Medically reviewed by Dr. Sara Ochoa
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t think about your dog’s dental care until there’s a problem… like a bump on your dog’s tongue, or you catch a whiff of bad breath.
Life is busy and no matter how good your intentions are, it’s hard to stick to a good doggy dental care plan.
The next thing you know, your dog has a tooth abscess or a sore on the roof of the mouth, and you’re suddenly in a panic to get your dog to the veterinarian’s office.
I get it!
Have you found a bump on your dog’s tongue, or some other unusual lump that has you worried? If so, keep reading.
5 Causes for That Bump on Your Dog’s Tongue
Dogs get lumps and bumps all over their bodies, especially as they age. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what they are just by looking.
The only way for a veterinarian to make a definitive diagnosis is to perform a fine needle aspirate or biopsy of the tissue.
That bump on your dog’s tongue could be any number of things, including the following:
1. Contagious Oral Papilloma in Dogs
Oral papillomas in dogs (otherwise known as oral warts) are contagious between dogs and are not passed on to humans or other animals.
Dogs can catch them through direct contact with water bowls, toys, etc.
Unfortunately, there is a long incubation period of between 2 and 6 months which makes it impossible to track down the virus.
These unsightly warts typically occur in younger dogs because their immune systems aren’t strong enough to keep them away.
As the dog matures, antibodies against the warts are produced, and the dog is likely to finally be rid of the unsightly lumps.
Dog warts are passed along through mouth-to-mouth contact with another dog, sharing water, or by playing with another infected dog’s toy.
If you suspect your dog has a contagious oral papilloma, have your dog examined by a licensed veterinarian. He/she could be suffering from a more serious condition or infection that needs to be treated.
Ugly But Not Dangerous
Oral papillomas (otherwise known as oral warts) are viral in nature and usually clear up on their own.
They are usually benign and essentially harmless.
That said, it’s important not to make that conclusion on your own. Many different types of lumps and bumps in a dog’s mouth look the same as cancerous tumors.
That said, If the bump on your dog’s tongue appears fleshy, clustered, or cauliflower shaped, it’s probably an oral wart.
Because the virus settles in the mucous membranes, you could spot one anywhere in the dog’s mouth including on the lips, cheeks, and tongue.
As ugly as they are, oral warts are harmless.
Most of the time the veterinarian will be able to make a diagnosis just by looking.
He or she will want to know what the dog’s activities have been, whether your dog has been with other dogs, and any other signs or symptoms you may have noticed.
It can’t be stressed enough that ANY lumps on your dog’s body should be examined by a doctor.
Symptoms of Oral Papilloma Virus in Dogs
Dog warts usually develop on the lips, tongue, throat, or gums. A few distinctive qualities include:
- round, irregular surface
- they look like a stalk of cauliflower or sea anemone.
- grow in clusters.
You may not even notice the warts in your dog’s mount until he/she develops really bad breath. Your dog’s veterinarian may discover them on a regular wellness check as well.
Unfortunately, they can become infected over time. When that happens, they can cause pain, swelling of the gums and putrid breath.
Treatment Options for Oral Papilloma Virus in Dogs
If the wart isn’t causing your dog any pain, shows no signs of infection, and isn’t impeding your dog’s ability to eat or drink, no treatment is necessary.
That said, an infected or painful wart may require antibiotics or surgical removal.
Another option is a treatment that crushes the lesions. This stimulates the immune system which then goes to work attacking the warts.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a tumor of the skin cells. The skin is made up of several layers of cells with the squamous cell layer at the very top.
Since this type of cancer develops from squamous cells, tumors can form anywhere you find these cells.
For that reason, you could spot one on your dog’s:
- nail bed
- paw pads
- nose, including the nasal planun.
Squamous cell carcinomas usually look like a single, solitary tumor in one location.
Sometimes, however, you may see something known as multi-centric squamous cell carcinoma. This is also known as Bowen’s Disease.
Bowen’s disease presents as two or more lesions. These can occur in multiple locations on the dog’s body, although they are very rare in dogs.
Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs
Some signs of SCC in dogs include:
- irritated red or ulcerated skin
- lesions on the toe or nail bed may be red and appear to bother the dog. It’s possible for the dog to actually lose nails on the affected toes.
- nose lesions can become dry and irritated
- lesions may grow larger and spread
- lesions could ulcerate which can be very painful
- may appear as a white mass or growth on the skin
Treatment Options for Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs
Surgery is the most common form of treatment for SCC of the skin. This is especially true if it occurs on your dog’s nose.
As long as the tumor can be totally removed, surgery is the best hope for long-term control of the disease.
If, for whatever reason, all the cancer cells are not removed during surgery, radiation therapy may be useful.
Radiation on its own, however, hasn’t had a lot of success in the past. The same holds true for chemotherapy.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a fast-spreading type of skin cancer. In the mouth, it can appear as a lump or bump.
On your dog’s skin it might appear as a crusty or bleeding sore that won’t heal.
Dog Breeds More Susceptible to SCC:
Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in dogs with sparse or light-color fur.
- Scottish Terriers
- Boxer Dogs
- Norwegian Elkhounds
Interestingly, large breed dogs (like German Shepherds) are more likely to develop SCC in the toes (digits).
Squamous cell carcinoma in the toes may require removal of the toe. Tumors in this area are more likely to spread to the lymph nodes.
3. Canine Malignant Oral Tumors
Canine oral malignant melanoma is a common oral tumor in dogs.
They originate in pigment producing cells (melanocytes) and are more common in:
- Cocker spaniels
- Chow chows
- Scottish terriers
- Golden Retrievers
This type of tumor is usually found in the mouth, on the lips, along the gums, on the tongue, and on the hard palate on the roof of the mouth.
Clinical Signs of Oral Malignant Tumors
Sometimes it’s hard to get a look inside your dog’s mouth because he/she simply won’t let you.
If you notice any of the following signs, you may want to seek the help of a veterinarian who has the right lighting and ability to have a look.
- you may actually see a tumor in your dog’s mouth
- tumor may be pigmented and black or non-pigmented and flesh colored.
- increased drooling
- difficulty eating or drinking
- dropping their food
- chewing on one side of their mouth
- facial swelling
- foul odor
- blood on the dog’s toys, bedding, etc.
In some cases, dogs show no signs. Tumors may be discovered during routine wellness checks.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Oral Malignant Melanomas
These tumors can invade into the bone, especially if they are found in the gums or palate.
Aggressive surgery including partial removal of the bone may be required.
Lymph nodes around the area may also be removed and assessed for signs that the cancer has spread (metastasis).
If the veterinarian discovers advanced spread (the tumor is at an advanced stage) has already begun, surgery is not recommended.
Radiation may help shrink large tumors.
This might be performed before surgery to increase the chances of successful and complete removal. If the tumor isn’t totally gone after surgery, radiation may be attempted to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
In addition to the above, an injectable chemotherapy is administered every 3 weeks.
Unlike chemotherapy in humans, dogs tend to tolerate the treatment very well. Unfortunately, melanoma is considered highly resistant to chemo.
4. Fibrosarcoma in Dogs
A fibrosarcoma tends to look like a single, nodular, or firm lump or bump under the skin. It can ulcerate, bleed, and become infected.
A fibrosarcoma is a soft tissue tumor commonly found:
- on a dog’s limbs
- trunk of the body
- nasal cavity
- jaw bone (rarely)
- leg bone (rarely
These tumors tend to be slow-growing unless they are in the bone. In that case, the tumor can spread quickly.
These tumors of the connective tissue have no specific risk factors or cause.
Some large breed dogs, including the following, appear more at risk of developing fibrosarcoma:
- Gordon Setters
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Brittany Spaniels
- Golden Retrievers
- Doberman Pinschers
Fibrosarcoma tends to occur in older dogs. The average age of occurrence is around 10 years of age.
Male dogs are more likely to develop fibrosarcoma in the nasal cavity or mouth.
Signs of Fibrosarcoma in Dogs
- swelling pain in the affected area
- dog may become withdrawn
- dog may not want to be touched
- loss of appetite as a result of the pain
- difficulty getting up if the leg is affected
- fractures if the tumor is located in the bone
- discharge from the nose or eyes with excessive tearing
- bleeding from the nose
- unusual snoring
- snuffling sounds
- pawing at the muzzle
- difficulty picking up food if the mouth is affected
- refusing to eat
- excessive drooling
- bleeding from the mouth
- bad breath
- loose teeth
- facial deformity
Treating Fibrosarcoma in Dogs
Surgery is performed and the tissue is sent for histopathology. This helps predict whether the tumor will reoccur or if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
If the pathologist doesn’t believe the tumor was totally removed, follow-up may include a second surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy on its own isn’t thought to be very useful. However, when combined with surgery and radiation, more positive outcomes are possible.
5. Gum Boil
Gum boils (epulis) are located in the gum tissue close to the dog’s teeth. They originate from the connective tissue that keeps the teeth anchored in the jawbone.
These tumors do not spread to other parts of the body, although some are more invasive than others.
There are 3 types of epulides including:
This tern describes a tumor usually found on the gum line. The surface is pink in color and has a smooth texture with no ulcerations. If the tumors get large enough they may cause bleeding. You might actually see blood on your dog’s toys.
A dog diagnosed with fibromatous epulis can have the tumor surgically removed. Surgery is considered the cure.
This type of epulis is hard, smooth, and bone-like.
Surgical intervention is required to remove it. Unfortunately, the surgery may be more invasive than simply removing tissue. This is because underlying bone may need to be removed.
Surgery may involve partial removal of bone from the upper jaw (partial maxillectomy) or partial removal of bone from the lower jaw (partial mandibular resection).
Once surgery is complete, the area is treated with three cycles of cryosurgery (freezing).
Unlike the other epulides, the acanthomatous epulis is a tumor with an ulcerated surface. These normally affect the front part of the lower jaw.
This tumor develops in the periodontal ligament, which is responsible for keeping the tooth firmly anchored in the bone. In fact, it’s so invasive that its considered a type of cancer.
The affected area must be removed along with a portion of the underlying bone.
I’m Worried That It’s Cancer
Cancer is a worry whenever you find a new lump or bump on your dog. If you have recently found a lump on your dog’s tongue, you’re going to want to take him/her to the veterinarian.
Never take chances with your dog’s health. Early detection is key.
Before you panic, assess the situation and ask yourself:
Is your dog under two years of age?
Is the lump also accompanied by swollen regional lymph nodes?
Does your dog have signs of a poor appetite, unusual fatigue or weight loss?
Even if you think your dog DOES have some of these symptoms, there’s simply no way to tell whether it’s cancer or not with a veterinarian’s help.
For your peace of mind and your dog’s health, have a veterinarian take a look.
If cancer is suspected, you may be referred to a veterinary oncologist for follow-up care.
Maintaining Your Dog’s Dental Care
Veterinarians recommend getting your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned once a year. However, not everybody can afford the cost. If you don’t already have pet insurance, get it now.
Pet insurance can save you $$$$ and allow you to give your dog the care he deserves. Will regular dental cleaning keep lumps and bumps from growing in the mouth?
No. However, a veterinarian will be able to spot any potential problems long before they become too serious.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a Dog Mouth Tumor Look Like?
A tumor in your dog’s mouth can look any number of ways. It might have pigment or it might not. Some are nodular or kind of look like a stalk of cauliflower. Sometimes they appear as a swelling on the gums and around the teeth.
Can Dogs Get Cancer of the Tongue?
They can. It’s called lingual squamous cell carcinoma in dogs. They are usually found under the tongue. You’ll notice they attach to the bottom of the mouth. They can be white or have a cauliflower shape (or both).
How Can You Get Rid of Canine Oral Papillomas in Dogs?
Surgical removal will take care of these tumors.
That said, the veterinarian may or may not want to do that. Papillomas often fall off on their own after a time. When surgery is suggested, it’s usually to test to see if the lump is benign or cancerous.
Summing it Up
Talking about cancer in dogs is a tricky subject. Most of the time, that lump or bump on your dog’s tongue is nothing to worry about.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, a cluster of bumps in your dog’s mouth (especially a young dog) are most likely benign tumors.
Remember that the lump or bump you’ve discovered is likely a common oral tumor.
The best defense against unusual lumps and bumps is to be aware of them. Watch whether they grow. Determine if they are causing your dog pain or whether your dog is finding it difficult to eat, for example.
And, as always, please have any new lumps or bumps checked out by a licensed veterinarian.
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Please take a moment to share.
Pet Health Network. www.pethealthnetwork.com, 24 June 2014, https://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/oral-papilloma-virus-dogs.
Squamous Skin Cell Carcinoma In Dogs | VCA Animal Hospitals. vcahospitals.com, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/squamous-skin-cell-carcinoma-in-dogs. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022.
Jennifer72. Dog Discoveries. dogdiscoveries.com, 1 June 2017, https://dogdiscoveries.com/health/dog-has-a-gum-boil.
HealthGuidance.Org |. www.healthguidance.org, 6 Apr. 2011, https://www.healthguidance.org/entry/15297/1/epulis-mouth-oral-tumor-in-dogs.html.