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My dog has a swollen face

Facial swelling in dogs can have multiple causes, all of which require veterinary attention. Facial swelling will usually be accompanied by pain and will generally make your dog feel miserable. Continue reading for more information about why your dog may have a swollen face.

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Common causes of facial swelling in dogs

  • Dental abscess

Periodontal disease can lead to the development of a tooth root abscess, which usually occurs on the upper molar teeth (back teeth). The infection spreads into the gum and causes pain and swelling. Bad breath (halitosis) may be noted as well as pain, facial swelling and a reluctance to eat or chew on the affected side. Treatment usually involves removing the offending tooth, draining the abscess and a course of antibiotics and pain relief.

  • Foreign body

Sometimes objects can penetrate into the skin either on the outside of the face or from the inside of the mouth or eye, with grass seeds being the most common culprit, especially in the summer months. The presence of this foreign material in the tissue leads to a reaction and swelling. Treatment involves exploration of the area under anaesthetic to try and find the offending grass seed, along with antibiotics and pain relief.

  • Lump / tumour (neoplasia)

One of the more serious causes of facial swelling in dogs is the development of a tumour. These can occur inside the mouth, nose, behind the eye or around the jaw bone. Sometimes these tumours are fast growing and spread rapidly so urgent assessment is important to allow your vet to start treatment as soon as possible.

  • Allergic reaction

Dogs are very inquisitive creatures and can sometimes be on the receiving end of a bee or wasp sting. This commonly occurs on the mouth when they try to bite the insect. You may notice them pawing at their mouth, salivating more than usual and the sudden onset of facial swelling. Most of the time the swelling will be self limiting, but in some very sensitive dogs, the swelling spreads and can lead to breathing difficulties. This situation is an emergency and your dog requires emergency treatment at the vet clinic.

  • Bite wound abscess

If your dog gets bitten on the face or cheek by any other animal, the bacteria laden teeth can penetrate deep into the dog’s skin. The bacteria soon multiplies causing infection and if the external skin wound has healed over, this infection has nowhere to go, so the area becomes swollen. This is incredibly painful and will often cause a dog to not eat and to feel rather unwell. Urgent veterinary treatment is needed in the form of antibiotics, pain relief and lancing (draining) of the abscess. This is so the pus and infection can be cleaned out and the area can start to heal. Often you may need to keep the area clean with some antiseptic solution the vet may give you. The abscess sometimes does burst of its own accord at home, but treatment in the form of antibiotics and pain relief are still needed.

  • Trauma

If your pet bangs its head, then just like us bruising can cause swelling on the face and head area.The most common reasons for bruising that vets see are injuries from running into furniture and trees, not catching a stick that an owner has thrown and play fighting with other dogs.You may be able to manage mild bruising at home but you should always contact the vet if there is any swelling around the eye.

Diagnosis of facial swelling in dogs

In many cases your vet will be able to examine your dog and discuss a treatment plan without any further diagnostic tests. In some cases your pet may need to be sedated to examine inside their mouth or to perform x-rays. Your vet may discuss taking a small sample of the swelling either with a needle or by taking a biopsy of the swelling. A biopsy allows your vet to examine a larger sample of the swelling to obtain a more accurate diagnosis. In some situations your vet may advise more specialist imaging such as an MRI scan.

Treatment of facial swelling

Your vet will discuss a treatment plan with you based on the underlying cause of the facial swelling. This may involve medications such as antihistamines, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories or surgical treatment e.g. extraction of a tooth or removal of a tumour.

When to see your vet?

Most cases of facial swelling in dogs should be investigated by your vet, especially if it’s accompanied by difficulty in eating and lethargy. A swollen face that is causing breathing difficulties should be treated as an emergency by your vet.

Further reading

My dog has bad breath

I've found a lump on my dog

Wasp stings in dogs and cats

Still worried?

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This article was written by Amy Everden RVN, CSQP, ISFM CertFN. Amy is a registered veterinary nurse (RVN) who has worked in a variety of first opinion and 24 hour veterinary hospitals. In 2019 she completed her certificate in Feline Nursing with distinction.


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