Epulis in Dogs

Fibrous epulis surrounding the lower right canine tooth in a Boxer dog
Joel Mills/Wikimedia CC 2.0

Epulis is a common tumor in dogs' mouths, occurring along the gum line. Epulis is typically smooth (not ulcerated), pink, and occurs on the gums. The bad news is that it is a common type of tumor that tends to recur. The good news is that these tumors are benign; they do not spread to other areas of the body.

What is Epulis?

Located in the gum tissue near the dog's teeth, epulis is a tumor. Epulis is also known as gum boils. The tumor originates in the tissue that connects the teeth to the bone of the jaw. These types of tumors are almost always benign. There are some types that are prone to invading nearby oral tissue and will require the removal of the tumor growth and surrounding tissue. It can even lead to the removal or all or part of the jawbone. There are three types of epulis: fibromatous, ossifying, and acanthomatous.

Symptoms of Epulis

Epulis are growths that form between the dog's teeth. They are usually firm, smooth, and similar in color to the gyms. Epulis tumors are more common in middle-aged dogs. Boxers and other breeds that have a flat face are more prone to them. Common symptoms related to epulis include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Displaced teeth
  • Increased drooling
  • Swollen jaw
  • Tooth loss
  • Particularly bad breath
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulting chewing
  • Reduced physical activity

Types of Epulis

There are three different types of epulis and a biopsy will help determine the specific type. This is important because treatment options vary with the type of epulis or oral tumor:

  1. Fibromatous epulis is smooth, not ulcerated. This epulis type originates from the fibrous connective tissue. Surgical removal is the recommended treatment.
  2. Ossifying epulis is smooth, not ulcerated. This epulis type originates from fibrous and bone tissues and could become malignant (osteosarcoma). Surgical removal is the recommended treatment but may be difficult to completely remove. Freezing (cryosurgery) may be necessary in some cases.
  3. Acanthomatous epulis has a smooth or ulcerated surface. This epulis type originates from the periodontal ligament or the tissue that holds the tooth in the jaw. While benign, this form of epulis is locally aggressive and invasive into the surrounding gum tissue and underlying bone. It may destroy the bone structure. Surgical removal is recommended and some cases may require partial mandibulectomy (removal of the lower jaw) or maxillectomy (removal of the upper jaw). Radiation is another treatment option for selected cases when the lesion is small.

Diagnosing Epulis

As soon as any lumps, odor, or changes in color in the gums or mouth are noted, or if any of the symptoms that usually accompany epulis are present, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. This diagnosis process usually involves a visual examination. Most veterinarians can identify epulis in the exam room. Following the visual examination, a biopsy is always recommended to rule out other types of cancer. X-rays may be taken by the veterinarian to see if there has been any erosion of the jaw bone. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the usual course of action is surgical removal of the epulis.

Treatment and Post-Surgery Care of Epulis

Surgical removal is best and easiest when the lump is small. Each case varies greatly. For smaller epulis, surgery can be completed quickly. The surgery can be more complicated if there are epulis that covers multiple teeth. The veterinarian will likely use the X-ray to guide how far the epulis growth extends or how far to remove it. The vet will caution against removing too much of the gums, as this will result in exposed roots of the teeth and receding gums.

The post-operative care will vary for the type of tumors that have been removed. For small epulis tumors, your dog will likely resume normal appetite and attitude quickly. For more extensive surgeries, your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication, dietary recommendations, and antibiotics for your dog as needed. It may be distressing to learn that surgical removal of part of the jaw is needed, but dogs rebound well from surgery. Once your dog's fur grows back, the difference won't be very noticeable and they will likely adapt to the change very quickly. Once the epulis tumor has been removed, it will not grow back. This does not mean that other epulis tumors cannot reappear.

Prevention of Epulis

Epulis cannot be completely prevented. There are measures to take on how to best monitor your dog's teeth and oral health. Be sure to keep up with your dog's oral health regimen and monitor your dog for any recurrence or other changes to its gums or teeth. Daily brushing of your dog's teeth will keep tartar and plaque under control and allow for frequent observations and monitoring of oral and dental health. Epulis is not contagious, cannot spread, and cannot be passed from dog to dog or dog to human.