Oral Tumors in Cats & Dogs

oral tumors in cats and dogs

Oral Tumors in Cats & Dogs


Similar to people, dogs and cats can develop tumors within their oral cavity. A tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue that can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Oral tumors in cats and dogs may arise from dental tissue (odontogenic), inflammation (periodontal disease), or can be malignant (cancerous). Oral neoplasia—an uncontrolled growth of cells that is often cancerous—accounts for up to 10% of all feline tumors and 6% of canine tumors.


Detection of Oral Tumors in Cats and Dogs


An oral mass may be detected during a routine wellness visit with the pet’s veterinarian or by the pet owner at home. Often the first sign is severe halitosis (bad breath), which comes from the surface of the mass due to infection. Oral masses may also be detected incidentally during a routine dental cleaning and exam (COHAT) under anesthesia.

Tumor Classification


As mentioned above, tumors are classified as benign or malignant. They can be seen in young or senior dogs and cats, but certainly increase in frequency with age. Most malignant tumors are highly invasive locally and run the risk of spreading to other parts of the body (metastasis). Benign tumors can be locally aggressive and invade surrounding tissues and bone, but will not spread to other parts of the body.

Dogs have a higher incidence of benign oral tumors compared to malignant. Sadly, cats are the reverse with more malignant compared to benign lesions.

Common Oral Tumors in Dogs


Peripheral odontogenic fibromas are a frequently seen benign oral mass in dogs. They arise from dental tissue and can incorporate tissue surrounding adjacent teeth. These masses respond very well to conservative soft tissue removal.

Another common type of benign oral tumor seen in dogs is acanthomatous ameloblastoma. Though benign, this tumor is more invasive and requires a more aggressive removal.

Malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common oral malignancies seen in dogs. They require aggressive surgical treatment and often benefit from additional therapies after surgery.

Common Oral Tumors in Cats


The most common oral mass seen in cats is squamous cell carcinoma. This is a highly aggressive malignancy that requires a very early diagnosis and treatment to have a chance at a favorable outcome. Unfortunately, the majority of cats with squamous cell carcinoma have a diagnosis made late in the course of the disease.

Our feline companions can also have benign oral masses or inflammatory swellings that often carry a favorable prognosis with proper surgical therapy.


Tumors Caused by Inflammation


Both dogs and cats can have oral swellings that are inflammatory and in response to periodontal disease. Perhaps the most common example of this gingival hyperplasia, which is seen in dogs more frequently than cats. These cases can respond well to surgical removal of the overgrown tissue and treatment of the underlying cause.


The Importance of Early Detection and Diagnosis


Early diagnosis of any oral mass is always beneficial. This most often requires obtaining a biopsy of the involved tissue for an outside laboratory to evaluate. The board-certified veterinary dentists at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery send all of their biopsy samples to a veterinary pathologist at Kansas State University veterinary college who is dedicated solely to veterinary oromaxillofacial pathology cases.

In a perfect world, we would be able to remove the entirety of an oral tumor on the first visit. However, this is frequently not possible without obtaining a diagnosis from a smaller biopsy sample first. This allows a surgeon to then treat the oral mass definitively and know how much tissue needs to be removed after obtaining a diagnosis.


The Use of Dental Radiographs in Diagnosis


All oral tumor cases have the involved areas radiographed with dental and possibly larger skull images. Radiographs and CT (computed tomography) scans are additional diagnostic tests that can help the oral surgeon plan the best possible treatment options for the pet. Computed tomography scans can be performed at our facility in Colorado Springs.

It’s obviously a very stressful thing for a pet owner to be told their dog or cat has an oral tumor or cancer of any type. However, the majority of oral masses can be treated in a meaningful way with a good prognosis. In fact, many cases result in a cure with the patient remaining cancer free for the remainder of their lives. The many treatment modalities available to the veterinary profession for treating cancer patients continues to advance by leaps and bounds.


Enhancing Your Pet’s Quality of Life


Our goal at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery is always to provide our four-legged patients with an excellent postoperative quality of life so that they can continue to be your companions for as long as possible. If you have any questions about a possible oral mass in your dog or cat’s mouth, please contact us at (719)536-9949.


Photo by Isabela Kronemberger on Unsplash (3/1/2019)