Epulis: a gum problem seen mainly in boxers.

Tilly aged 1 year and Martha aged nearly 11

Tilly aged 1 year and Martha aged nearly 11

Although I love dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds, I do have a bit of a soft spot for boxers. We have owned one or more for over 20 years.

Personality-wise, you might describe the boxer as a mixture of boisterousness, joyfulness, fearlessness, even brainlessness, but with a huge enthusiasm for everything about life.

All breeds have certain conditions to which they are pre-disposed, that is, more likely to suffer from than their friends of other breeds. One such condition in boxers is epulis, a lumpy overgrowth of gum tissue. Other breeds can get epulis, but not as commonly as in boxers.

Epulis is a benign growth of the gum tissue, which begins as small bumps on the gums and continues to grow, sometimes becoming cauliflower-like and almost enveloping some of the teeth. Unlike a malignant growth, it does not spread to other areas of the body. It can cause problems when the growths become large and when food and bacteria become trapped in the crevices, causing infection, a bad smell and sometimes bleeding. Sometimes the centre of the growth will become quite solid and almost bone-like.

Removal may be necessary if it is extensive or causing these problems. It is carried out under general anaesthetic to prevent pain and to allow access to all the affected areas of the mouth. The growths are simply cut away, either with a surgical blade, or more commonly, by thermocautery or electrocautery. These techniques seal blood vessels as they cut and so prevent bleeding. Thermocautery uses heat to do this, and electrocautery uses an electric current running through the cutting instrument.

Pain relief is usually given after the procedure and any infection will be treated with antibiotics. Examination under a microscope of the removed tissue (histopathology) may be advisable as it can be difficult to distinguish from other types of mouth tumour with the naked eye.

The condition is likely to re-occur given time. Martha, for example, has had two anaesthetics in her life for the removal of epulis, and each time she has also had some minor dental work done. She currently has a lovely full set of nearly-pearly-white teeth and healthy gums.

Jenny Sheriff BVM&S  MRCVS

If you are concerned that your dog may have an epulis you should consult your vet for advice. Use the interactive symptom guide if you are unsure how urgently you need an appointment.

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