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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


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  1. Donna on June 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Our 12 yr. old Standard Poodle was just diagnosed with melanoma of the lip. Has had two surgeries and second surgery showed clean margins of the primary tumor but spread to the lymph nodes. Will be doing repeat chest x-rays in one week when stitches come out. She seems perfectly healthy otherwise and you wouldn’t know anything was wrong if she didn’t have the stitches and swollen gland. Do we do the vaccine given her apparent health and the fact that her expected lifespan without the cancer would be 12-15 years anyway?

  2. Jason Gworek on April 10, 2013 at 9:05 am

    I just found out two days ago that the growth removed from my 3 yr old chocolate labrador, Murphy, is malignant melanoma. I haven’t met with the vet/oncologist yet, but I am trying to gather as much information as possible on the subject. He mentioned the rate at which the cells split (I’m unsure of the medical term) is 2. Most of the information I find pertains specifically to oral melanoma or the digits. Can you provide me with any information on what we’re looking at for a prognosis? It sounds like 2 years is the best case survival time. Would my dog benefit from this vaccine? Does a special diet improve his outlook? I mostly want to know how much time I can expect to have with my dog (I understand this varies depending on many factors, but any estimate is appreciated) and what questions to ask my vet.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on April 10, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Hi Jason
      sorry to hear about your dog’s melanoma…so young 🙁
      the location of the melanoma gives us a lot of info about its behavior. the oral and digital melanomas are more malignant. Some of the melanomas on the trunk can be cured with simple wide excision surgery and they behave more like benign growths. The location plus the information on the pathology report can give you and your vet an indicator of whether the expected behavior will be more benign or more malignant.
      Having said that, I routinely change the diets in dogs with melanoma generally. There is a free pdf you can download on the top of this blog.
      I would also read this post:
      Finally, the Guide goes into the comprehensive answer to your question, which is an easy read and was written for exactly that purpose, so I would recommend you read it. It is an easy read and there is a melanoma section as well as details on the supplements, chemo etc.
      I hope this helps,
      Dr D

  3. Sandra S on January 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I have just ordered the Survival Guide to see if there is anything else I am missing. i got the diet and have started to make my dog’s food. I just need to find an Oncologist who will charge me around $300 per shot so I can afford to get my dog the Oncept Melanoma vaccine.

    Do you know why a regular vet cannot give his vaccine?

    it all comes from the same company and they direct the dosage. I have already paid for surgery and the test so it had been determined that vaccine is the next step. It is the same medicine no matter who administers it. This is so frustrating.
    Thank you

  4. Sandra S on January 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Anyone know of a reasonable cost Oncologist near new york city???

    My approx 13 chow (not sure how old she was a rescue) had a large tumor on her tongue in the back of her mouth. It turned out to be melanoma but did not appear to spread anywhere else in her body. She had surgery and they were able to remove it. I am giving her everything natural I can find, ie reishi and maitake mushroom, fish oil, krill,NK-9, Curcumin, Ahcc along with her arthritis meds.
    The next step is the Oncept Melanoma vaccine. The only problem is that I cannot afford it. I paid about $3100.00 so far with the tests and the surgery. I live in New york so the amount they want for the vaccine is crazy,
    $140 for 1st office visit $85 after,
    then $700 for each shot –
    total of 4 shots that comes to.$3100.00
    I cannot do it . I am willing to pay more I just can’t go that high. I see some on this blog have paid $300 per Oncept shot which would be $1200.00. I could possibly do another $1200.00 They only sell this stuff to Oncologist so you cannot get it from a regular vet (what a racket).
    Does anyone know of a Vet Oncologist near New York city (within a couple of hours drive) that is more reasonable in cost? I could go to NJ, CT …

    Any lead would be appreciated.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 3, 2013 at 11:46 am

      If you are still looking for an oncologist, you can check, and click on find a specialist near you. Good luck!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  5. renee mitchell on December 9, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    My dog has oral melanoma – received radiation and vaccine – did not know about the followup vaccine after 6 months – vet I was seeing did not followup after I switched to another oncologist as I felt like she was not thorough enough –

  6. dana on November 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Hi there,
    My dog is 16 and went through surgery,they removed 75% of his mandible.It turned out to be melanoma.But after 1 month and another general anesthesia because his sutures opened he is doing very well.Prognosis is not good long term but the age of the dog should not make you reluctant about the surgery.
    He learned how to eat within 3-4 days after the surgery.I found that absolutely amazing.They are tougher than us.

  7. Leslie C. on November 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    My 15 yo chow/hound mix (Red) was recently seen by her vet and the vet suspects she has a cancer on her tongue. She has some arthritis issues but is in relatively good health otherwise. She is eating fine, she eats her food and then checks our other dog’s bowl to see if he leaves leftovers. I am planning to start her on the diet recommended here starting tomorrow.

    I am reluctant to pursue surgery because of her age but it sounds like others on the board with elderly dogs have opted for surgery and they’ve pulled through just fine. Can anyone here offer advice on surgery in geriatric dogs? I’m planning to take her to a specialist for evaluation but would like some honest advice from folks here who’ve been through all of this. I’d like to pursue the vaccine as well if it ends up being right for her.

    Thanks all and my heart goes out to everyone here trying to cope.

  8. Maria on October 27, 2012 at 7:44 pm


    As per your request, following is a cost breakdown of Sadie’s treatment:

    Surgery $2,700 Removed jaw, mandibal, cheekbone
    Radiation Treatments $1,000 4 Treatments after surgery, $250 ea.
    Oncept Vaccine $ 300 1 Oncept Vaccine every 2 weeks
    after surgery (8 weeks). Thereafter,
    1 vaccine every 6 months.
    Check-Up & X-Ray $ 120 Every 3 months ($45 + 75)

    Sadie was diagnosed with Stage III Oral Melanoma over 28 months ago. She’s still with me, happy, and cancer free. Money well spent, no regrets!

    Take Care,

  9. Maria on October 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm


    I’m so sorry to hear about your little dog. I know what you’re going through. I was also told that my Sadie had only 2 weeks to live, no hope, and not to even try treating her. Well, it’s now 28 months later and she’s still wagging her tail, running around happy, and cancer free! I’d be more than happy to share the cost details of her treatment with you. Please forward me your email address, or phone number if you’d like me to call you.


  10. Pam on October 18, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Just read your blog comments about your dog Sadie. I am faced with almost the exact situation. Adopted a 15yo daschaund from a family member. Took him for dental cleaning and an oral melanoma was discovered about the size of a quarter. This was 8/31/12. As of today it is from side to side in the roof of the mouth. His jaw too is involved as the vet had to pull an upper canine and discovered a hole in the bone. Took him to Columbus for eval. They painted a preety bleek picture as far as options vs. prognosis & life expectancy. We opted not to put him thru treatment. Now I am wondering… Remarkedly he is eating, drinking etc. Does not appear to be in pain. Stands & begs if he thinks u are eating something. As we say in our house, “he is still in there.” Your comments have given me a little hope although I know what we are facing. Would u mind to give me a ballpark estimate of what your treatment cost. u can email me privately if u wish. Thanks, Pam

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