Reviewed by Erica Irish, DVM
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 tumor that develops in a dog’s oral cavity. You will see them on the gingiva (gums). They may appear the same pinkish color as the gums, or can appear red and inflamed.
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 originates from the ligament that attaches the tooth to the bone. They can grow to be quite large, but 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.
These malignant tumors 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 the jawbone, part of that bone may need to be removed as well, particularly if it is malignant.
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.
Ideally the veterinarian or veterinarian oncologist will recommend a biopsy ASAP. If you confirm a malignant growth, it is way easier to get better surgical margins when the mass is small. A biopsy can also help rule out malignant tumors like squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, which can look like epulis.
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.
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
- 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.
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 pickier than usual.
Inappetence is a medical term to describe a person or animal with a lack of appetite. Dogs are usually happy to eat pretty much anything you put in front of them. So, if that changes, you should consult a veterinarian.
If the epulis is causing any pain or discomfort, however, he or she may decide not to eat at all.
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.
Clean up Bad Breath in Dogs
When cleaning your dog’s teeth be sure to use specially formulated dog toothpaste. Regular toothpaste for humans can be toxic for dogs. There are a variety of things you can do to keep a dog’s breath smelling sweet, but eventually your dog is probably going to need a professional cleaning.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help curb the smell including:
Prevent Plaque and Tartar Build Up with TropiClean
Oxifresh Premium Pet Dental *vet recommended
Keep in mind that products with the VOHC label on them are clinically proven. At this time, there is only one toothpaste with the VOHC seal of approval, and that is PetSmile.
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? Regular gingivitis can cause this to happen.
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:
- monitoring of dog during surgery
- cost of the surgeon’s hours
- pain management
- hours in hospital
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 or her quality of life.
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
Merck Veterinary Manual