Head-Shaking and Swollen Lymph Nodes: Murphy’s Indolent T Cell Lymphoma

Sometimes, when you hear hooves, zebras show up.

The most common cause of excessive head-shaking is discomfort in the ears. The causes might include:

  • allergies
  • foreign bodies
  • inflammation
  • infections
  • parasites
  • polyps

Infections, on the other hand, are typically secondary to another problem, such as allergies.

Further reading: Excessive Head Shaking in Dogs

Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system; they filter and store immune cells. They can swell in response to inflammation in nearby tissues. An ear infection can lead to a swelling of the nearby lymph node on the affected side.

In other words, swelling of local lymph nodes points to a local issue. However, what if the lymph node swelling isn’t limited to the one corresponding to ear problems?

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

Head-Shaking and Swollen Lymph Nodes: Murphy's Indolent T Cell Lymphoma

Murphy’s story

Murphy was a 9-year-old Golden Retriever. As a typical Golden, he was a happy, loving companion.

Murphy’s ears started bothering him, clouding his happiness. Murphy was shaking his head, scratching at his ears, and was apparently unhappy. When his parents checked, Murphy’s ears were smelly and had some discharge in them. It was time to see a veterinarian.

At the veterinarian

The veterinarian examined Murphy and confirmed his parents’ suspicion—Murphy had an ear infection in both ears.

At the same time, however, the veterinarian noticed that Murphy’s lymph nodes were enlarged and not just those near the ears. He prescribed treatment for Murphy’s infection.

However, there were still the unhappy lymph nodes. To see what was going on, the veterinarian checked Murphy’s urine, blood and aspirated a couple of the nodes.

Murphy’s diagnosis

The lab results raised suspicion for small cell lymphoma/leukemia. The veterinarian referred Murphy to an oncologist for further evaluation.

The oncologist confirmed the findings and recommended further testing of the lymph nodes. The results would confirm the diagnosis and provide insights into the best treatment options and prognosis.

The kind of cancer Murphy had is the kind that moves slowly with very few outward signs. In fact, secondary infections are often how the problem is discovered.

The recommended treatment for the kind of lymphoma Murphy had is often regular monitoring and physical examinations.

It was essential, however, to go through all the diagnostics steps to make sure it wasn’t the aggressive kind of lymphoma.

Source story:
Clinical Case Challenge – Head Shaking & Ear Scratching

Related articles:
Why Does My Dog Keep Shaking Their Head?

Further reading:

Categories: CancerConditionsDog health advocacyEar infectionsExcessive head shakingLymphomaReal-life StoriesSymptoms

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Jana Rade

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.

4 Comments
  1. Poor Murphy! I’m glad he got the ear infections treated, but I’m surprised that the lymphoma didn’t need immediate treatment. I hope it remains in check for a long time.
    Love & Biscuits
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Normally, lymphoma does need an immediate treatment. This is a weird type that is mostly quiet except causing secondary issues, such as the ear infections..

  2. Thank you for sharing this! We deal with head shaking quite frequently due to Daviana’s laundry list of allergies (especially seasonal – she struggles with allergy-induced ear infections every spring). That being said, this is a diagnosis that I never would have considered. I’m going to have to keep this in mind – not that I’m overly fearful of my girl getting cancer, but I’d rather have that information stored away just in case 🙂

  3. Now THAT is not the diagnosis I would have expected from a dog shaking its ears. I am glad Murphy’s parents took him to the vet and also had the further testing done to find out exactly what was wrong. Now they know what he needs, and the nature of his lymphoma.

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