Swollen Tongue in Dogs

Swollen Tongue in Dogs

The tongue serves as a remarkable organ with a wide range of functions in dogs. It enables vocalization, grasping and swallowing food and water, chewing, grooming, and suckling. Additionally, it plays a role in regulating body temperature through panting.

Precise movements of the canine tongue are crucial to prevent accidental harm during these activities.

The tongue is a long muscular organ covered on the top surface by specialized mushroom-shaped structures called papillae. These papillae have tiny pores leading to taste buds. The majority of the tongue is made up of muscle bundles intermixed with tough connective tissue and fatty tissue. It has an extensive network of blood vessels, making it prone to profuse bleeding if lacerated.

The tongue is surrounded by openings of salivary gland ducts, which release saliva into the oral cavity. Dogs have four pairs of major salivary glands, along with several minor glands that drain into the mouth. The major salivary glands in dogs include the parotid, mandibular, sublingual, and zygomatic salivary glands.

When the tongue becomes inflamed, it is referred to as glossitis. Glossitis can occur alone or in conjunction with inflammation of other soft tissues in the mouth (stomatitis), the gums (gingivitis), or the lips (cheilitis).

Glossitis can have various underlying causes, and it is important to consult a veterinarian if you suspect your pet may be experiencing this condition.

It is worth noting that tongue problems often stem from general oral health issues. The high rate of cellular turnover in the tongue makes it more susceptible to diseases, especially those related to nutrition.

Common signs of glossitis in pets include foul breath (halitosis), tongue ulcers, loss of appetite (anorexia), difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), excessive drooling (ptyalism), labored breathing (dyspnea), and behavioral changes associated with pain.


Causes of Glossitis:


Glossitis commonly arises from the occurrence of mechanical and chemical trauma to the tongue and the surrounding oral tissues.

Mechanical trauma to the tongue can happen when it comes into contact with or is licked by sharp objects. Generalized glossitis may occur when dogs attempt self-grooming to remove plant material or foreign objects trapped in their fur.

Allergic reactions resulting from insect stings can also cause tongue swelling. It’s important to note that this is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.

Dogs have a penchant for putting foreign objects in their mouths, which can lead to material becoming lodged between their teeth or in the throat. Hazards such as wood chips, plastic pieces, bone fragments from chewing on bones, and strings are known culprits.

Chemical injuries can occur when dogs lick substances or solutions that are strongly alkaline or acidic, including phenols, turpentine, pine oil, petroleum products, essential oils, or bleach.

Electrocution injuries may occur when animals chew through live electrical cords.

In all cases mentioned above, pain management and supportive care are necessary during the dog’s healing process.

Sublingual granulomas, also referred to as traumatic granulomas, are often associated with a condition known as “Gum-Chewer Syndrome.” These lesions develop due to self-inflicted chewing trauma on the tissues beneath the tongue or inside the cheeks. Gum-Chewer lesions tend to grow slowly and are more prevalent in smaller dog breeds. Surgical removal of the traumatized tissue is the recommended treatment approach.

Dental Disease

Canine chronic ulcerative stomatitis (CCUS) is a distinct condition that can lead to inflammation and ulceration within the oral cavity, including the tongue.

Contact mucosal ulcerations, commonly known as “kissing lesions,” are believed to occur due to an excessive immune response to plaque and calculus buildup on the teeth. Treating this disease in dogs requires ongoing comprehensive dental care, involving both veterinary attention and diligent home care by the pet owner. In some cases, medical management may be necessary to control pain and modulate the immune response.

Metabolic Disease

Kidney (renal) insufficiency or failure can result in uremic ulcerations of the tongue. The extent of renal disease is often linked to the severity of oral lesions, which can vary from mild to severe lingual ulcerations, necrotic (dead) lingual tissue, or tongue sloughing (shedding). Effective treatment typically involves intensive fluid therapy to support kidney function, along with comprehensive long-term medical management.

Lingual Growths

Canine eosinophilic granuloma is a rare condition that causes plaque-like or proliferative masses to develop on the surface of the tongue. It is most frequently observed in young Siberian Huskies and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. These lesions can either regress spontaneously or require surgical treatment, depending on the dog.

A soft, fluid-filled swelling beneath the tongue, known as a ranula, can cause apparent swelling of the tongue due to an accumulation of saliva in the sublingual tissue. Ranulas typically necessitate surgical intervention and can be caused by factors such as injury, infection, or immune-mediated disease. Inflamed and enlarged ranulas may push the tongue upwards or cause it to deviate to the side. Affected dogs may experience difficulty eating, excessive drooling (ptyalism), excessive licking, and exhibit signs of pain when the mouth is opened or manipulated.

Papillomaviruses can lead to the growth of cauliflower-like lesions on the tongue and other oral mucosal surfaces. These lesions are generally small, vary in number and location on the tongue, and often regress on their own. However, some cases may require surgical removal.

Similar to other organs, the tongue can be affected by cancerous masses (neoplasia). In a veterinary study examining tongue biopsies, 54% of cases were found to be neoplastic. Malignant tumors, such as melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the most common types of lingual tumors in dogs. Unfortunately, they tend to be locally aggressive and have the potential to spread to other organs (metastasis).


The treatment approach for glossitis depends on the underlying cause. It may involve the veterinarian removing any foreign objects and addressing fractured or diseased teeth in your companion’s mouth. Infections can sometimes be treated with appropriate antibiotics without the need for surgery. Oral wound cleaning and the use of antiseptic mouthwashes can be beneficial in certain cases. For glossitis patients, a soft diet and intravenous fluids may be necessary.

In some instances, if the dog experiences weakness (paretic) and is unable or unwilling to eat for an extended period, a feeding tube may be recommended to provide nutritional support.

As mentioned earlier, acute glossitis resulting from allergic reactions requires immediate emergency treatment.

Tongue tumors need to be diagnosed through a biopsy and promptly managed, typically starting with surgery, to increase the chances of a favorable outcome.

In conclusion, the tongue is an incredibly versatile organ within the oral cavity, primarily composed of skeletal muscle that enables precise muscle control. Although tongue pathology is relatively uncommon, it should be identified and treated whenever possible. Fortunately, the tongue possesses remarkable healing capabilities.

Early diagnosis and treatment of 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 Apex Veterinary Specialists in Englewood, CO.