Although oral cancer (mouth cancer) can be seen in dogs of any age, the most common age for a dog to be diagnosed with oral cancer is 11 years. Here, our Huntersville specialty vets explain some symptoms to watch for, and the available treatments for this disease.
What is oral cancer?
Like a person's, your dog's mouth is made up of a number of different types of cells such as skin cells, fibrous cells, and bone cells. When cancer is present these cells change and begin to divide without control forming tumors (groups of abnormal cells that form lumps or growths) and invading nearby tissues.
Some forms of cancer grow slowly and are less likely to spread to other areas in the body, whereas other cancer cells (malignant or metastatic tumors) are more aggressive and can quickly begin to spread throughout your pet's body.
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 size, type and location of your dog's tumor, as well as the cancer's propensity to spread, oral cancer tumors in dogs can be darker in color than the surrounding tissue (pigmented) or non-pigmented, they could also appear as smooth lumps or be 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 tends to be the most successful treatment of oral cancer in dogs. If the cancer is diagnosed early and the tumor is easy for the vet to access, surgery may even be curative.
For other dogs surgery may need to include the removal of a large portion of the jaw in order to try and eliminate all or most of the cancer cells.
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).
That said, if you're dog's oral cancer isn't detected until the later stages, there is a good chance that the cancer will have already spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. Sadly, dogs who are diagnosed in later stages may only live for another 6 months to 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.