Peter needs mouth tumor removed

Q: “Peter” is my sweet little shelter dog. My husband and I adopted him five-to-six years ago. We were at the vet last week for his annual visit, and she found a tumor in Peter’s mouth. We had not seen it, so I have no idea how long it has been there. She wants Peter to have surgery, but we’re not sure about that. Can you tell us more? L.R., Farragut

A: Peter sounds like a special boy. Surgically removing the tumor is best to be sure the tumor is benign and not malignant. If that is not possible due to location and/or size, your vet can take a biopsy or remove part of the tumor for analysis.

Some tumors next to a tooth can simply be an epulis, an overgrowth of gingiva tissue (gums) secondary to chronic inflammation from dental tartar and/or gingivitis. There are different types of epulides. Some are larger and firmer and difficult to remove completely. Even though they are benign, some can invade the bone.

If your vet has a concern that the tumor could be malignant, she may recommend checking the lymph nodes and doing chest X-rays before surgery to evaluate for possible metastasis.

There are other tumors that can develop that are not related to the teeth that are more worrisome. Oral melanomas are the most common oral cancer in dogs; they are typically black in color, but not always. There are irregular in shape, occasionally ulcerated and bleed easily. These are almost always malignant, and metastatic rate is high. It’s good to note that there is a really good treatment option for melanoma patients, a melanoma vaccine that can be administered by a veterinary oncologist.

Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most common type of oral cancer in dogs, and the most common in cats. These tumors can grow quite large and be fairly invasive, although they have low metastatic rates.

Consider speaking more with your veterinarian regarding Peter. There are benign oral tumors, and most owners want to know their pet’s prognosis. Surgery could also make him more comfortable. Best of luck to you both and Peter.

Questions about your pet? E-mail Dr. Myers at