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Help, My Dog Has Enlarged, Swollen Gums

My Dog Has Swollen Gums, What's Causing it?

If your dog has enlarged, swollen gums, you are right to be concerned. Enlarged gums in dogs can be caused by a variety of problems and most of them will require veterinary attention. In some cases, the swollen gums may arise abruptly, almost out of the blue, while in others the swollen gums may have been present for quite some time. In either case, it's important having the vet take a look at the gums so to determine the underlying cause and institute the most appropriate treatment plan.

dog gingival enlargement

Picture of dog swollen gums

Gingival Enlargement in Dogs

The medical term for enlarged, swollen gums is gingival enlargement. "Gingival" is a medical term used to depict anything that concerns the gums, while "enlargement" simply means an increase in size of an organ or tissue.

Dog owners often notice that the dog's gum tissue appears thickened and often, along with the swelling, there is also presence of redness. All gums may appear swollen or the swelling may be isolated to a localized area or only one, single gum. Gums may be so slightly swollen or severely swollen so that they almost completely cover the crowns of the teeth.

While gingival enlargement refers to enlarged, swollen gums, this medical term is not a diagnosis, but just indicative of a condition. The term should not be confuses with gingival hyperplasia  which is the enlargementof gum tissuedue to an increased number of cells.

If your dog has swollen, enlarged gums, it is therefore important seeing the vet so to determined what is causing the swelling in the first place. Often times, the swelling will not subside until the underlying cause is addressed.

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A Case of Gingivitis

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Gingivitis is the medical term for the inflammation of a dog's gums. In this case, the dog's gums may be inflamed because of underlying gum disease triggered by presence of tartar (mineralized substance forming from plaque) that settles along the gum line.

Left untreated, ginigivitis can progress to periodontal disease which can cause the gums to separate from the tooth. Bad breath, bleeding gums, painful chewing, drooling and pawing at the mouth may be signs suggesting the onset of periodontal disease. It is estimated that 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have periodontal disease.

The affected gums may form "pockets" secondary to the inflammation from accumulated plaque and tartar leading to loss of bone structure and even tooth loss. On top of this, bacteria from the gums may travel to the dog's bloodstream and reach distant organs such as the dog's heart and kidneys.

Gingivitis can be reversed with routine dental cleanings, but in some cases, if the affected dog has developed periodontal pockets, surgical intervention may be needed. The procedure is called "gingivoplasty."

An Inherited Disorder

In some dogs, gingival hyperplasia can be an inherited disorder that is often seen in the boxer breed. Other affected breeds include basset hounds, great Danes, collies, Doberman pinschers and Dalmatians. While this condition may not necessarily cause particular problems, it can contribute to periodontal disease and harbor infection when the gum issue gets caught between the teeth. In some cases the swollen gums can completely cover the dog's smaller teeth, explains veterinarian Dr. Tad.  The extra tissue in affected dogs can be removed surgically, but there are chances that the overgrowth may recur.

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At this time, the genes responsible for this type of gum disorder have not been isolated, however, breeders that see occurrence of hyperplasia in their breeding stock, should start considering removing affected dogs from their breeding program to prevent it from being potentially passed down to future generations.

Effect of Medications

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Certain medications may cause swollen gums in dogs as a side effect. These include cyclosporine, calcium channel blockers and certain anti-seizure medications, explains Dr John Lewis, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in veterinary dentistry. In particular, the calcium channel blocker amlodipine (Norvasc) seems to have been associated with cases of gingival hyperplasia in dogs.

In these cases, once the dog is taken off the drug or switched to another, the enlarged gums tends to subside in about 2 to 3 weeks, explains Dr. Daniel T. Carmichael, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in veterinary dentistry.

In stubborn cases, where one month goes by and the swelling doesn't subside a one-time treatment of gingivectomy surgery may solve the issue. However, the problem seems to have a tendency to quickly recur when it is not possible to switch drugs or stop the medication.

dog masses in mouth

Presence of Masses

In some cases, the gums appear swollen because of the presence of masses. A common type of mass that can grow on a dog's gums is a fibroma. While fibromas are benign masses that are often found growing on the dog's gums, it's important having the masses removed and sent off to a lab for histopathologic diagnosis so to rule out any malignant tumors of the gums explains Patricia March, a dental technician working for the Animal Dental Center in Baltimore, Md.

Other possible masses are epulis, benign smooth growths which can sometimes get quite large and may need to be removed as they can sometimes be interfering with the mouth. Warts are other benign growths sometimes seen on a dog's gums, particularly in younger dogs, but these tend to have a jagged appearance that is often compared to resemble a sea anemone. Squamous cell carcinomas are malignant mouth cancers in dogs that need to be ruled out because of their risk.

Other Possible Causes

Temporary swelling of the gums may sometimes be noticed if the gums undergo some type of injury. Chewing bones, hard toys or other items can cause the gums to get inflamed, swollen and painful, but this tends to subside shortly. However, repeated bleeding and redness of gums needs to be evaluated for underlying gum disease. In some cases, swelling of the gums can be attributed to allergies. At times, the underlying cause of the gingival enlargement remains unknown, in which case it's referred to as idiopathic.


  • DVM360: Is gingival hyperplasia reversible?
  • DVM360: A Boxer with Gingival Hyperplasia
  • Veterinary Practice News: What to do When Gums Overgrow Their Boundaries

Photo Credits:

  • Wikipedia, Joel Mills - Own work Gingival hyperplasia in a nine year old Boxer dog seen in both the upper and lower gingiva, CC BY-SA 3.0

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