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Health & Wellness

How to spot swollen lymph nodes in dogs

Know what to feel for.

You likely pet your dog more than anyone else, and that show of affection can also be beneficial for their health. Feeling around your pup’s body lets you determine whether or not your dog has swollen lymph nodes, which can indicate an underlying illness. 

“Swollen lymph nodes in a dog can be caused by an infection, from bacteria, virus, fungus or parasites, inflammation or cancer in the body,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. 

Where are dogs’ lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are part of a dog's lymphatic system, which is responsible for removing excess fluids from dogs' bodies and creating white blood cells that support their immune systems. Dogs have several lymph nodes throughout their bodies that are peripheral (which means under the skin) and deep within their chest or abdomen, Dr. McCullough explains.

It’s normal for pet parents to be unable to feel peripheral lymph nodes, she adds. However, you may be able to feel lymph nodes in dogs’ lower jaws (which could be confused with salivary glands, which are under their jaw and can also swell) or on the back of dogs’ knees. 

The size of a dog's lymph nodes depends on where they are located in the body and the size of your pup. Therefore, it's a good idea to be aware of what's normal for your dog, so you'll know when they're swollen and can contact your vet as soon as possible. 

“Swollen lymph nodes are typically enlarged and firmer than normal,” Dr. McCullough says.  

How do veterinarians diagnose dogs’ swollen lymph nodes?

Swollen lymph nodes are usually diagnosed by taking a sample of a dog's cells from the affected area and reviewing them under a microscope, Dr. McCullough explains. Veterinarians are looking for signs of infection or cancer. 

“In some cases, additional diagnostics, such as lab work, X-rays, ultrasounds and/or a CT [CAT scan], are needed to diagnose the cause of the swollen lymph nodes,” she adds. 

Lymphoma in dogs

Swollen lymph nodes can be a symptom of lymphoma, Dr. McCullough says. 

“Lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes, which are white blood cells and can affect any organ in the body but most commonly occurs in lymph nodes of dogs,” she explains. 

Unfortunately, Dr. McCullough shares, the cause of lymphoma isn’t well understood, but research is still ongoing. 

RELATED: Understanding dog skin cancer

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Symptoms of lymphoma in dogs

According to Dr. McCullough, swollen lymph nodes are the most common sign of lymphoma. Still, dogs can also experience loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, increased thirst and urination and fever. 

Treatment options for swollen lymph nodes

Treatment of swollen lymph nodes depends on the root cause, Dr. McCullough says. Typically, swollen lymph nodes caused by infection are treated with vet-prescribed antibiotics or antiparasitic or antifungal medication. Lymphoma is usually treated with chemotherapy, she adds. 

How long does it take dogs to recover from swollen lymph nodes?

Similar to the treatment options, the amount of time it takes a dog to recover from swollen lymph nodes depends on the cause, your pup’s reaction to the recommended treatment and the severity, Dr. McCullough shares. 

Home remedies for swollen lymph nodes

There aren’t any home remedies for swollen lymph nodes, but there are some ways to make your pup feel comfortable while they’re recovering. 

“Pet parents should be sure to follow their veterinarian’s instructions,” Dr. McCullough says. “In some cases, anti-inflammatory pain medications, medications for an upset stomach or sedatives are needed to help dogs feel more comfortable.”

‍The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo. 

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

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