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Top Five Panic Appointments (That Don’t Have to Be…)

August 28, 2011
Stunning orange and black cat with round green eyes looks over her shoulder at the camera as if to say, "I'm mildly interested, but not enough to turn around."

Stunning Tortoiseshell Samantha

VirtuaVet’s Top Five Panic Appointments

Do not laugh.  Many people wonder about these things, but often do not have the courage to ask.

Number One: Bump in the Mouth

“Doc, my dog has this bump on the roof of his mouth that I never noticed before.  Is it cancer?”

Doc Truli: “Is it in the middle, just behind the two middle teeth?”

“Yes!  How did you know?”

“That’s the ‘incisive papilla,'” sad Doc Truli.

The what?

So, here’s the deal: just behind the two middle incisors, there’s a bump in cat and dog mouths called the incisive (from the word incisor) papilla (bump).  Near the center of it, there’s a hole leading to a duct (sometimes not patent, or open in some pets).  That duct leads to Jacobson’s organ, otherwise known as the vomeronasal organ (pronounced: vo- mare- oh).  That organ lives in the septum of the nose and connects directly to the amygdala (pronounced ah-migg-da-luh).  The amygdala is the seat of emotions in the brain.  This means the incisive papilla gives your pet direct access to the emotions through a chemical analysis of the molecules that make their way up the incisive duct.  Molecules like pheromones are thought to be analyzed this way.

Some scientists argue that humans have a Jacobson’s organ, too.  The evidence is not agreed upon, but yours Truli believes we must, after all, we respond to pheromones, too!

Number Two: Orange Burnt Spot on a Foot

Samantha’s mom plopped the elegant tortoiseshell domestic short-haired cat down on Doc Truli’s silver stainless-steel table.

“Doc, she’s got this pad that looks like it was burnt.  I feel so guilty.  I never managed to teach her not to walk on the kitchen counters and all I can think is she must have burnt her pad on the stove,” Samantha’s mom gushed in a panic.

Samantha just slow-blinked at Doc Truli.  (You know, that sensual slow, relaxed, long blink a confident, happy cat gives you, if you are lucky.)  There’s no way this cat’s in pain…

Doc Truli already knew what was “wrong” with the pad.  But a good physical exam – on the off-chance something weird was going on – was in order.  The paw with the offending pad waited until last.  Doc turned over the pad.  Sure enough, just as she suspected!

“What is it?  Is it bad?  Is it cancer,” said Samantha’s mom.

“It’s normal,” said Doc Truli. “She’s a calico, not a tortoiseshell.”

“What?” Samantha’s mom was confused. (Doc Truli confuses people a little bit on purpose sometimes.  It helps scramble their preconceptions and leaves them open to new information that they need in order to understand and help their pets.)

“A cat with orange and black like her is a tortoiseshell, right?” said Doc.

“Of course,” said Sam’s mom.

“However, if there is even one spot of white, or one spot of pink pad, then the kitty goes from being called a perfect tortoiseshell to being called a very bad calico,” said Doc Truli.  (Cat breeders out there know what Doc is saying.)  “Samantha has one pink pad; she’s a calico.”

And then Doc knew Samantha’s mom was gathering herself and realizing she just never noticed that particular pad before because she said, “Are you sure?”

Number Three: Black and Pink Bumps on Gums of Cats or Dogs

The bump is the frenulum just behind the canine teeth on the bottom jaw, sometimes there's an oval raised part to it that feels like a tumor to a pet parent

These black spots are normal.

Tigger’s dad said, “There are these black spots on the edges of Tigger’s lips. Plus, I think there’s on starting on his eyelid, too.”

Doc Truli took a look.  After all, pets can develop melanoma just like people can.  However, oftentimes, a black, smooth irregular mark on the lips or the eyelid on a white, red-head, or calico/tortoiseshell cat is a normal aging change.

“Lucky for Tigger, that’s a normal aging change.  He’ll get more when he’s older,” said Doc.  “And in case you were wondering and you were afraid to say the word out loud because you didn’t want to bring it into existence, I’ll say it: It’s not cancer.”

Tigger’s dad let out a huge breath, like he’d been holding his breathe ever since he first noticed the spots.

There’s one other, related lump that is not a lump in cats and dogs, but mostly it looks stunning to people in cats.  Just behind the canine teeth on the bottom, there’s extra skin called a frenulum (pronounced fren-you-lum).  Especially in cats, it usually has an oval to round flat raised smooth area near the middle of it.  Lots of people do not notice that spot until just suddenly, one day, it comes onto their radar.  Then they panic and come in for a cancer check.

It’s amazing how much is in the world that we blank out every day!

Number Four: Horn Growing Out of ______ (the Head is a Shocking Place)

Max’s mom looked worried.  She was piled into her wheelchair, with three supportive family members crowded in Doc Truli’s examination room.  A confused white short-haired cat sat on her lap in the middle of the chaos.

Doc Truli could see the questionable problem right away.  Max, the white cat, had a cutaneous horn growing straight up out of the top of his head.  In all fairness, there’s really no way his mom could know it was not a problem.

Doc felt the 2 inch long horn.  It felt like soft toenail material.  A nail trimmer trimmed it short with no bleeding.  It was not red and sore at the base.  Doc said, “It will grow back, and you can keep cutting it down so it’s not in the way.  Or, I can perform a minor surgery and remove the root of it.”

“Do we have to have surgery?  We don’t have money for that,” said Max’s worried mom.

“You know what?  NO, you can just keep trimming it.  It doesn’t hurt him,” said Doc Truli.

Max’s mom still looked worried.  She hadn’t let out that breath of relief. So Doc decided to let her off the hook with three little words.

“It’s not cancer,” said the Doc.

“Oh thank God,” cried Max’s mom.  She and her three support characters balled their eyes out in relief.  They loved Max so much, they were too afraid to ask.  Doc Truli just had to know what was in their hearts and relieve their suffering with those magic words everybody likes to hear, “It’s not cancer.”

Finally, Number Five: My Cat’s Not Acting Right

“Doc, Merlin just hasn’t been the same since he got out,” said Jack, Merlin’s dad.  The calm black cat with big yellow eyes stared up at Doc Truli.  He seemed unfazed.

I know what you, dear reader, are thinking.  You are thinking, a change in behavior is a classic sign of illness in a cat.  And there are so many diseases cats can pick up outside.  Plus accidents.  Heck, a cat bite wound is the most common reason for a cat acting strangely after being outside.

You are right, dear reader.  However, a good veterinarian never misses the point.

“Uh, Jack.  Isn’t Merlin a year old?” asked Doc Truli.

“Yep.” said Jack.

“And didn’t I neuter him about, oh, say, 6 months ago?”


“Jack, this cat is a mature, unneutered male cat,” said Doc Truli.

Jack blinked.  “Well, heck, I’ve been feeding this cat for 4 days.  Sleeping in the bed with him and everything.  You mean to tell me, that’s not Merlin?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.  This here is a totally different cat!” said Doc Truli.

Merlin returned home the next night and a neighbor adopted Merlin-too.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2016 4:49 am

    I originally got onto reading this article because my dog has this very noticeable lump on the roof of the mouth between the two large incisors, I was recently 10 Yeats ago, diagnosed with a Torus that had for some reason got adjetated, my doctor told me that Torus are common and only found on females. I was told the best course of action was leave it alone and do nothing because removal will just further adjetate it and it will grow back oftentimes bigger than before, and the growing period as well as post surgery is extremely painful, many doctors won’t even consider removing it. Since my dog is a female I was wondering if dog’s could have Toruses only to find out that the lump in her mouth is normal for a different reason. And I found that last reason number five, was hilarious, the cat wasn’t their cat, when I was a kid my cat got out, while I was at camp, and my dad after days of looking for him (he too, was neutered ), went out and bought a new cat that looked like mine, I was 13 years old not 6, I noticed right away the cat wasn’t mine, this cat was an orange tabby just like mine, but he was not Mestrio, for he wasn’t neutered. My dad had no choice but to come clean, my Me, came home less than a day later, my dad liked Metwo,and had him neutered as well, the two cats were the best of pals, Metwo died at the old age of at least 19 years old.

  2. Kendall permalink
    March 17, 2016 3:57 am

    I recently noticed the bump on the roof of the mouth of my year and a half old golden retriever. I’ve been meaning to get him to the vet to check it out because he has a lump on the top of one hip, since a week or so after his rabies shot, that i also wanted checked out. Now i know that the mouth bump is an incisive papilla but your article doesn’t mention the air pocket covering the whole roof of his mouth. I assumed it was related to the bump. Is this related to the incisive papilla or otherwise normal? I’ve never noticed this before in any of my dogs.

    • July 1, 2016 11:10 pm

      Air pocket? Ummm…that description does not sound like something normal. You may need to see the veterinarian to have your questions answered once and for all.

  3. Himasree permalink
    December 15, 2015 3:14 pm

    My dog has a lump on his gums.. it looks round nd occured 1 mnth back.. what is it??

    • December 24, 2015 2:56 pm

      Make an appointment to have your local veterinarian diagnose the lump.
      Good Luck!

  4. sarahjaneb permalink
    February 18, 2014 8:44 pm

    These are really cute stories, and informative as well. I got here because I just noticed a pink bump on the roof of my recently adopted dog’s mouth. It’s pretty big, so I was a bit alarmed, but I noticed that it’s very symmetrical and centered right on the midline, leading me to believe (hope) it might be a normal structure. Now I’m about 99% sure it’s the incisive papilla.

  5. Mochi permalink
    June 27, 2013 2:19 am

    Omg! Mommy Cat (RIP at 22 years of youngness) was a tortie until just now (she passed about 4 years ago). She had one patch of white! I don’t know if she always had the patch, but the last 5 years I definitely know she had it. She was the most bad a5$ bad calico in the world. Look what I learned today. 🙂

    • June 27, 2013 9:09 pm

      Dear Mochi,
      See? Isn’t it just shocking!
      Enjoy the mind-blowing world of cat color genetics!
      -Doc Truli

  6. May 21, 2013 7:08 pm

    Your current blogs always include alot of really up to date info. Where do you come up with this? Just stating you are very inspiring. Thanks again

    • May 21, 2013 8:43 pm

      Thank you, shameless spammer. I posted this comment because it’s formulaic vapidity hit on a subject dear to my heart. My subject matter comes from my life as a veterinarian. There is do little non manipulative, non commercial content on the Internet. So this is my contribution to you.

  7. August 28, 2011 3:12 pm

    LOL. good news for a change! WHY does a horn grow out of the top of a cat’s head?

    • August 29, 2011 8:46 am

      Good question, Sharon.

      Really, nobody knows. We know the thing is called a cutaneous horn. We know it grows from a collection of skin cells that become irregular and grow a horn instead of growing nice smooth fur. The horn is made of keratin- the same stuff hair is made up of.

      We know that parts of the body become what they are because of their relationship to neighboring parts. For example, in an embryo, the different organ systems start to form based on the chemical environment and the molecular signals they are bathed in from their nieghbors (and of course- they are affecting their neighboring cells, too!) We know that the clear smooth corneal surface of the eye will start to turn to thick, brown, leathery epithelialized skin in there are not enough tears.

      So, what changed that made a little area of skin make a horm instead of fur? It remains to be discovered. Or understood in our contextual framework.

      Have a great day, Sharon! Thanks, as always, for the insightful reading.

      -Doc Truli

  8. August 28, 2011 12:51 pm

    I love this. As a cat Mom of a cat that I just adore, I have been there where your clients are and being an animal tech, I have stood along side a veterinarian and have shared your experience as well.
    You would think that being a tech would relieve some of my panic with my own but it doesn’t.
    You are a good veterinarian…you handle your clients very well.

    I also love this site, I especially love the way you describe to us what the normal body language of animal looks like. This is the one thing missing on the web when a person is looking for answers about their pet. Googling pet ailments is a natural thing to do nowadays though I have been told to not do it anymore.:) (it’s best to take the animal to their veterinarian) When we love an animal so much, we tend to allow our imaginations to get away and Google feeds this for sure.

    The information you offer is the best I have seen so far, knowing what an animal in pain looks like can save many animals from suffering and many pet owners anxiety.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge, you are a true animal lover and your clients and patients are very fortunate to have you.

    • August 29, 2011 8:48 am

      Thank you so much for reading, Jenny. I hope to inspire regular people and professional animal caregivers to become optimistic and use the tools we have in our power to make animal’s lives the best they can be. Through caring and empathy, we become the humans we should be.

      -Doc Truli


  1. Lump in roof of the mouth .... - Basset Hounds: Basset Hound Dog Forums

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