Epulis is one of the most common types of oral cancer that affects our canine friends. In most cases, it is benign, but because these pieces of tissue grow continuously, they need to be treated so that the dog’s quality of life is not affected.
Read on to find out what epulides are, how they are diagnosed, what symptoms they cause, and more.
Epulis in dogs – The basics
Epulis or epulides, for plural, can be defined as any growth occurring in a dog’s mouth, particularly involving the periodontal ligament. That means that most of the growths that pet owners can notice are usually located in-between the teeth or affect the gingival tissue around and on the bottom of the teeth.
Although generally benign, some of the epulis types that are regularly diagnosed in dogs can grow to the point that they put pressure on the teeth or the bones of the mouth.
Unfortunately, the causes of epulis remain unknown even today, despite the high number of studies that were performed to discover a variety of factors that can lead to the condition.
It does appear that some dog breeds are more likely to develop it, especially in their senior years or, in any case, after the age of 6 to 7. The breeds that epulis tends to affect more commonly are the following:
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- Old English Sheepdogs
Most brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs) have a higher likelihood of developing epulis compared to the rest.
There are several different kinds of epulis that can affect dogs, but the two most common ones seem to be:
- Acanthomatous ameloblastoma
- Peripheral odontogenic fibroma
The second can be split into two categories as well since some of them are fibromatous while others are ossifying.
Fibromatous epulides are made of hard tissue, and despite it being very rigid, these growths do not cause significant damage to the oral tissue itself – no ulcerations. Out of all of the types, fibromatous epulides are also the ones that are more responsive to treatment.
Ossifying epulides, which are also categorized as being peripheral odontogenic fibroma, involve the actual development of bone tissue. They call for more severe treatment options simply because some types of therapies might not even be able to penetrate the tissue limit.
As for acanthomatous epulides, these tend to grow into the bone, which leads to a variety of dental and oral health issues in general.
Symptoms of epulis in dogs
Epulis doesn’t necessarily cause specific clinical signs, at least not initially, which means that pet parents might not feel alarmed when the first symptoms begin affecting their dogs.
Some dogs can drool more than usual or be a little lethargic now and then, especially at the start of the progression of the disease. Once it does become more severe, you may be able to notice some of the following symptoms:
- Jaw bone inflammation
- Local pain
- Absence of appetite
- A visible change in the dog’s teeth location
- Visible growths on the gums or in between the teeth
- Loss of teeth
- Bad breath
- Oral bleeding
Not all dogs that have growths in their mouths suffer from epulis. There are other types of oral cancer that can affect our canine companions, with some of the most common ones being squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, for example.
The first time you take your dog to the animal hospital, the vet will start by performing a physical examination of your dog’s mouth. This can be challenging, especially for pets who have inflammation or local pain, so your dog may need to be mildly sedated.
After the physical examination, the vet will perform regular tests that you can expect even when you normally take your dog to the clinic every year – such as blood biochemistry and a complete blood count.
Despite some types of epulis growing in a single place and surgery being a quite good option, it’s always a good idea to have a piece of the tissue collected and sent out to the lab so that an accurate diagnosis is made (a biopsy).
A veterinary oncologist or anatomopathologist can discover the exact type of growth that your dog has in their mouth. And the reason why the accuracy of the diagnosis is so important is that the vet can then recommend a specific therapy based on it.
Can epulides be treated?
As we previously mentioned, not all epulides respond to the same therapies. In most cases, performing local surgery, sometimes with the extraction of one or two teeth along with the complete removal of the affected tissue, can prove to be a good solution.
However, in the absence of a correct diagnosis, this procedure does not guarantee that no other growth may appear in your dog’s mouth in the future.
Despite being somewhat painful, radiation therapy may be a reasonable choice, especially for epulis that may have already affected part of the bone. This type of treatment is also beneficial in terms of preventing the regrowth of the cancerous tissue. Cryosurgery can be another option depending on the nature of the epulides diagnosed.
Depending on whether or not the dog went through an operation, if they have stitches, if they are a senior or the general health status of their oral tissue, the recovery process could last anything between 4-5 days to two weeks or more.
Unfortunately, when it comes to epulis, frequent visits to the vet clinic are the best way to prevent the growths from becoming practically impossible to manage.
Is there any way to prevent epulis in dogs?
It’s practically impossible to tell whether a dog is genetically predisposed to developing epulis later on in their life. However, if they’re brachycephalic, chances are that they at least have a chance of developing this form of cancer.
Even though it is benign, some forms can be very aggressive (particularly the acanthomatous type), so they may require more aggressive therapies (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery sometimes all combined).
Until veterinary medicine evolves even more than it did in the past decades, the best way of going about things would be to ensure that your dog is seen by a vet twice a year (or three times a year in their senior years).