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Canine Melanoma | German Shepherd Melanoma | Causes, Symptoms, Treatment | Vaccine

Malignant melanomas occur in melanocytes, small cells that produce pigment in the skin. While the precise cause of melanoma is unknown, it has been established that certain breeds, among them the German Shepherd dog, are more likely to develop this cancer than others, and hence it may be genetic in nature. As such, it is  worth finding out from your breeder (if possible) whether your dog’s parents or grandparents suffered from this condition. Malignant melanomas can occur in a number of different parts of the body; particularly common areas of affliction include the paws, skin, and the mouth. While metastasis is certainly possible, its likeliness is dependent upon the original location of the cancer. Older dogs, between 9 and 12 years of age, are at particular risk for this disease, with dogs possessing black fur at a higher risk for the condition.

Dogs suffering from cutaneous melanoma (i.e., on the skin), may display individual growths that may or may not look dark (pigmented) in color – these commonly occur on the dog’s face, on the feet, or on the scrotum. Dogs who suffer from the oral form of melanoma may also experience oral bleeding, trouble eating, foul breath, drooling, or swelling of the face. If the melanoma has metastasized to the lungs of your German Shepherd, then the dog may experience difficulty breathing; however, it is highly advisable to treat this condition as early as possible (and hence not wait until such a late-stage symptom becomes apparent). Attempts at diagnosis can be made via a complete blood cell count, a fine needles aspirate, or X-rays, although a biopsy is necessary for surety.

The preferred treatment for melanoma is surgical; if it is possible to remove the growth surgically.  If the cancer has metastasized, chemotherapy may be necessary, either combined with radiotherapy or by itself. The recent  development of an Oral Melanoma Vaccine also may lead to improved treatments of melanoma in the mouth.

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