Seven tumours that were composed of balloon (n = 4) or signet-ring (n = 3) cells were investigated for a putative melanocytic origin. The tumours were located in the skin or the mouth cavity. In one case a sample from inguinal lymph node metastasis was available. Two antibodies used in man for the immunohistochemical diagnosis of melanomas, namely anti-Melan-A and anti-tyrosinase, were examined for their cross-reactivity with the corresponding canine antigens. The Melan-A antibody labelled all balloon cell tumours and one signet-ring cell tumour, whereas the anti-tyrosinase antibody was not reactive in any of the tumours. The Melan-A antibody also labelled a variety of canine epithelioid and spindle cell melanomas; non-melanocytic tumours were all negative. This study confirmed the occurrence of balloon and signet-ring cell melanomas in dogs. Melan-A antibody was found to be useful in the diagnosis of pigmented and non-pigmented canine melanomas. (C) 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.