Diagnosis of Oral Melanoma in Dogs

In order to diagnose Oral Melanoma, a sample of the tumor must be taken. This can be done through Fine Needle Aspiration, which is the process of taking cells through a syringe for examination of cells. The sample can also be taken through a biopsy, which is the process of surgically removing a small amount of the tumor for examination of cells.

Treatment of Oral Melanoma in Dogs

The goal with treatment is to remove the tumor, and prevent the spreading of cancer to other parts of the body. The most common route for treatment is Surgery. Before doing surgery, CT scans and X-Rays are used for staging. Veterinarians use these scans to plan the procedure and understand how much of the jaw or effected tissue/bone needs to be removed. Surgery usually involves removal of a part of the jaw. Due to the likelihood of spreading, being as aggressive as possible is the best chance at removing the cancer. Most dogs have a good recovery from a partial mandibulectomy (partial jaw removal surgery). They can usually continue eating and drinking normally, it can just be a learning curve with keeping their tongue in on their own.

Surgery can also be combined radiation if full removal of the tumor isn’t possible. Radiation involves multiple treatments that happen while your dog is under anesthesia. It can be given throughout a period of days or weeks. Side effects include irritation/ulceration of the gums, lips, and tongue, and irritation of the skin overlying the radiation site. These effects can be seen within the second or third week after treatment begins and can last up to 2-3 weeks after treatment concludes. Supportive medications such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, mouth washes, etc. Depending on the severity of the side effects, a feeding tube can be placed to limit these issues effect on the dogs wellness.

Due to the likelihood of Melanoma spreading, chemotherapy can be recommended on top of surgery and radiation.

Another additional measure that can be taken for treatment of oral melanoma in dogs is the Melanoma Vaccine. This vaccine is unusual as it is used for treatment of melanoma rather than for prevention of the cancer. The vaccine is intended to stimulate your dog’s immune system to recognize melanoma cancer cells and destroy them. There is less known about the efficacy of the vaccine, however there have not been any side effects reported other than mild pain at the injection site. The vaccine can also be used after a round of chemotherapy. Once vaccination is given every two weeks for a total of 4 treatments with repeat injections at 6 and 12 months.

Oral Melanoma is an aggressive cancer,  contact a vet immediately if your dog is experiencing any signs or symptoms of oral issues. Dental health is an indicator of overall health, so make sure to have your dog checked regularly.