Nail Bed Cancer In Dogs, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Solution

Nail Bed Cancer In Dogs

Studies show that Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in dogs, how more than half of all cancers that occur in dogs can be cured with the latest treatment patterns if diagnosed early.

As pets _dogs grow older, they become prone or are at a greater risk to contract many diseases and this includes cancers. Studies also show that one-third of all dogs of 8-10 years of age will experience cancer at some point in their lives.

Cancer has also been recorded to be the leading cause of death of about 50 percent of aged dogs in the United States and there are many different types of cancer that occurs in dogs, such as melanoma, prostate cancer, and also lymphoma, these forms can occur all over the body and reduce your dog's life span. so it is very imperative as dog owners to keep a watchful eye on your pet‘s overall well-being as to quickly detect any signs of cancer before it spreads and becomes deadly.

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What Is Cancer / Melanoma?

Cancer can be described as an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within your dog's body. And Melanoma as a type of cancer we will be covering in this article can be explained as skin cancer, one of the most serious types of skin cancer that occurs when the pigment-producing cells that give color to the skin are cancerous and this can affect any part of the dog's boy including the Nailbed.

What Can Cause Melanoma In Dogs?

Generally, the cause of Melanoma in humans can be attributed to ultraviolet light which exposure to sun rays, but when it comes to dogs, no one knows the exact cause of canine melanomas. However, research reveals that it could be related to environmental and genetic factors.

Four Types Of Melanoma In Dogs

Most dogs suffer different types of melanoma throughout their life circle; Below are the various locations and kinds of melanoma in dogs. Melanomas can grow in the mouth, nail bed, footpad, eyes (the eyelids types are very common and always benign), Gastro-Intestinal tract, or at the mucocutaneous junctions.

Apart from locations and types, melanomas can also be categorized as benign or malignant. The Benign melanomas also referred to as melanocytomas, have a very low risk of metastasizing or spreading from their origin to other parts of the body and are considered to be harmless.

While on the other hand, the malignant melanomas, can metastasize or spread very fast to other parts of a dog’s body or organs, like the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes, and the posses high health risk.

Types Of Canine Melanomas Are:

  • Cutaneous Melanoma
  • Oral Melanoma
  • Ocular Melanoma
  • Subungual Melanoma

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Identifying Types Of Melanoma/Signs & Symptoms

Most skin and eyelid cancers _melanomas in dogs are just benign, meaning they are likely not harmful, unlike malignant counterparts. Many dogs don't show little or no symptoms even when they have this disease unless it has metastasized to other vital organs of the body.

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So as caring dog owners, it is very important to keep an eye on the overall health of your pet and if you notice any skin mass (lump) or discolored segment or abnormal changes on any part of your dog's body, reach out to vet for possible examination.

Nail Bed Or Subungual Melanoma

Subungual or Nail bed melanoma is a type of cancer that affects the nail bed, it begins in the nail matrix. The matrix of the nail is a part of the nail bed that protects the underlying skin. This kind of melanoma accounts for about 15% to 20% of all melanomas and has about 80% metastatic rates just like the oral melanoma. It could sometimes appear like other abnormalities that affect the nail bed, such as an injury, infectious swelling, or a bruise.

Although subungual or nail bed melanoma is a rare disease when compared to other skin cancers, it can result in serious complications that could involve Dog Nail Removal Surgery or loss of the canine toenail. It could be mostly misdiagnosed by inexperienced vets. However, early detection and quick medical attention play important roles in the complete treatment of the disease.

Nailbed Melanoma
Swelling & redness of affected toe nail bed

It’s most important to check on your pet always to observe any abnormal changes and report immediately to your vet to avoid metastasis of the condition. Meanwhile, how would you identify Nail bed Melanoma in Dogs?

You simply need to learn the appearance and the following signs of subungual melanoma below.

A dog with Melanomas in nail beds may experience the following:

  • Dog starts limping
  • There will be swelling and discharge from the affected toe nail bed
  • Your pet will bleed at the site of pigmentation
  • Frequent licking or chewing at the affected area.
  • Mass or nodule under the nail
  • Nail splitting, brittleness, and cracking
  • Affects one nail at a time

Cutaneous Melanoma

Cutaneous melanoma is a common type of canine cancer that appears on the skin and accounts for 5-7% of all diagnosed skin tumors. They arise from the cells that supply pigment to the skin called melanocytes. This most commonly occurs on haired skin and can be seen masses that could be small, brown, or black and are spherical or oval in appearance.

About 60 to 80 percent of Cutaneous tumors in dogs are benign, however, it is hard to distinguish between benign and malignant melanomas on your dog’s skin unless exterminated by a professional. If your pet has a lump on his skin, there's a greater chance of it being benign and that means its nothing much to worry about unless the fact that you should call the attention of a vet to get your pet checked for further evaluation.

Nail Bed Cancer In Dogs
Cutaneous Melanoma

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Physical Appearance Of Cutaneous Melanoma

  • Dark, brown, red, or grey colored (pigmented) masses seen on your dog’s skin.
  • Mostly seen on the back, toes, and head.
  • The diameter of about 1/4″ to 2″ are often noted.
  • They are rounded and firmly fixed.
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Eye Or Ocular Melanomas

An ocular melanoma is a type of cancer that grows from the disorganized uncontrolled proliferation of melanocytes as i earlier described. The cells called Melanocytes are found in any tissue of the body, like the skin and eye etc. The ones in the eyes can be found in the thin, circular structure in the eye that gives the eye its color and controls the size of the pupil called Iris, and also beneath the retina _the thin tissue layer that lines the back of the eye.

Melanomas can develop within the eye or at the peri-ocular areas in dogs. They are said to be usually benign and can rarely spread or metastasize to other segments. These tumors can impair your dog’s vision and cause major discomfort if not detected and tackled in time.

Types Of Ocular Melanomas In Dogs

The two kinds of Eye melanomas in dogs are:

  1. Uveal Melanomas
  2. Limbal melanomas.
Uveal Ocular Melanomas

These are primary intra-ocular tumors and the most common types of eye melanomas in dogs. They proliferate from the tissues that line up the uvea _the iris, ciliary body, and choroid.

Uveal Eye Melanoma In Dogs
Appearance of Uveal Eye Melanoma In Dogs

Study has it that close to 80% of uveal melanomas are non-cancerous, this simply means they are benign. The metastatic spread to other areas of the body is less than 5%.

Limbal Or Epibulbar Ocular Melanomas

Are very rare or less common type. They develop from the melanocytes that make up the limbus _border of the cornea _transparent front part of the eye and the sclera _white part.

Limbal Eye Melanoma in Dogs
Appearance of Limbal Eye Melanoma in Dogs

They are also benign in nature, however, they can affect the overall function and appearance of the eyes.

How To Know Your Dog Has Ocular Melanoma

Here are the signs you will notice.

  • Change in iris color.
  • Change in the shape of the iris
  • Redness of the eye
  • Cloudy and blurred vision (Visual Impairment)
  • Blackening of the iris
  • Visible dark-colored eye tumor or mass
  • Swollen eye
  • Enlargement of the eye

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Oral Or Mouth Melanoma

Oral melanoma makes up about 85% of all melanomas in dogs of different breads. They are known to be the most common malignant oral tumor that affect canine pets. They usually present as a mass in the mouth and are very aggressive. Oral melanomas that are malignant can invade deep into the bony structures of the mouth, and can fastly metastasize in up to 80% of dogs.

Oral Melanoma In Dogs
Photo Showing Appearance of Oral Melanoma in a dog about to undergo surgery

The reason a dog may develop this is not yet established, however some of the causes may be linked to some risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary.

Symptoms Of Oral Melanoma In Dogs

  • Facial/Mouth swelling or enlargement
  • Noticeable masses in the mouth
  • Oozing or Bad breath
  • Excessive salivation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tooth loss
  • Severe Pain in the mouth
  • Drops food from mouth
  • Ulcerated Tumor in the mouth with deep bone invasion
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How To Know When Melanoma Has Metastasized

Malignant Oral melanoma can cause swelling of the jaws when it spreads to lymph nodes for instance the sub-mandibular lymph nodes or prescapular lymph nodes.

It can also spread to other organs such as the liver and lungs.

Symptoms That Melanoma Has Spread Across The Body Includes:

  1. Abdominal Swelling and fluid accumulation
  2. Vomiting and loss of appetite
  3. Coughing always
  4. General Weakness
  5. Painful and swollen lymph nodes.
  6. Difficulty in breathing
  7. Hepatomegally

Melanoma Diagnosis

You are expected to visit your vet and report any suspected problems with your pet.

Your vet will further investigate your dog performing some vital examinations to establish if your dog has melanoma.

Melanoma can be diagnosed with the following methods.

Fine Needle Aspiration

In this procedure the attending vet will have to sedate your dog while a needle is being inserted into the mass (tumor) and then withdraw some cells for proper studies.

Fine Needle Aspiration for melanoma
Fine Needle Aspiration

Fine needle aspirations of lymph nodes located near the tumor can also be performed to determine if the cells have spread across to the lymphatic system

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Biopsy for melanoma
Vet Performing Biopsy On A Dog

Biopsy may be performed in some cases. Your vet is required to remove a small piece of tissue from the tumor and then send it to the laboratory for proper investigation by a pathologist for final diagnoses.

Medical Imaging Examinations

Abdominal ultrasound scans and chest radiographs can be taken to access spread to the liver, lungs and other organs.

Ultrasound for melanoma detection
Ultrasound Scan for detection of melanoma
Xray for melanoma detection
Performing X-ray On Dog

What Are The Treatments For Melanoma In Dogs?

Melanomas in dogs can be treated based on the their location and the rate of metastasis.

Below are the treatment options:

  • Surgical Procedures
  • Use Of Radiation & Chemotherapy
  • Use Of Vaccines

Treatment Of Melanoma With Surgery

The treatment of choice and first approach for curing both benign and malignant melanomas is surgical removal. Some benign tumors are surgically removed ease pains and also get rid off the chance of them becoming malignant.

For malignant melanomas they are totally removed including the surrounding structures. For instance, oral melanoma surgical removal may include cutting off part of the dog’s jaw. And for subungual melanoma amputation of the toe may be performed and a reconstructive surgery done to fix the affected areas.

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Treatment Of Melanoma With Radiation & Chemotherapy

Once there is metastasis (Spread of cancerous cells), the next line of treatment that is effective and would be recommended by your vet will likely going to be the use radiation therapy, which results in remission in 70% of cases.

Chemotherapy can be used in conjunction with surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy as a replacement for surgery and radiation has not proven to be a successful treatment for malignant melanomas, however further researches and studies are still on to establish the best form of cure.

Treatment Of Melanoma With Vaccines

Merial melanoma vaccine has been approved in 2007 by the USDA for use in treating dogs, however, studies are on going relating to its efficacy and safety. The vaccine activates the immune system to attack cancerous cells and then prolong overall survival times.


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