Oral tumors can pop up in your pet at any time. You likely will notice the swellings in your pet’s mouth if you brush her teeth regularly, but otherwise the masses may not be discovered until we see your cat or dog for her physical exam. Then, we must identify the type of oral mass to understand its cause and plan a course of treatment.

Oral masses

Oral tumors, whether benign or malignant, are relatively common in pets. A host of different sorts of lumps are found in the mouth, including:

  • Benign tumors, which are non-cancerous but may become so large that they impact your pet’s quality of life:
    • Epulis — This usually benign gingival mass comes in three forms: fibromatous, ossifying, and acanthomatous. Fibromatous types originate from the fibrous connective tissue, are the least aggressive, and are easily removed surgically. Ossifying epulides come from fibrous and bony tissues, may lead to osteosarcoma, and can be difficult to eradicate even when removed surgically. The acanthomatous form originates from the periodontal ligament, may aggressively invade local gum tissue and bone, and may require surgical removal of parts of the jaw or radiation therapy.
  • Malignant tumors, which are often aggressive, may be not only locally invasive but may also metastasize and spread throughout the body:
    • Melanoma — This malignant tumor is the most common oral tumor seen in dogs. The tumor is locally invasive and also tends to metastasize and end up in the regional lymph nodes or lungs. Metastasis usually occurs before a diagnosis is made. These dark masses, found on the lower jaw, frequently involve the bone and require aggressive treatment for removal.
    • Squamous cell carcinoma — This malignant oral tumor is seen more often in cats than dogs. The mass may be found anywhere within the oral cavity, but occurs especially under the tongue. While this locally invasive cancer tends to avoid metastasis, it can also grow rapidly, which leads to a grave prognosis.
  • Gingival hyperplasia, which is essentially overgrowth of the gum tissue, may become so severe that your pet chews on her own overgrown gums. Even gingival hyperplasia that does not escalate contributes to inflammation and periodontal disease by trapping food debris and bacteria deep within the pockets surrounding the teeth.
  • Local infections can cause swelling due to inflammation, tooth root abscesses, or other bacteria pockets.
  • Saliva may collect and form a lump when a damaged or blocked salivary gland does not drain properly.

Signs of oral tumors

Because oral tumors come in different forms, your pet will show varying signs. Similar to periodontal disease indicators, the clinical signs of an oral tumor include:

  • Drooling, with or without blood
  • Halitosis
  • Difficulty eating or drinking
  • Pawing at one side of the face
  • Facial swelling
  • Lack of appetite
  • Tooth loss

Environmental and genetic risk factors are considered the cause of oral tumors in pets, rather than a single, concrete culpit. Some breeds do seem more predisposed to these masses; for example, flat-faced breeds seem to present the most with epulides.

All types of tumors are seen more commonly in the following breeds, especially the males:

  • Boxers
  • Chows
  • German shepherds
  • Golden retrievers
  • German shorthaired pointers
  • Gordon setters
  • Miniature poodles
  • Weimaraners

Treatment of oral tumors

If a pet is tolerant, we will use a fine needle and syringe to aspirate a few cells from the tumor that we will examine under the microscope to identify the type of mass. But, such samples are difficult to obtain and may not yield conclusive results, so we may recommend that we take a biopsy, or surgically remove a portion of the mass, while your pet is sedated.

The best chance for a cure of oral tumors is surgical removal, as long as the entire mass can be removed. We may need to remove part of the jaw bone if a tumor is especially invasive. A malignant tumor that cannot be completely removed surgically may warrant radiation therapy. We would also recommend chemotherapy in these cases because some oral tumors metastasize and spread throughout the body.

Early detection is the best treatment for any oral tumor. Your pet will have the best prognosis if we identify her oral tumor while the mass is still small and hasn’t potentially metastasized. If you do not brush her teeth regularly, implement a system of peeking inside your pet’s mouth at least once a month to check for swellings and any other signs of disease.

Have you noticed your pet drooling more than normal lately? Or, has she been pawing at her mouth? Schedule an appointment with us to get to the source of your pet’s dental health issues.