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Epulis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment

Laura García Ortiz
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. July 2, 2024
Epulis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment

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Finding a lump in your dog's mouth should be worrying to any guardian. While it suggests there may be the presence of a tumor, it is also possible they have serious periodontal problem such as an abscessed tooth. These are not only uncomfortable and sometimes very painful, they can threaten the dog's life. If we see an epulis in your dog's mouth, the growth can look very serious, but it is important to know it is usually benign. It is the most common type of oral growth in dogs with a prevalence of around 25-30%. It is most common in older dogs and is often first noticed when the dog develops discomfort or difficulty when chewing.

At AnimalWised, we discover the causes and treatment of epulis in dogs. We find out the symptoms that accompany a benign lump in a dog's mouth, as well as what risks tot he canine's health may be involved.

You may also be interested in: Eclampsia in Dogs - Causes and Treatment
  1. What is epulis in dogs?
  2. Symptoms of epulis in dogs
  3. Types of epulis in dogs
  4. Causes of epulis in dogs
  5. Is epulis in dogs contagious?
  6. Diagnosis of epulis in dogs
  7. Epulis in dogs treatment

What is epulis in dogs?

While rare in felines, epulis in dogs are the most common type of benign neoplasm (tumor) which can appear in a dog's mouth. They consist of non-cancerous growths on the gums due to cell proliferation. Originating in the connective tissue of the periodontal ligament, the lump is generally located on the labial margin of the tooth or in the interdental space.

Canine epulis are usually isolated, firm masses with progressive growth. Although most are usually harmless, some can cause discomfort or pain to the affected dog. Especially when the size is large or they are very close to the teeth, they can even prevent the dog from eating solid food. Epulis are tumors or cellular masses that appear on the gums of dogs, but they do not originate from the teeth.

Although epulis are usually benign, they do pose some risk to the dog's health. This is not only due to the difficulty in eating, but also the damage it can cause to healthy oral tissue including teeth and the possibility of secondary infection. They also share symptoms of benign oral tumors which can directly threaten the dog's health. For this reason, it is vital we take a dog to the veterinarian for a differential diagnosis and treatment administration.

In addition to oral masses, you can learn more about the different types of lumps in dogs.

Epulis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment - What is epulis in dogs?
Image: Veterinary Clinic

Symptoms of epulis in dogs

Although the main symptom of an epulis in dogs is the presence of benign growths, they can cause concurrent symptoms. These are often as a result of oral agitation. Oral mucosa, teeth and other tissues are also very sensitive. Despite dogs being adept at hiding pain, the sensitivity of their mouths means they will eventually show signs of discomfort.

The clinical signs of epulis in dogs include the following:

  • Visible lumps or growths on the dog's gum with a smooth or rough surface
  • Lumps are light pink to dark red in color and can be of any size
  • Bad breath that can be caused by the accumulation of bacteria in and around the growth
  • Gingival bleeding due to biting or chewing the growths
  • Difficulty chewing or eating due to the lumps
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Behavioral changes such as greater irritability, withdrawal and less desire to play
  • Facial swelling due to the inflammation when lumps grow near the teeth and cause infection
  • Hypersalivation or sialorrhea
  • Weight loss from eating less due to difficulty eating or pain

Learn about another area where growths often occur in dogs with our article on why a dog has a lump on their neck.

Types of epulis in dogs

The term epulis is non-specific. It refers to a range of oral growths in dogs which fit the description of a non-cancerous growth arising from the gingival tissues. While they are non-cancerous, each type of epulis can cause certain risks to their health. For this reason, we can classify epulis in dogs into the following types:

  • Fibrous epulis in dogs: it is the most common type of epulis in Boxer dogs and consists of a group of cells from the stroma of the periodontal ligament. These epulis in dogs usually have a pedunculated shape.
  • Epulis ossificans in dogs: they originate from the same cell type as in the previous case, but they also present a high amount of an osteoid-type matrix in the stroma of the periodontal ligament. They are characterized by slow growth, being somewhat qualified and having a broader base.
  • Acanthomatous epulis in dogs: these also presents the same type of cells as in the two previous cases, but with a clear difference. They behave invasively and can produce osteolysis (a form of bone destruction). Being a benign tumor, it does not produce metastasis, but local recurrences frequently occur. The treatment of these epulis in dogs must be surgical due to their aggressive nature.

Causes of epulis in dogs

The underlying causes of epulis in dogs are not well understood, but they are known to have some genetic influence[1]. This can be seen in its greater prevalence in certain breeds such as the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd and certain brachycephalic dog breeds such as the Boxer. Despite poor knowledge of its pathogenesis, the following factors influence epulis in dogs:

  • Age and immune system: older dogs have a higher prevalence of developing epulis mainly due to the natural weakness of the immune system which accompany advanced age and a greater susceptibility to the development of various diseases. This also includes dogs of any age with a weakened immune system due to illness or starvation.
  • Genetic influence: hereditary factors may influence the development of epulis, in addition to a certain breed disposition.
  • Oral lesions and oral hygiene: inadequate dental hygiene predisposes to the accumulation of tartar and inflammation of the gums, increasing the risk of the canine developing epulides.
  • Hormonal imbalances: there are some hormonal disorders such as hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's syndrome in dogs that can also promote the growth of this tumor.
  • Chronic oral inflammation: oral injuries as a result of biting very hard objects can cause wounds in the mouth and gums that can result in some type of abnormal growth in the healing process.

Is epulis in dogs contagious?

No, epulis tumors in dogs are never contagious. It is not an infectious disease caused by a bacterial, viral, parasitic or fungal etiological agent that can be transmitted from dog to dog or even from dog to people. These diseases dogs can transfer to humans are known as zoonoses.

In the case of epulis in dogs, it is a tumor. This means it is an overproliferation of cells in the dog's body that multiply faster than normal, accumulating to form a mass or growth of tissue. Learn more about the different types of tumors in dogs which can affect canines.

Diagnosis of epulis in dogs

To diagnose epulis in dogs, you must go to a veterinary center for examination and assessment by a veterinary professional. This will begin with an extensive oral examination. They will be able to detect the epulis due to the degree of surrounding inflammation. They can also observe the rest of the mouth to see if there are any other lesions or alterations.

Since there are other types of oral tumors in dogs, it is likely the veterinarian will require other diagnostic tests to determine the nature of the lump. These may include a biopsy to determine the types of cells in the growth or an x-ray to see if the dental roots have been affected. The latter will also help assess the condition of the bones around the mouth.

A differential diagnosis helps to determine whether the dog has epulis or another disease with similar symptoms. These include oral papilloma, melanosarcoma and gingival hyperplasia. Since an epulis is a type of tumor, it should be easily differentiated from oral inflammation such as gingivitis in dogs.

Epulis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment - Diagnosis of epulis in dogs

Epulis in dogs treatment

The treatment of epulis in dogs can be medical or surgical, the latter being the most commonly performed to address this mouth problem in dogs. When determining the best treatment for a dog's epulis, factors such as location, size, number of tumors and degree of impact on the teeth are taken into account.

Medical treatment of epulis in dogs

To reduce inflammation, mitigate pain or to prepare the tissue for later surgery, anti-inflammatory medications may be administered. The use of antibiotics may also be recommended in the event of infection or to prevent subsequent infectious processes. Learn about one type of anti-inflammatory which may be used in our article on carprofen for dogs.

In addition, good oral hygiene and periodic check-ups at the veterinarian should be performed. These will help to reduce inflammation and prevent future epulis development.

Surgical treatment of epulis in dogs

Epulis removal surgery is the most effective and frequent treatment method in the therapy of this canine health problem. This surgery is performed under general anesthesia in which the surgeon carefully removes the masses with a simple excision in cases of small growths. An extended excision is needed when the masses are larger in order to remove all the overgrown tissue. Sometimes the extraction of bone parts or adjacent teeth is necessary.

When surgery is not possible, cryotherapy or laser therapy can be used which allows for more precise removal of growths. These may reduce the risk of infection and bleeding, as well as speed up tissue recovery.

If you want to discover other oral health problems in canines, take a look at our article on why a dog has rotting teeth.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Epulis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.


1. Gardner, D. G., & Baker, D. C. (1991). Fibromatous epulis in dogs and peripheral odontogenic fibroma in human beings: two equivalent lesions. Oral surgery, oral medicine, and oral pathology, 71(3), 317–321.

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Epulis in Dogs - Causes and Treatment