Oral Swellings in Dogs

By Lorraine Hiscox DVM FAVD Dip. AVDC; Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

What causes oral swellings in dogs?

Oral swellings are never normal. There are many causes of oral swellings including local trauma, infection, fluid accumulation, and tumors.

Above: Benign tumor surrounding premolar tooth.
Below: Swelling over broken cheek tooth.


What should I do if I see a swelling in my dog's mouth?

Book an appointment to have your dog examined by your veterinarian. Some swellings can be painful to touch, so to protect yourself from being bitten, do not touch the swelling.

What will my veterinarian do?

Your veterinarian first needs to determine the cause of the swelling. Unless the cause is obvious from a visual examination, diagnostic tests are required. Typically, diagnostic tests include intraoral radiographs (X-rays) and some form of cell or tissue sampling of the oral swelling. Additional laboratory tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) and a serum biochemistry profile may also be performed.

Depending on the nature of the swelling it may be possible to obtain a sample under sedation but more often, your pet will need a general anesthetic in order to obtain a biopsy. Various techniques include a fine needle aspiration (FNA) or a biopsy. The sample will be sent to a laboratory for evaluation.


Left: Before surgery showing facial and eye swelling due to an oral tumor. Right: After surgery.

How are oral swellings treated and what is the prognosis?

Treatment depends entirely on the underlying cause of the swelling or oral mass. For example, cysts are fluid-filled structures that may respond well to relatively minor surgery. More serious swellings such as those arising from tumors may require more advanced imaging such as a CT or MRI and ultimately more extensive surgery. The biopsy is critical in directing appropriate treatment.

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