Although mouth cancer—or oral cancer—can be found in dogs of any age, it is most common in dogs 11 years old or older. Here, our Oakland vets explain some of the symptoms of this disease you should look out for and the treatments that are available.
What is oral cancer?
Like a person's mouth, your dog's is composed of a number of different cells, including skin cells, bone cells and fibrous cells. When cancer is present in your pup's mouth, these cells begin to change and divide without control, forming tumors and invading tissues.
Some kinds of cancer grow slowly and have a reduced chance to be spread to other areas of the body. Other cancer cells are more aggressive and may quickly spread from one part of your pet's body to another.
In dogs, the most common types of oral cancer are are melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and fibrosarcoma.
What causes oral cancer in dogs?
In most cases it's not possible to determine the cause. However, a variety of genetic and environmental risk factors are typically at the root of mouth cancers in dogs. Breeds with a somewhat elevated risk of developing the disease seem to include weimaraners, German shepherds, boxers, chows, and miniature poodles.
What does cancer look like in a dog's mouth?
The average age of dogs diagnosed with oral cancer is 11 years, although oral cancer can be seen in dogs of any age. Which is why it's important know the signs of this disease and act quickly if your dog is showing symptoms of mouth cancer.
If your dog has oral tumors they may appear as swellings or lumps on the gums around the teeth, or on the roof of their mouth, although they can appear anywhere in the dog's mouth. These tumors will often break open and bleed which can lead to infection.
Depending on the type, location and size of your dog's tumor, as well as their kind of cancer's predisposition to spreading, oral cancer in dogs may appear darker than the surrounding tissue. It may also appear as smooth lumps or more cauliflower-like in appearance.
What are the most common symptoms of mouth cancer in dogs?
In dog's, the most common signs of oral cancer include: bad breath, excessive drooling, bleeding from the mouth, trouble chewing, obvious signs of oral pain, loose teeth, visible lump or mass inside of the mouth, swollen areas of the face, reluctance to eat and weight loss.
What is the treatment for oral cancer in dogs?
Surgery is generally the best treatment for oral cancer in dogs. If the cancer is caught early and the tumor is easily accessible for your vet, surgery could even cure your pup.
For some dogs though, surgery may require the removal of a large portion of their jaw to get the most cancer cells possible.
While chemotherapy isn't generally considered effective as a treatment for mouth cancer in dogs, your vet may recommend radiation therapy or immunotherapy following surgery, to help kill cancer cells and allow your pet to recover.
Radiation can also be used in place of surgery if the tumor is too difficult to reach, or too advanced, to be removed by your veterinary oncologist, or can be used to supplement surgical treatment. Radiation for oral cancer in dogs can cause redness, inflammation or ulceration of the mouth in some cases, but these symptoms typically clear up about a week after the radiation is administered.
How Long Can dogs live with oral cancer?
Early diagnosis and treatment are the key to good outcomes. If a tumor is detected early, depending on the type of cancer and the location, there is a possibility that the tumor could be surgically removed, allowing your dog to live happily for many years (approximately 5-17 years).
If your dog's oral cancer isn't detected until its later stages, there is quite a good chance that their cancer will have already spread to other parts of your pup's body. Sadly, dogs who are diagnosed in their cancer's later stages may only live for another 6 month or year.
Left untreated, the prognosis for dogs with oral cancer is very poor with an average survival time of 65 days.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.