What Is Causing My Dog’s Face To Swell?

Many different factors may cause a dog’s face to swell.  Here is a list of the most common causes I see in veterinary practice.

1)  Allergic Reactions:   Dogs react to allergens in their environment just like people do.  The swelling may develop immediately following exposure or several hours later.  Other signs of an allergic reaction include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, pale gums and labored breathing.  Insect bits, either bees or spiders, are the most common causes I see in practice.  In addition, dogs may react to vaccinations, medications, household cleaners, perfumes, hair spray, pesticides, flea collars, treats and even their food.  One of my dogs is allergic to some foods.  

Although any breed may react to vaccinations, I have found that Miniature Pinchers, Pomeranians and Miniature Dachshunds react the most.  Watch your dog for several hours after they have been vaccinated.  Call your veterinarian at the first sign of a reaction! 

In case of an allergic episode, call your veterinarian immediately!  They will likely recommend that you administer diphenhydramine (Benadryl) as long as the dog is conscious and can swallow.  During routine examination, ask your veterinarian to calculate the proper dose and keep that on hand at all times.  If your dog is reacting to a flea shampoo or other topical allergen, bathe them immediately to prevent further exposure.  (My recommended first aid kit for dogs and cats is listed at www.veterinarycreative.com.)

2)  Puppy Strangles:  Young puppies under 16 weeks of age develop a condition called Juvenile Cellulitis or puppy strangles that looks like mumps in people.  I see it most often in Golden Retrievers and Daschshunds.  The lymph glands under their cheeks swell up so much that some puppies have trouble eating and breathing.  The large glands occlude the airway hence the name ‘stangles’.  If you suspect your puppy has this condition, bring them to a veterinarian for care immediately!  They will need long-term treatment with steroids to control the excessive immune reaction and antibiotics for any secondary infection.  Puppies with severe swelling might need their glands opened and drained.

3)  Abcesses:   An abcess is defined as an accumulation of puss beneath the skin.  Abcess may form behind the eye (retrobulbar) or around a tooth root causing facial swelling. 

4)  Sialoceles or Sialoadenitis:  A sialocele is an excessive accumulation of saliva within a salivary duct due to some sort of blockage.  Sialoadenitis is inflammation of a salivary gland.  The parotid glands that are located under the ears are the glands I normally see effected with this condition.  Both cause swelling along the lower jaw, especially in the area of the temporal mandibular joint.

5)  Neoplasia:  Cancerous masses on the head may cause facial swelling.  Watch your dog closely for lumps, especially if they are over eight years of age.  Seek medical attention whenever you find one.  Just like human medicine, early detection and treatment are the keys to surviving cancer. 

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.