What Is Epulis in Dogs, and How Is It Treated?

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.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Epulis

Epulis tumors are more common in middle-aged dogs. Boxers and other breeds that have a flat face are more prone to them. 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.

As soon as any lumps, odor, or changes in color in the gums or mouth are noted, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Other symptoms include bad breath, difficulty eating, the teeth being pushed out of alignment, excessive drooling, bleeding, and weight loss.

Most veterinarians can identify epulis in the exam room, but a biopsy is always recommended to rule out other types of cancer. X-rays may be taken to see if there has been any erosion of the bone.

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, 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.

Treatment and Post-Surgery Care

Surgical removal is best, and easiest when the lump is small. Each case varies greatly regarding post-operative care. 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.

Be sure to keep up with your dog's oral health regimen and monitor your dog for any recurrence or other changes to his gums or teeth.

If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.