Dog Facial Swelling: Causes and Treatment

Facial swelling in dogs can have dozens of causes, from dog bites to dental problems. The swelling can be a fairly benign reaction or it can require emergency care.

To help keep your pet pain-free and healthy, it helps to know the signs of facial swelling, and what you can do when it happens.

Common Causes and Treatments of Dog Facial Swelling

Facial swelling in dogs can be life-threatening if the swelling progresses to the throat, so don't try to diagnose the cause of your dog's swelling yourself. If your pet's face looks swollen, or lopsided, get your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Some common causes of facial swelling in dogs include:

Allergies

Like people, dogs can be allergic to chemicals, foods, plants, spider bites, bee stings, medication, or a vaccine (though that's rare). A severe allergic reaction can lead to throat swelling -- cutting off your dog's windpipe -- so if your dog's face looks swollen, if he has trouble breathing, his gums are purple or blue, or if he passes out, get your pet to a vet immediately.

Treating allergies depends on what's causing them, but may include an antihistamine, steroids, antibiotic ointment, a special diet, as well as skin or blood tests.

Abscesses

Often caused by animal bites or other wounds, head and neck abscesses show up suddenly, usually accompanied by a fever, and can leave a lopsided look to your dog's head or neck. These are extremely painful; if your dog has facial swelling and is refusing to eat or drink, an abscess could be the cause.

It's important for abscesses to be treated right away. Treatment may include surgical drainage, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics.

Dental Problems

Infected or fractured teeth and untreated gum disease can also lead to abscesses, accompanied by facial swelling, fever, depression, not eating, and great pain for your dog.

Treatment for dental abscesses may include removing the infected tooth along with a course of antibiotics.

Tumors (Noncancerous and Cancerous)

Mouth and throat tumors can occur in dogs and, along with facial swelling, symptoms may include problems eating, bleeding, and excessive odor. Dogs can also get tumors associated with the eye socket, which can make the eye bulge.

Continued

Tumors, which arise from the uncontrolled growth of cells, need treatment early, whether or not they're cancerous. Surgery to remove the tumor, or radiotherapy, may be effective treatments.

Other Causes of Facial Swelling in Dogs

Dog bites or other skin punctures can also cause a bacterial infection of the skin called cellulitis. The symptoms include swelling, ulcers, tenderness, redness, and pain.

Treatment should be determined by a veterinarian, and may include soaking the wound, flushing it with an antiseptic, painkillers, and antibiotics.

Certain dogs, including boxers, Labrador retrievers, Great Danes, Doberman pinschers, and some terriers, may develop a rare condition called craniomandibular osteopathy. This causes swelling of the jaw, and is usually seen in dogs aged 3 to 10 months. Other signs of the disease include drooling, fever, and reluctance to eat.

While there's no treatment to cure craniomandibular osteopathy, anti-inflammatories can help control pain, and the disease often stabilizes when the dog is about a year old. Check with your vet to see what NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) he or she recommends for your dog.

Can You Prevent Facial Swelling?

Some causes of facial swelling can be prevented and some cannot. Here are some suggestions for prevention and early detection of problems:

  • To reduce the chances your dog will deal with an abscess from a puncture wound, avoid contact with wild or unknown animals, avoid giving your dog hard bones, and be sure to supervise all play with other dogs.
  • Have your pets checked by a veterinarian if you think they have allergies. As with people, preventing exposure to the allergen is often the best treatment.
  • To catch tumors early, examine your dog's mouth once a month. If you see swelling or a growth, or if your dog's mouth smells bad, talk to your veterinarian.

 

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 23, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:
Fogle, B. Caring for Your Dog: The Complete Canine Home Reference. DK Publishing, Inc. 2002.
American Veterinary Medical Association: "Cancer in Animals."
Brevitz, B. The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Pet Happy, Healthy & Active. Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 2009.
Kahn, C. Merck Merial Manual for Pet Health. Merck & Co., Inc. 2007.
Carlson, L. Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, 3rd edition. Howell Book House, 2000. Mehus-Roe, K. The Original Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog, 2nd edition. BowTie Press, 2009.
Veterinary Dental Center / Stephen Juriga, DVM: "Jaw Facial Swelling."
American Veterinary Dental College: "Endodontic Disease and Root Canal Treatment."
ASPCA: "Allergies."

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