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Mouth Cancer (Melanocytic) in Dogs

Oral Melanocytic Tumors in Dogs

In dogs, oral melanocytic tumors stem from the infiltration of neoplastic melanocytic cells, which are melanin-producing cells found in various parts of the body, including the mouth and skin. Originating from the gingival surface, these tumors display an aggressive nature. Typically, they manifest as raised, irregular growths with ulcerated surfaces that invade bone tissue.

Among dogs, melanocytic tumors are the most prevalent form of malignant oral tumors, often afflicting dogs aged 10 and above. These tumors pose a significant risk to the affected animals, leading to difficulties in eating, weight loss, and the potential for metastasis to other areas of the body, which can ultimately result in death.

Symptoms and Types

Signs of Oral Melanocytic Tumors in Dogs include:

  • Loosening of teeth
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Excessive drooling (ptyalism)
  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Oral discharge tinged with blood
  • Weight loss (cachexia)


The exact cause of oral melanocytic tumors in dogs remains unknown at present.


To diagnose oral melanocytic tumors in your dog, provide your veterinarian with a comprehensive history of your dog’s health, detailing the onset and characteristics of the symptoms. Your veterinarian will conduct various laboratory tests, including a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count, typically yielding normal results. A thorough physical examination, particularly of the oral cavity, will also be performed.

Furthermore, your veterinarian will extract a small deep tissue sample from the oral cavity mass, including a portion of bone, for evaluation by a veterinary pathologist. Biopsy samples are instrumental in achieving a definitive diagnosis. Additionally, X-rays of the oral cavity, skull, and lungs will aid in assessing the extent and location of metastasis.


Upon reaching a confirmed diagnosis and thorough assessment, your dog’s veterinarian, in collaboration with a veterinary oncologist, will devise a treatment strategy. This typically involves surgical removal of the tumor mass, including affected bone tissue. Additionally, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended by the veterinary oncologist to augment the treatment’s efficacy.

Following surgery, your veterinarian may advise feeding your dog soft foods to prevent tumor ulceration and facilitate easier ingestion of food.

Living and Management

The prognosis for dogs with oral melanocytic tumors depends on factors such as the stage, location, extent of metastasis, and the completeness of tumor removal during surgery. Unfortunately, the overall outlook for most dogs is unfavorable, with many succumbing to rapid weight loss, difficulty swallowing, and tumor spread (affecting lymph nodes in 80 percent of cases). Consequently, treatment focuses on enhancing the animal’s quality of life.

Following surgery, expect your dog to experience soreness. Your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication to alleviate discomfort, which should be administered cautiously to avoid accidental overdose—a common preventable issue with pets and medications. Adhere closely to all veterinary instructions and restrict your dog’s activity during the recovery period, providing a quiet resting place away from household commotion, children, and other pets.

Monitoring your dog’s food and water intake is crucial during recovery, as oral involvement may hinder feeding for several days. Your veterinarian will design a dietary regimen comprising highly palatable and nutritious foods. Given the predisposition of affected dogs to weight loss, maintaining proper body weight is paramount.

Furthermore, chemotherapy medications carry potential toxic side effects, necessitating close veterinary monitoring to adjust dosage as needed. Routine X-rays of the skull and lungs will be conducted, and you’ll be asked to bring your dog in for regular evaluations to assess progress and monitor for recurrence.

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