Facial Swelling in Dogs: Why Is My Dog’s Face Swollen?

Would you be surprised to learn all the potential causes why your dog’s face could swell up? Some of those are scary things.

If it is summertime, and your dog swells on one side, the first thing that comes to your mind is likely an insect sting. The odds that you’re not wrong are going to be high.

Facial Swelling in Dogs: Why Is My Dog's Face Swollen?

Insect stings

Below is what Cookie’s face looked like after she got stung by a bald-faced hornet. I knew that’s what it was because I was there when she accidentally hopped in the nest neither of us knew was there.

Facial Swelling in Dogs: Why Is My Dog's Face Swollen?

Fortunately, this was as bad as it’s gotten. I gave her Benadryl and kept watching her like a hawk, but overnight the swelling went away. The concern with insect stings is a serious allergic reaction where swelling can spread and cause difficulty breathing or worse, cause anaphylactic shock. If her swelling spread, if she broke out in hives, was drooling, vomiting or having diarrhea, I would have gone to a vet even though it was just a hornet sting.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock in dogs can include:

  • severe swelling or hives
  • excessive drooling
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • changes in gum color
  • cold limps
  • seizures

Spider or snake bites

It is essential to know what kinds of poisonous creepy crawlies there are in your area that could have bitten your dog. If your dog is always supervised, you’d probably notice if there was the possibility of a snake bite. With spiders, being small and all that, it’s not as easy.

Again, if you don’t know what might have happened, the swelling gets worse and/, or your dog is showing concerning signs, see a vet. Signs can include muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and the like. You are also looking at the possibility of violent infections.

What if it’s neither stings or bites?

Facial Swelling in Dogs: Why Is My Dog's Face Swollen?

It was summertime when JD’s face swelled up right above his eye. We don’t have any nasty snakes or spiders around here. Naturally, an insect bite was what we figured has happened. We gave him Benadryl, and the swelling indeed went down. Except it returned. And then it returned again. Getting stung three times over such a short period didn’t make any sense anymore. We took JD to the vet who asked whether JD liked to chew on sticks. Sometimes he did. That made him the third case they’ve seen where a splinter from a stick made it into the hard palate and the infection traveled through the path of the least resistance.

JD was treated with antibiotics, but the swelling kept coming back after each treatment. Eventually, JD started having neurologic signs too; having a hard time standing, walking and keeping balance. At the end of the day, whether it was an infection deep in his brain, or cancer, it led to his undoing.

That is a fairly rare case, but it shows not to underestimate even such a routine thing like facial swelling.

Dental issues

A much more common cause of facial swelling than JD’s foreign body or cancer is dental disease. We did, of course, have the mouth and teeth checked thoroughly but there was nothing wrong there. An abscessed tooth, though, can definitely make your dog’s face swell up.

An infected swelling due to trauma is going to look quite similar, but you should be able to find the associated wound. With any infection bad enough to cause pronounced swelling your dog might also have a fever.

Other symptoms of dental issues can include:

  • bad breath
  • excessive drooling
  • pawing at the mouth
  • painful mouth sensitive to touch
  • changes in eating and chewing habits
  • abnormal discharge from mouth, nose or eyes

Make no mistake. A tooth abscess hurts. As well as dental disease can negatively impact overall health.

Other causes

While allergic reactions, stings, and bites, and infections are the most common causes, you’d be surprised how many other–and often scary–things can result in facial swelling.

  • fluid or blood build-up from trauma
  • lymph node swelling
  • muscle  inflammation
  • salivary fluid build-up
  • cancer
Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system. They are small, bean-shaped, and situated throughout the lymphatic system. Their job is filtration and storage of immune cells.

As a result, they are quick to swell for many reasons when nearby tissues become inflamed.

Do you remember the old days when a doctor would feel your neck? That’s what they were checking–lymph node swelling.

The potential causes are allergens, infections auto-immune reactions, or cancer. The latter is the scary one.

Other symptoms can include:

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • weakness
  • lethargy

If your dog’s lymph nodes swell up enough that you can see it, see a veterinarian. It is not good to let an infection fester and with a lymphoma, time is of the essence.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is cancer of small white blood cells. The two types are B-cells and T-cells; you might have heard of those before. If your dog has lymphoma, it means that one of the two kinds of blood cells multiplies uncontrollably. B-cell lymphoma is most common in dogs.

As I mentioned, timely treatment is essential with lymphoma.

In conclusion

When your dog’s face swells, it might not always be something scary or sinister but it could be. Unless I know–or I think I know–what might have caused it, I would not delay a vet visit.

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Swelling

Further reading:
Facial Swelling in Dogs: Causes and Treatments

Categories: Facial swellingSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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