Mouth tumors can cause blockages that make chewing and swallowing difficult for dogs. Surgical removal of tumors is frequently required for a dog’s survival, although it isn’t always achievable depending on the nature and location of the tumor.
The good news is that not every tumor will develop into full-blown mouth cancer. Tumors can be classified into two groups: benign and malignant.
Benign tumors are noncancerous growths that, in most cases, can be surgically removed. These growths are usually firmly marked at the margins, with no intrusive growth into bones or other tissues like those observed in malignant tumors. Tumors that are benign rarely spread to other parts of the body.
An epulis is the most common benign tumor found in dogs. These tumor types are often found on the periodontal ligament.
Malignant tumors are cancerous and can spread quickly over the surrounding area. Surgical removal becomes difficult, if not impossible, as a result. Malignancies also tend to “spread” or metastasize by producing cells that travel through the bloodstream and take hold and grow in other parts of the body.
The most common oral cancer types in dogs include:
The most prevalent oral cancer in dogs is malignant melanoma. It is quite intrusive, which makes surgical removal difficult. It also spreads quickly, so by the time a dog lover notices something is amiss, cancer has most likely moved to other sections of the body. Even if the melanoma is limited to the mouth, the tumors can be quite uncomfortable for your dog and restrict them from eating.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas
These tumors can develop quickly, but they usually stay put in one location and do not spread.
These tumors are similar to squamous cell carcinomas in that they don’t usually spread until late in their development.
These tumors can be very aggressive and inflict a lot of damage to the surrounding tissues of the mouth, but they seldom spread.
Diagnosis And Traditional Treatment
The key to boosting the success rate in the treatment of all mouth cancers in dogs is early detection. It is sometimes too late to help a dog who is beginning to exhibit signs of illness, so it pays to be vigilant.
Clinical signs of oral cancer in dogs include:
- Abnormal lumps or growths in the mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Abnormal discharge coming from the mouth
- Sores or white lesions in the mouth
- Difficulty chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain and tenderness
- Excessive drooling
- Bad breath
Your veterinarian will do a biopsy of the tumor as well as additional tests such as blood work, X-rays, CT scans, or ultrasounds in order to make a diagnosis. The cost of a biopsy will vary depending on whether your veterinarian can do a small needle aspiration without surgery or whether surgery is required to access the tumor and acquire a sample.
In western medicine, the most effective mouth cancer treatments for dogs include:
- Surgical removal of the tumor or growth
- Freezing the tumor (cryosurgery)
The Melanoma Vaccine
ONCEPT® Melanoma is a Merial-developed vaccine that helps prolong the lives of dogs with stage II or stage III oral cancer. ONCEPT is given to dogs diagnosed with oral cancer to boost their body’s immunity to cancer cells, unlike a vaccine that prevents the disease from arising. According to Merial’s studies, the vaccine can extend a dog’s life by one to two years if the dog also receives surgery or radiation treatment. ONCEPT is only available through a veterinary oncologist, and the cost will vary according to your veterinarian’s fee schedule, but you can expect to pay around $2,800.
Early Detection is Critical
The news that your dog has cancer can be devastating, but regular exams of your dog’s mouth will help you and your veterinarian detect any anomalies as soon as humanly feasible. While you should do routine checks yourself, visits to the veterinarian for their checkups can help in early detection as well.
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