Canine Oral Melanoma Symptoms

Oral melanoma is one of the most common cancers found in dogs. Oral melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer that can spread to other organs in your dog's body. Early detection is key to successful treatment, so examine your dog's mouth regularly for growths and make sure he receives a yearly veterinary dental exam.

Symptoms of Mouth Cancer in Dogs

Melanomas can occur anywhere on your dog's skin, but they occur most often in the mouth. Melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer that can quickly spread throughout your dog's whole system. The symptoms of oral melanoma often mimic those of gingivitis or other dental disease. They include:

  • Drooling
  • Bleeding of the gums or mouth
  • Halitosis, or bad breath
  • Swelling of the face
  • Changes in the way your dog chews
  • A sudden preference for soft foods
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Coughing that lasts for more than two weeks
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss

Oral melanoma occurs most frequently in geriatric animals older than nine years of age. Black dogs and dogs with dark pigmentation on the insides of their mouths are more susceptible to mouth cancer. Male dogs grow melanomas more often than female dogs. 

Some breeds are more likely to develop oral melanoma than others. They include the Dachshund, Poodle and Scottish Terrier.

Diagnosing Oral Melanoma in Dogs

Your vet will base his diagnosis on a complete medical history and thorough physical exam. He'll pay particular attention to the inside of your dog's mouth. He may remove tissue from the tumor, via a fine needle aspirate, in order to perform a biopsy in the lab.

X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds can all help your vet to determine if the oral melanoma has spread to the lungs or other body organs. 

Treatment and Prognosis for Oral Cancer in Dogs

Oral melanoma is an aggressive cancer, and spreads quickly. Even if your dog's cancer hasn't yet spread, surgery will need to be radical in order to remove the entire tumor and reduce the chances of it growing back.

If your dog's cancer hasn't yet spread, your vet will perform surgery to remove the melanoma. He may also remove a large part of the healthy tissue around your dog's melanoma tumor. This is done to help reduce the chances that your dog's cancer will come back. 

If your dog's cancer has spread, your vet will recommend a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immuno-therapy to help slow or halt the growth of the cancer and help your dog's body fight it off. A new vaccine, the Canine Melanoma Vaccine DNA, can help to stimulate your dog's immune system so that it attacks the cancer. Veterinary researchers are still learning about the implications of this vaccine, but so far it seems to be effective in treating melanoma and increasing your dog's life span. 

Even if your vet manages to remove the entire tumor, he may still recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immuno-therapy or a combination thereof to help keep your dog in remission. Most dogs diagnosed with melanoma live for about six months to one year after diagnosis.