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Oral tumors in cats and dogs

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Oral tumors are common in dogs and cats and range from benign masses such as viral papillomas to very aggressive malignant tumors. Malignant oral tumors frequently recur and spread to other parts of the body, even with aggressive therapy.

Benign papillomas are pink swellings on the gums or other parts of the mouth and have a "wart-like" appearance. Most malignant tumors appear as swellings on the gums that often ulcerate, bleed, and become infected. Other common signs include drooling, bad breath, tooth loss, and facial swelling. Many pets have difficulty chewing, swallowing, and eating. Nearby lymph nodes may be swollen and painful. Tumors in the back of the throat are particularly painful and can prevent swallowing.

X-rays and CT scans may be useful in detecting whether tumors have invaded the bones and in guiding surgery. Loss of bone next to the tumor usually indicates malignancy, but a biopsy is needed to confirm the specific type of tumor.

Benign viral papillomas usually regress on their own without therapy. Most other oral tumors are treated by surgical removal. Malignant tumors are often difficult to remove completely, and large pieces of the jaw bone may need to be removed. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other more specialized treatments may be useful. Surgery usually improves survival time if there is no evidence that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or lungs.

 

Q&A

Are tumors in the mouth common in pets?

Oral tumors are common in dogs and cats and range from benign masses such as viral papillomas to very aggressive malignant tumors. 


How can you tell a benign tumor from a malignant one?

Benign tumors often show up as pink, slow-growing warts or swellings, whereas most malignant tumors grow quickly and often ulcerate or bleed.  However, the only sure way to tell the difference is with a tissue biopsy.


How are oral tumors treated?

Benign papillomas usually regress on their own without therapy, but most other oral tumors are treated by surgical removal.  Malignant tumors are difficult to remove completely and may require follow-up chemotherapy or radiation therapy. 


Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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