If Your Dog Has a Swollen Tongue, It Could Mean This

dog dental cleaning cost

If Your Dog Has a Swollen Tongue, It Could Mean This


The tongue is a unique organ that is responsible for a diverse array of functions including vocalization, prehension and swallowing of food and water, chewing (mastication), grooming, and suckling in dogs. Additionally, the tongue aids in reducing body temperature (thermoregulation) during panting.

The precise movements of the canine tongue are important for the prevention of accidental trauma to the tongue itself during these actions. If your dog’s tongue is swollen, it can impede these functions and impact your pup’s overall wellbeing. Getting to the bottom of the cause is essential. 


The Anatomy of Your Dog’s Tongue


The tongue is an elongated muscular organ with the top surface covered with specialized mushroom-shaped structures called papillae. Papillae contain tiny holes, or pores, that lead to taste buds. The bulk of the tongue consists of muscle bundles mixed with connective (strong/tough) and adipose (fat) tissue. It has many blood vessels and bleeds profusely when lacerated.

The tongue is surrounded by the openings of the ducts of the salivary glands, which empty their secretions (saliva) into the oral cavity. Dogs have four pairs of major salivary glands and several other minor ones that drain within the oral cavity. The major salivary glands in the dog include the parotid, mandibular, sublingual, and zygomatic salivary glands.


What Causes Inflammation of the Tongue? 


Inflammation of the tongue is termed glossitis. It may occur alone, or in conjunction with a generalized inflammation of the soft tissues of the mouth (stomatitis), inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), or inflammation of the lips (cheilitis).

Glossitis can be secondary to a variety of causes and should be investigated by your veterinarian if you notice that your pet may have this condition.

It is important to take into consideration that many problems of the tongue are extensions of generalized oral problems. Due to the high cellular turnover rate of the lingual tissue, the tongue may exhibit disease more quickly than elsewhere in the oral cavity, especially with underlying nutritional causes. The following are a few common causes of a swollen tongue. 


1. Trauma

Common causes of glossitis are mechanical and chemical trauma to the tongue and surrounding oral tissues.

Mechanical trauma to the tongue can result from contact with or licking of sharp objects. Generalized glossitis can occur after a dog attempts to groom themself to remove plant or foreign material entrapped in their hair coat.

Insect stings may result in allergic reactions that can also cause generalized swelling of the tongue. It should be noted that this is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

For better or worse, dogs love to put foreign objects in their mouths. Unfortunately, this can lead to foreign material becoming trapped in between the teeth or throat region. Wood chips, pieces of plastic, bone fragments (from chewing on bones), and string are known hazards.

Chemical injuries can occur from licking substances/solutions that are strongly alkaline or acidic, phenols, turpentine, pine oil, petroleum products, essential oils, or bleach.

Electrocution injury can occur when an animal chews through a live electrical cord.

All of the aforementioned causes of glossitis require pain management and supportive care while the tongue is painful and in the healing process.

Sublingual granulomas, also known as traumatic granulomas, have been described in an illustrative term known as “Gum-Chewer Syndrome”. These lesions result from self-inflicted, chewing trauma of the tissues underneath the tongue or the cheeks. Gum-Chewer lesions are slow-growing and are more common in smaller dog breeds. Surgical resection of the traumatized tissue is the recommended treatment.


2. Dental Disease

Canine chronic ulcerative stomatitis (CCUS) is a specific disease that may result in inflammation and ulceration of the oral cavity including the tongue.

Contact mucosal ulcerations, or “kissing lesions”, are thought to result from an exaggerated immune response to plaque and calculus on tooth surfaces. Treatment of this dog-specific disease involves long-term comprehensive dental care by both the veterinarian and the pet owner at home. Medical management may also be necessary for pain-control and/or immunomodulation.


3. Metabolic Disease

Kidney (renal) insufficiency or failure can lead to uremic ulcerations of the tongue. The degree of renal disease often correlates to the severity of the oral lesions, which can range from mild to severe lingual ulcerations, necrotic (dead) lingual tissue, or sloughing (shedding) of the tongue. Patients typically require aggressive fluid therapy to support the kidneys as well as comprehensive long-term medical management.


4. Lingual Growths

Canine eosinophilic granuloma is an uncommon condition that causes plaques or proliferative masses on the surface of the tongue. It is most commonly seen in young Siberian Huskies and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Depending on the dog, these lesions may spontaneously regress or require surgical treatment.

A soft, fluctuant swelling under the tongue secondary to an accumulation of saliva in the sublingual tissue, termed a ranula, can cause the tongue to appear to be swollen. Ranulas typically require surgical intervention. Possible causes of these include injury, infection, or immune-mediated disease. Ranulas may become large and inflamed, causing the tongue to be pushed upwards or deviated to the side. The dog may have difficulty eating, excessive drooling (ptyalism), or exhibit excessive licking, and may act painful when the mouth is opened or manipulated.

Papillomaviruses can cause cauliflower-like growths on the tongue and other oral mucosal surfaces. These lesions are generally small and can vary in number and location on the tongue. These lesions typically spontaneously regress, however, some require surgical removal.


5. Tumors

Just like any other organ in the body, the tongue can be a site for cancerous masses (neoplasia). In a veterinary study looking at samples of tongue biopsies, 54% were neoplastic. Malignant tumors, including melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the most common lingual tumor in dogs and unfortunately tend to be locally aggressive as well as having metastatic potential (i.e. the ability to spread to other organs).


Signs Your Dog Has an Inflamed or a Swollen Tongue


Clinical signs that you may notice your pet having associated with glossitis include:

  • Foul breath (halitosis)
  • Ulcerations to the tongue, inappetence (anorexia)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Excessive drooling (ptyalism)
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Behavioral changes associated with pain. 


Treating Glossitis in Dogs


Treatment of glossitis is determined by the underlying cause. This may include the veterinarian removing any foreign objects and treating any fractured or diseased teeth in your companion’s oral cavity. Infections can sometimes be treated with an appropriate antibiotic without surgery. Cleaning of oral wounds and use of antiseptic mouthwashes are beneficial in some cases. A soft diet and intravenous fluids may be necessary for glossitis patients.

In some cases, if the dog is paretic (weak) and subsequently unable or unwilling to eat for a prolonged period, a feeding tube may also be recommended for nutritional support.

As previously stated, acute (sudden onset) glossitis due to allergic reactions requires emergency treatment.

Tumors of the tongue need to be diagnosed with a biopsy and appropriately managed in a timely fashion, typically starting with surgery, to help facilitate a favorable outcome. 


Veterinary Dentist in Colorado Springs


The tongue is the most versatile organ in the oral cavity. It consists almost entirely of skeletal muscle to help facilitate fine-tuned muscle control. While relatively uncommon, tongue pathology should be recognized and treated whenever possible. Fortunately, the tongue is a very special organ that has rapid healing capabilities.

Early diagnosis glossitis is very important to treat and ideally prevent pain in your companion. If you suspect that your dog has this condition, please schedule an appointment with your primary care veterinarian or at Animal Dental Care & Oral Surgery in Colorado Springs. We can be reached at (719) 536-9949.

Photo by Simon Takatomi on Unsplash  (3/11/2022)