January 15, 2021 5 min read

Routine oral care is important for your pup. Not only does it help to keep his teeth clean and his breath fresh, it also allows you to keep track of what’s happening inside of his mouth. It might surprise you to learn that dogs can develop oral cancers like humans can, and checking your dog’s mouth at least once a week might help you detect something early. What kind of oral tumors can dogs develop? Why do they develop and how are they treated?

What Are Oral Tumors?

A tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue due to the uncontrolled replication of atypical cells, so an oral tumor is one that develops from tissues inside of the mouth. Tumors can occur on the gum line, in between teeth, under the tongue, on the roof of the mouth, or inside of the lips and cheeks. Benign growths like gingival epuli tend to be minimally invasive while malignant growths invade the surrounding tissues and sometimes spread to other parts of the body.

While benign tumors can be easier to treat or may not be painful, malignant tumors can be difficult to treat and can be invasive to the point of causing great oral pain. Melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and fibrosarcomas are the three most common types of malignant oral tumors in dogs. Almost all gingival epuli are benign except for one referred to as an acanthomatous epulis.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Tumors in Dogs?

Most oral tumors can appear as a bump or swelling in the soft tissues surrounding the gums, cheeks, lips, or tongue. Discoloration may be one sign but can be difficult to detect in dogs with pigmented or colored gums. Some swellings can appear between teeth and may trap a lot of food and bacteria around them, causing bad breath. If a swelling becomes large enough, you may notice it protruding from the face, muzzle, or chin. Lymph nodes located below the chin can also appear swollen in this case.

Because malignant tumors can be very invasive, oral pain can be another sign. Signs of oral pain include drooling, chewing on one side of the mouth versus the other, dropping food while eating, and pawing at one side of the mouth as if something is stuck. Severe pain can also result in a decreased appetite, and if a tumor is bitten while eating, you might observe blood around your dog’s mouth or in his dish.

What Can Cause Oral Tumors?

Like with many cancers, there usually isn’t one definitive cause. Environmental factors such as exposures to toxins can increase risk as can chronic inflammation and periodontal disease. Certain breeds may be more susceptible, including Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Boxers, and Miniature Poodles. Male dogs are more likely to develop oral tumors than females, and oral tumors are more common in middle-aged and senior dogs.

How Are Oral Tumors Diagnosed?

Once a swelling or tumor has been identified, testing is necessary to determine if it is benign or malignant, and this will help determine the best methods for treatment. A needle and syringe can be used to collect cells from the tumor so that a pathologist can look at the cells under a microscope. This collection should be performed under sedation, but if the tumor is very firm, it may not yield adequate cells for evaluation. This means testing could be inconclusive. Instead, your vet might recommend a biopsy under heavy sedation or general anesthesia. This involves taking a large section of the mass and submitting it for evaluation. Biopsies are more invasive but typically yield more accurate results.

If a malignancy is suspected or confirmed, your vet might recommend additional testing to help rule out evidence of metastasis. This may involve performing blood work and checking x-rays to make sure that the lungs and other internal organs look okay. When staging malignant cancers, advanced imaging like CT and MRI can also be utilized and may be more sensitive when looking for evidence of metastasis around more delicate tissues like the brain.

Treatment for Oral Tumors in Dogs

Treatment will depend on the type of tumor present. Most benign growths like epuli can be simply resected under heavy sedation or general anesthesia. Because they are not deeply invasive growths, surgical resection is usually curative. Malignant tumors, however, can run very deep. This means that simple resection may not be enough to remove all of the cancer.

If the tumor has spread to the surrounding bone, a specialty veterinary surgeon may be contacted to remove the affected bone. Even though this kind of surgery is quite aggressive, it is often necessary due to how painful the cancer can be. Removing bone may mean that your dog will lose half of his jaw, a procedure known as a hemimandibulectomy.

If all of a cancer has not been removed with surgery, or if the cancer is in a location where complete surgical margins cannot be guaranteed, a veterinary oncologist may recommend radiation therapy for your dog. These types of tumors seldom respond to chemotherapy. If none of these options are feasible, your regular vet can help you focus on quality of life and provide your pup with different medications for multimodal pain management.  

Natural Ways to Help a Dog Suffering from a Tumor

Sometimes surgery is not an option for a dog owner. Luckily, there are things you can do to help ease the pain of a life with a tumor for a dog. Unfortunately, this will not get rid of the tumor entirely, or cure them, but it can help ease the side-effects and painful symptoms associated with a tumor.

CBD has long been a way that humans have dealt with pain and cancer. Research has shown that it has these same helpful effects for dogs. CBD works as an anti-inflammatory and can be both topical or ingested. It has also shown to reduce symptoms of pain so it is perfect for a dog that is having tumor-related pain. It will also help with appetite of a dog suffering from a tumor. There are many different avenues of which to administer CBD to a dog. It really will depend on how tolerant your dog is of different things. If they're very tolerant of treats and are not picky eaters, CBD Infused treats are the best way to go. If you have a very laid-back pup, CBD Oil will offer the most direct method of ingestion, and you can really control the dosing. Alternatively, CBD Infused coconut oil can be used both topically and ingested, but it is a lower concentration of CBD than is in CBD Oil.

The two most popular Natural Doggie CBD supplements are our CBD Infused Bacon Flavor Soft Chews and our Organic Full Spectrum CBD Oil. Treat loving dogs will love the soft chews, and most dogs will like the CBD Oil as well.

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Oral tumors affect many different breeds and can have various causes. Testing is important to determine if the growth is benign or malignant, as this will dictate which treatment approach will be best for your dog. Oral tumors can be awkward and sometimes painful, so early treatment is best for everyone. Check your pup’s mouth often and report any abnormalities to your vet as soon as you can!

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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