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Melanomas in Dogs and Cats

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Malignant melanomas, tumors, in dogs and cats are common in the mouth and on the skin and digits of the feet.  Tumors may be found on haired or hairless skin, and they may appear pigmented or non-pigmented.  The tumors may grow rapidly, ulcerate, or bleed.  Clinical signs of malignant melanomas in the mouths of dogs and cats include lack of appetite, bad breath, or difficulty eating.  Malignant melanomas can spread, or metastasize, to almost any area of the pet's body, and other clinical signs depend on the area that is affected.  For example, metastatic melanoma in the lungs may cause trouble breathing.

Primary treatment for the melanoma in dog and cats is surgical removal of the lump.  Melanomas on a pet's digit usually require amputation of the toe.  A biopsy of the mass is needed to grade the tumor, ie, to determine its aggressiveness.  Your veterinarian may also recommend blood work, x-rays, ultrasound, and examination of lymph nodes to help determine a prognosis.  Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy may be recommended.



What are melanomas?

Melanomas are tumors of melanocytes, which are the pigmented cells in the skin and other tissues (eg, hair and eyes).  Melanomas can be found on dogs or cats, and can be benign or malignant.

here on the body are malignant melanomas usually found?

Malignant melanomas are common in the mouth, on the skin, and on the toes of the paws.  Lumps may be found on hairy or hairless skin, and they may appear darkly pigmented or non-pigmented. 

How are these tumors diagnosed?

Melanocytes have a characteristic appearance that can be identified during microscopic examination of a biopsy sample.  Other tests, including blood tests, medical imaging, and lymph node biopsy, may be needed to gauge the stage and extent of the cancer. 

How are these tumors treated?

Primary treatment is surgical removal of the lump, although chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy may also be recommended.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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