How to Tell if Your Dog Has an Oral Tumor

Cancer—one of the most frightening words you’ll ever hear when it comes to your pet’s health. Let’s look at some of the terms used when talking about lumps and bumps in the mouth. There are many causes for swollen/enlarged areas in the mouth, including infection, trauma, foreign objects embedded in the tissues, abscessed teeth, and uncontrolled growth of cells (tumors). This article will focus on oral enlargements due to uncontrolled growth of cells.

Regardless of the cause, early detection and treatment is always the best course of action. You can see that appropriate treatment first requires identifying the cause of the swelling. Learning to recognize the symptoms of oral tumors in your dog can save their life and drastically improves success rates of treatment. 


What are oral tumors in dogs?

A tumor just means some kind of oral enlargement due to uncontrolled growth of cells and can be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors can grow very large and cause a lot of problems, but they will not spread (metastasize) to distant sites or the lymph nodes. Malignant tumors (cancer) are more serious and can metastasize from the oral cavity to the lungs or lymph nodes, making them much more difficult to treat. 

So what are the symptoms of oral tumors in dogs?


Visual Symptoms of Oral Tumors in Dogs

There are a few tell-tale visual cues that your dog may have an oral tumor: 

  • Cauliflower-like growth in the mouth. Sometimes these can be very dark and hard to see.
  • Bleeding from the mouth 
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Swelling of the gums, hard palate, or soft palate
  • Rarely, loss of appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath


Behavioral Symptoms of Oral Tumors in Dogs

You can often tell a lot about your four-legged friend just by noting any changes in their behavior. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of oral pain, it may be caused by a tumor. Some symptoms to watch for are: 

  • Decrease in appetite- this does not happen very often with oral tumors
  • Difficulty eating
  • Vocalizing while eating
  • Reluctance to be petted on the head or face
  • Excessive panting
  • Acting tired
  • Acting grumpy with children or other dogs.


While there’s no single identifiable cause of oral tumors, there are risk factors. Interestingly, male dogs seem to be twice as likely to develop oral tumors then female dogs.  Your pet’s breed can also put them at risk for oral tumors. 

Breeds that commonly develop oral tumors are:

  • Boxers
  • Chows
  • German Shepherds
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Mini Poodles
  • Weimaraners


Treatment for Oral Tumors in Dogs

Treatment is fairly straightforward for oral tumors. First, the type of tumor must be identified. This is done by taking a small sample of the tumor and sending it to an oral pathologist. Sometimes we look at some of the cells with a microscope in the clinic. This is called cytology, and it can help give us a general idea about what might be going on.

Once the type of tumor is determined, your veterinarian can decide the best course of action. Oral tumors are almost always surgically removed.

If the tumor is malignant, we will want to make sure it has not traveled to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes or lungs. The best way to successfully treat an aggressive form of cancer is by catching it early. 


Schedule a cleaning and oral cancer screening in Bozeman, MT today!

You should regularly look in your pet’s mouth for signs of oral tumors. And be sure to schedule an appointment to have their teeth cleaned at Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery every  6-12 months. Generally speaking, smaller dogs need more frequent dental care.  Every cleaning comes with an oral cancer screening by our Board Certified Veterinary Dentist, Dr. Tony Woodward. Dr. Woodward spent years learning to identify and treat all types of oral tumors.


Photo by SYFTV1 on Wikimedia Commons