The Facts 

  • Melanoma has its origins in the cells responsible for the coloring or pigmentation of the skin.
  • Melanoma is more commonly seen in dogs with dark pigmented skin; however, any dog can be affected by this type of tumor.
  • These tumors have also been known to hold a hereditary component.
  • Melanomas can form in areas of haired skin, where they may form small dark lumps, but can also be seen as large, flat, wrinkled masses.  
  • Melanomas can be both benign or malignant tumors, with the malignant tumors being incurable.  
  • These tumors tend to metastasize very quickly and the initial examination may show that the tumor has already spread, which makes complete surgical removal impossible.
  • Radiation therapy often helps extend the life of the patient, but it is typically ineffective against metastasized cells.  
  • Chemotherapy is also used to control canine malignant melanoma.
  • This disease seems to be uniquely responsive to immune-based therapies, and various novel approaches are under development.
  • There is a vaccine that has been conditionally approved to treat dogs with stage II or III oral melanoma in which local disease control has been achieved.
  • There is currently a peptide vaccine in stage III clinical trials for metastatic melanoma.
  • A peptide is a small portion of protein present in the surface of melanoma cancer cells, the vaccine works by stimulating the patient’s immune response to recognize the protein and destroy the tumor cells.  The vaccine is often given in combination with other agents that activate the immune system.