Oral Epulis in Dogs

Oral epuli are most commonly found in boxers
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An oral epulis is a tumor or tumor-like growth on the gum line of a dog. There are three types of epuli including fibromatous, ossifying and acanthomatous, with acanthomatous typically being cancerous. Epuli typically occur in dogs aged 7 years or older and in brachycephalic breeds. There is no cause for oral epuli.

What is an Oral Epulis?

Brachycephalic breeds like the pug are more at risk for developing oral epuli.

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An epulis, or the plural epuli, is the clinical name for swelling on the gums. An epulis is a tumor or tumor-like mass on the gum which does not originate from the teeth. There is no cause for the swelling or mass and brachycephalic breeds -- "smooshed" face dogs like pugs and Boston terriers -- are thought to be more at risk for this fourth most common oral tumor. Boxers also have a greater incidence of fibromatous epuli, a type of growth consisting mainly of fibrous or connective tissue. This is the least aggressive of the three types of epuli.

Two other types of epuli include ossifying and acanthomatous. The ossifying epulis has a bony matrix, but although the makeup of this epulis is different from the fibromatous, it is still considered minimally invasive. Acanthomatous epuli are the most invasive and are thought to be precancerous lesions. These are usually located on the bottom gum line.

What Does an Oral Epulis Look Like?

Since each type of epulis can appear similar to the naked eye, it is best to have a veterinarian examine your dog's mouth to determine what type of epulis she might have. Early on, epuli look like a small mass hanging from a stalk and can grow with time. They can also displace tooth structures as they expand, so it is important to monitor them for growth. They are typically smooth and nodular.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has One?

Often, dogs will show no symptoms of having an epulis in the mouth. The invasive and often precancerous acanthomatous type might begin to deform the jawbone, but otherwise there are few symptoms that illustrate these growths. Symptoms of the possible presence of an oral epulis include trouble eating, bleeding from the mouth, bad breath, excessive drooling, enlarged lymph nodes (this is a sign of infection) and jaw disfigurement.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose an epulis, a veterinarian will often perform X-rays after an examination to determine what type of epulis is present. The X-rays will be able to identify what the epulis is made of. X-rays are also used to determine the health of the teeth and jaw around the growth. Depending on those results, the next step might be surgery to remove the growth, especially if the growth is considered precancerous. This growth might be sent to a laboratory for analysis so it can be determined if cancer is present. If cancer is present, further mouth surgery might be warranted. Most epuli must be surgically removed even if they are not cancerous, and fibromatous and ossifying epuli usually do not return after removal.