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Melanomas are the most common uveal neoplasm, are usually pigmented, and most frequently involve the iris and ciliary body, with the latter being the site of origin.

In dogs, the most common melanomas of the eye originate from the iris (anterior uvea). They are usually benign. Eyelid, conjunctival, limbal and choroid tumors are all rare. Only conjunctival tumors are malignant. Limbal tumors (tumors that form at the junction between the cornea and sclera) are nodules that can be removed surgically. The anterior uveal and choroid tumors are usually benign but may cause problems by increasing the intra-ocular pressure (glaucoma) that can lead to blindness.

Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Schnauzers, and Cocker Spaniels are predisposed to developing primary ocular melanomas. Breeds that have greater skin pigmentation may be predisposed.

In all breeds (even crossbreeds), the incidence of ocular melanoma is higher in middle-aged to older dogs. The average age of diagnosis is 9 years.

Causes of Uveal Melanoma in Dogs

The reason why a particular pet may develop this, or any tumor or cancer, is not straightforward. Very few tumors and cancers have a single known cause. Most seem to be caused by a complex mix of risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary. With ocular melanomas, there is evidence that they are at least in part heritable and caused by one or more genetic mutations.

Signs and Symptoms of Uveal Melanoma in Dogs

In most cases, the first sign noted is a change in iris color. Additionally, change in the shape of the iris or a raised mass of the iris may be seen. Later in the disease process, the changes may produce a high pressure within the eye (glaucoma). This causes redness, cloudiness, squinting or loss of vision and eventually eye enlargement.


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, including a complete ophthalmic exam (including testing pressure within the eye and proper drainage of the eye’s aqueous humor). A complete blood profile will also be conducted, including a chemical blood profile. A complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. Evidence of metastasis may may be present in the blood profile, or the blood count may show increased white blood cells. This can be indicative of the body’s immune system fighting the malignant cell growth. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health and onset of symptoms.

X-rays and an ultrasound may also help to determine the extent of metastatic disease in the eye.

Treatment of Uveal Melanoma in Dogs

Treatment of a tumor of the eye will be contingent on the type of mass. For example, lid tumors might be removed surgically by excision. Vets should take care to remove all of the mass while trying to maintain a well functioning eyelid. Cryosurgery, which is using extreme cold to kill affected tissue, is another method.

Tumors such as uveal melanoma can mean the loss of the eyeball, but sometimes laser surgery is successful without taking the eye out. Limbal melanoma could mean a keratectomy or sclerectomy, which is surgical removal of the lesion, with the added step of graft replacement.


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