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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

New treatment for Dogs with Melanoma

Updated: December 20th, 2018

Chalk up a win for the Animal Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering.  These two medical facilities have teamed up with Merial, one of the major companies producing drugs for dogs.

They came up with a winner: a vaccination for dogs that have malignant melanoma, a type of cancer of the skin or mouth.

This is not a vaccine that is used to protect from cancer.  The word vaccine is a bit vague, because in common use this is something that is given in order to protect from a disease.

This vaccine is used only after a dog is diagnosed with melanoma.

Melanoma in dogs has different grades (some are more aggressive than others) and different stages (some have spread farther than others).

The usual stats are pretty dismal for the high grade melanomas, especially of the mouth or on the toes.  Even with standard conventional care, these have a median survival of 2-4 months at worst, and about 5 months or so at best (remember, not every dog follows these stats).

The nice thing about this melanoma vaccine is that it has been shown to triple survival times.  Not too shabby!

The vaccination just got conditional approval by the USDA last May and may be available through an veterinary oncologist near you.

Best to all,

Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. Margaret McCreadie on August 21, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    Dear Dr Dressler I see on the blog that lots of people write to you directly and you reply to them hopefully I will be lucky and you will reply to me . Murphy is a 13 year lab/ret diagnosised in May with a melanoma on his lower gum it had also spread to his lymph node and his lungs. I live in Scotland so he was sent To the Vet Hospital. Was told the tumour was too spread to the center of his mouth to remove and was advised radiotherapy which I agreed to. I asked about the lymph node what they were going to do as I read it was better to remove it before starting the vaccine which I already agreed to let Murphy have. Reply was it would be treated with radiotherapy during his course, then was told this wasn’t going to be done. Reason given he THOUGHT it was because there was too many muscles etc in that area! On his next visit ( this is a teaching hospital and you see a different vet on each visit) . I again I asked the same question and was told I should consider “his quality of life” I was shocked to hear this as Murphy other than the cancer is fine. Oh how I wish I had pursued this remark as the lymph node has got bigger. He had his course of vaccine 6 weeks ago, he is still enjoying life to the full, loving his food enjoying his walks and last week at Doggie Day in our local Country Park did a Doggie Splash jumping into a swimming pool. He loved that. Could you tell me because if the lymph node is growing this means the vaccine isn’t working. Forgot to say that there is also a lump on the side of of his tonsil which none of the vets have discussed with me just said it had shown on the scan. Please could you answer my questions is there still hope that his lymph node could be removed to enable to let the vaccine work or will it still work regardless if the node gets bigger. Please help me. Thank you.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on August 22, 2019 at 6:34 am

      Hello Margaret,

      Thanks for writing. As we’re not veterinarians, we can’t offer you medical advice 🙁 Even if we were, we wouldn’t be able to give you our thoughts or advice without all of the information regarding your dog’s case. It does sound like you may be looking for a second opinion, and if you would like, you can book in for a consult with Dr. Dressler directly via his website–

      Warm wishes to you both!

  2. Margaret McCreadie on August 18, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Hi, Can anyone tell me the procedure of giving the melanoma vaccine is it ok to give on the same day as the

    radiotherapy treatment is being done or is it better to wait until the radiotherapy course has finished. Also is vaccine administered into the same leg or should it be alternate legs each time. I find reading your blog very helpful and informative as I have read so many articles about melanomas since Murphy has become ill. It does help to read how other people are coping when their beloved pets get this awful cancer and see that extra time can be had, every day is so precious to us. Love to you all.

  3. Colleen Murray on June 22, 2019 at 5:44 am

    i would love an opportunity to chat. We have a 12 year old American Cocker with left nasal planum melanoma with left mandibular lymph node metastasis, it is very large, She is still eating, playing and enjoying life, more so in the last week. The Animal \oncology Service here in Ontario saw her and said nothin to be done, Very vascular and bleeds all the time, major bleeds. We brought her home to love and decided to start her on 600mg of Cbd oil daily with thc at night for sleep. we started this on june 17th and today the lymph node is 1/4 size and the nose looks like it is shrinkin or the invidual tumors are becoming defined and white around the edges, not sure what is happening or what will happen next but it seems too remarkable to not tell someone, and no bleeds, no matter how much she rubs her nose no bleeds, not sure why but not complaining and her energy level is through the roof, would like to understand more

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on June 24, 2019 at 9:09 am

      Hello Colleen,

      Thanks for writing! As we’re not veterinarians, we can’t offer you medical advice. However, if you are looking for Dr. Dressler’s thoughts on your dog’s case. You can also request a consult:

    • Margaret McCreadie. on August 18, 2019 at 8:31 am

      Hi Colleen, I have a Labrador/retriever that was diagnosed with a melanoma on his gum which was too far advanced to remove so he had radiotherapy which has shrunk the tumor. He also had the melanoma vaccine. The cancer is also in his lymph node and his lungs. He is very fit and at present not showing any outward signs that he is ill. I hope the vaccine works for him but read your article a bout your little dog getting Cbd oil and wondered if I should start Murphy on it. You say that you give 600mg a day and I thought that was quite a large dose as that is nearly the whole bottle that I have seen maybe I have read this wrong? Hope your little one keeps improving , we love them so much.

  4. Karyn on March 18, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    I live in new zealand my vet has mentioned getting the melanoma vacine for my dog who has had a melanoma removed from his mouth clear margins but grew back 2 months later. He is unsure if we can get the vaccine in new Zealand. Plz can you help

  5. A Hish on February 10, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    my dog is receiving the Oncept melanoma vax (his melanoma was inside his lip and was successfully removed with clean margins). My question is, is it advisable to add supplements like medicinal mushrooms/turmeric etc as the vax is an immune enhancer and I don’t want to interfere with it or cause immune problems from an overload. TIA

  6. Susan Kazara Harper on June 25, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Hi Donna,
    I’m so glad your dog is doing well, that’s the most important thing of all. Yet we really can’t give you a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to your question. You’ve had the surgery, and some people would have asked the same question even about surgery for a 12 year old. But you wanted to try it for her, and it sounds like it all went well. Perhaps one thing to consider is this; at some point, the last day will arrive for your dog (it’s just plain unfair that they don’t live as long as we do). Acknowledging this, ask yourself the question, if you and your vet think the vaccine is an option for your dog, when that last day arrives how will you feel if you had tried it? Then, how would you feel if you hadn’t tried it? There are many considerations with all these decisions, and you get to be the one to make them. Your dog loves you and knows you’re doing all the best for her. You’ve got to be content. I didn’t give you an answer, but I hope this helps. Good luck!

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