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An oral tumor is an abnormal growth of cells in the mouth. Oral tumors account for around 6% of all canine tumors, including both benign and malignant tumors. The most common oral tumors in dogs include: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, sarcomas, and ameloblastomas.

Oral tumors in dogs are typically found on the roof of the mouth or around the gums, but they can be located anywhere in the mouth.

They tend to grow very quickly—often involving the underlying bone—and some varieties readily spread to other areas of the body.

Male dogs appear to be twice as likely to develop oral cancer than female dogs. Several breeds seem to be more predisposed to oral cancers including Boxer Dogs, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Golden Retrievers, Gordon Setters, Miniature Poodles, and Weimaraners.

It is important to diagnose tumors as early as possible. Frequent inspection of the mouth at home is the best way to monitor for oral growths. Monitoring for oral growths can easily be paired with daily tooth brushing.

Causes of Oral Tumors in Dogs

The reason why a particular dog develops this, or any tumor is not straightforward. Very few tumors and cancers have a single known cause. Most seem to be caused by a complex mix of risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Tumors in Dogs

Typically, oral cancers are found in geriatric canines. Occurrences of the sickness in males and females are generally equal and there is no breed predilection.

Watch for the following clinical signs of oral cancer:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Difficulty eating
  • Drooling
  • Head-shy
  • Lethargy (may also indicate something other than oral tumors)
  • Not wanting to eat on one side
  • Ropey saliva with or without blood
  • Weight loss (may also indicate something other than oral tumors)


The diagnosis of canine oral tumors may require multiple steps. Cytology or fine needle aspirate may provide a diagnosis in some tumor types, such as squamous cell carcinoma. However, in other tumor types (ie. melanoma), cytology may be unrewarding. Melanomas can appear cytologically similar to round cells, epithelial cells, or mesenchymal cells. Oral cavity sarcomas often do not exfoliate well,limiting the diagnostic benefit of cytology. More commonly, a biopsy is necessary to provide a definitive diagnosis. Melanomas remain elusive and can be a diagnostic challenge due to cell shape and the possibility of the tumor being amelanotic. It is often necessary to consider immunohistochemistry (IHC) to provide the definitive diagnosis in oral melanoma.


The treatment for all forms of oral tumors involves aggressive surgical excision. It may also involve chemotherapy and/or radiation.

As you know now oral cancer is a serious condition that requires timely diagnostic and treatment. Your veterinarian will recommend the course of treatment or will refer you to an oncologist. Either way finding oral masses earlier than later increases the treatment options and provides for a longer survival time for your pet


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