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Epulis in Dogs: 5 Signs It Might Be Time For Surgery

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An epulis in dogs is essentially a benign tumor (meaning non-cancerous). It’s scary when you find any unusual lump or bump on a dog, especially when it’s in the oral cavity.

This post will help you tell the difference between a benign epulis or epulides (plural) versus something that could be malignant. It’s important to stress that no new lumps or bumps should be taken for granted.

A diagnosis of whether it’s cancerous or not can only be done with a licensed veterinarian through a combination of physical examination and a biopsy.

There are at least 5 key signs that your dog may be ready for surgery. Removing an epulis before they become too large or invade the jawbone is preferable. But how do you know when it’s time for surgery?

Ultimately, your veterinarian should be able to make a good recommendation. Sometimes a wait-and-see approach can put off surgery for a while, but it’s important to recognize when the lump has changed and what to do next.

What is a Dog Epulis?

An epulis is a benign tumor that develops in a dog’s oral cavity. You will see them on the gingiva (gums) and will have the same pinkish color as the gums.

Peripheral Odontogenic Fibromas in Dogs

This type of epulis (once known as a fibromatous epulis or an ossifying epulis) is the most common non-cancerous tumor found in dogs. Dogs over the age of 6 are more likely to develop them, although they can develop at any age and in any breed.

This tumor is a firm, slow-growing mass that involves the gum tissues and originate from the ligament that attaches the tooth to the bone. They can grow to be quite large; however, surgery that removes the entire mass is considered curative.

What Does This Type of Epulis Look Like in A Dog?

Although it’s hard to tell one epulis from another, these are generally pink masses that are the same color as the gums. They are firm to the touch and may have a bumpy, almost cauliflower-like appearance.

Acanthomatous Ameloblastoma

These tumors are benign (non-cancerous) but they grow quickly. They are considered aggressive and invasive because they invade the nearby tissues including the bone.

At one time, these tumors were known as acanthomatous epulides. They are located on the front part of the lower jaw.

Much like the peripheral odontogenic fibroma mentioned above, this growth originates in the ligament that attaches the tooth to the jawbone.

What Causes A Dog Epulis to Grow?

Unfortunately, there is no known cause for these growths. Age and breed may play a factor since the majority of dogs who develop an epulis are over the age of six.

In addition, brachycephalic breeds (primarily boxers) seem to show a higher incidence.

How is an Epulis Treated?

The removal of an epulis in dogs requires surgery. Depending on how invasive the epulis is, surgery may involve the extraction of affected teeth.

If the epulis has invaded into the jawbone, part of that bone may need to be removed as well.

A pink epulis in a middle-aged dog
This is 7-year-old Coco with a pink epulis on his upper jaw.

Will the Epulis Grow Back After Surgery?

It’s possible for an epulis to grow back. However, that could be a very slow process in dogs. In some cases, and depending on how invasive the epulis is/was, the only way to ensure it doesn’t grow back is through complete removal through surgery.

Complete removal could mean the removal of a large border around the tumor itself.

How Will I Know if My Dog Needs Surgery

Ideally, you’ll want a licensed veterinarian to have a look at your dog’s mouth. He or she may palpate the lymph nodes around the neck, check for any additional oral growths, and complete a physical assessment of your dog’s overall health.

In some cases, if the epulis is not bleeding and the dog is otherwise health, the veterinarian may suggest and wait-and-see approach. If that happens, be sure to notify the veterinarian of any sudden growth, bleeding, halitosis, or changes in eating habits and sudden weight loss.

If you notice the development or worsening of any of the 5 signs noted below, be sure to contact a veterinarian for follow-up care.

Excessive Drooling

There are some dog breeds who drool naturally, so it might not be obvious whether your dog is drooling more than usual. In this case, you should look for a combination of the other signs noted below.

The dogs that drool the most include:

  • bernese mountain dog
  • bull terrier
  • bulldog
  • mastiff
  • Newfoundland dog
  • saint bernard
  • various types of hounds

Excessive drooling on its own could simply be a sign that your dog is anxious, hot, hungry, or sick to his/her stomach.

When a dog drools because of an epulis in the mouth, it’s because the body is treating it like a foreign body that is stuck. The body triggers the response to drool in an attempt to wash the foreign body away.

Trouble Eating

If you’ve ever had a toothache, you might recall pushing your food to one side of the mouth. A dog may try a similar technique if there’s a dental problem like gingivitis/periodontal disease.

An epulis in a dog may become painful and uncomfortable when eating. For that reason, your dog may begin to eat less or may seem picker than usual on what is put in front of him.

Inappetence

Inappetence is a medical term to describe a person or animal with a lowered appetite. Dogs are usually happy to eat pretty much anything you put in front of him.

If the epulis is causing any pain or discomfort, however, he may decide not to eat at all.

Halitosis

Dogs shouldn’t have bad breath. Any strong or putrid odor coming from your dog’s mouth is a bad sign. He/she could have an infected tooth, inflamed or infected gums, something rotten stuck in the teeth, or any number of issues that need care.

If a dog has a growing epulis in his/her mouth, it’s probably covering all or part of a tooth. As it grows up between the teeth, food is more easily trapped beneath the tissue.

The epulis itself doesn’t have a putrid smell; however, the area around it can invite bacteria and infection. It’s that infection that causes the horrible smell.

Bleeding From the Tumor

Do your dog’s toys have blood stains on them? Does your dog’s mouth bleed when you throw sticks or a ball?

You might only notice bleeding from the gums when the epulis is irritated by something in the mouth or from excessive drool.

If the epulis has arrived at the stage where it easily bleeds, it’s definitely time to book an appointment with the veterinarian to discuss surgery.

How Much Does it Cost to Surgically Remove a Dog Epulis?

Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the high cost of surgery. The cost of surgery to remove an epulis may include:

  • pre-examination
  • anesthesia
  • monitoring of dog during surgery
  • cost of the surgeon’s hours
  • antibiotics
  • pain management
  • hours in hospital

If cost is a worry, consider shopping around for a surgeon who offers payment plans, accepts CareClub, or who will cap the cost of the surgery if it reaches a certain expense.

Summary

We all want our dogs to be happy and healthy. Unfortunately, that comes with a cost. If you’re lucky enough to have pet insurance, you’ll probably be able to get a portion of the expense covered.

An epulis in a dog cannot be ignored. Eventually, it’s going to cause your dog problems and can seriously affect his/her quality of life.

It should be reassuring to know that an epulis is not considered cancerous; however, the only way to know for sure is to have the lump biopsied and the tissue examined.

Even dogs who have regular dental care are not immune to developing an epulis. It’s important to take your dog to a licensed veterinarian for any unusual lump or bump whether it’s in the mouth or anywhere else on your dog’s body.

READ NEXT: Informative Guide to Mouth Cancer in Dogs

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I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you were able to learn anything at all, I’d like to ask you to share. Sharing really helps to keep this blog up and running and is much appreciated.

Questions?

The writers of Your Dog’s Health Matters are not licensed veterinarians. Any questions related to a health problem in your dog should always be directed to a qualified health professional.

That said, if you have any questions about the post, the blog in general, or would like more information on how to submit a post for consideration, please email: [email protected]

SOURCES:

VCA Hospitals

Merck Veterinarian Manual

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

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