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What are Glossitis?

Glossitis in dogs should always be evaluated by the veterinarian in order to identify the cause and determine a course of treatment that will provide relief for your pet. Symptoms such as bad breath, evidence of pain, loss of appetite, and drooling in excess of what may be normal for your dog are just a few of the signs that a clinical visit is warranted.

Lacerations, periodontal disease or severe trauma to the tongue are three reasons that a swelling of the tongue could occur. Depending on the cause, treatment could be as simple as a prescription for antibiotics, or as serious as surgery for a tumor or growth.

Glossitis is not necessarily a disease but rather an important clinical sign that may be a reaction to a specific disease or it may be associated with secondary mouth infection and ulcerations. The main characteristic associated with glossitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the tongue.

Symptoms of Glossitis in Dogs

If the inflammation is chronic, then owners may notice their dog producing dark discharge along with small amounts of blood. You may notice the tongue tends to crack in longitudinal lines. These are referred to as fissures. Fissures may allow the accumulation of bacteria and foreign bodies to proliferate.

  • Halitosis
  • Changes in behavior
  • Pain
  • Swelling of the tongue associated with possibly the swelling of surrounding mucosa, gums, buccal cavity and pharynx
  • Anorexia due to inability to consume food
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ulcer formation, you may notice bleeding gums and ulcers
  • Plaque and tartar build up on the teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing


Causes of Glossitis in Dogs

Primary and direct causes may be:

  • Insect stings( bee stings) may result in allergic reactions that result in swollen tongue
  • Gingivitis
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Laceration resulting in bacterial infection
  • Certain diseases may be associated with glossitis including contraction of bartonella, canine distemper and herpevirus
  • Canine stomatitis is a periodontal disease that may result in inflammation and ulceration of mucosa and the tongue
  • Tongue lesions and/or burns that result from chewing sharp and dangerous objects(electrical cords)

 Secondary causes associated with metabolic disease may be:

  • Chronic kidney failure results in a buildup of toxins in blood circulation, resulting in uremic ulceration
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Neoplasia (abnormal growth of tissue)
  • Liver failure
  • Hyperparathyroidism (a decrease in the production of the parathyroid hormone)


Diagnosis of Glossitis in Dogs

Your veterinarian will perform a clinical exam to determine the extent of damage to the mouth. They will take a full history of your dog, which may include any previous drugs used, any allergic reactions, any change in environment, or recent changes in behavior.

Further laboratory tests may include biopsies of possible visible masses or growths that may be causing glossitis. The veterinarian will look for any signs of ulceration, bacterial infection and change in color of the tongue and surrounding tissue. A blood panel may be done to determine the possibility of metabolic diseases such as the progression or onset of kidney disease or diabetes.



Treatment of Glossitis in Dogs

As glossitis is a clinical sign of a potential underlying problem, treatment options will vary based on your companion’s particular case. However, a general rule of thumb may consist of administering anti-inflammatory drugs in order to first reduce the swelling of the tongue.

Secondly, veterinarians may prescribe a short course of analgesics in order to reduce pain and slowly encourage eating. Should the glossitis be related to periodontal disease, your vet may further prescribe a course of antibiotics aimed at treating bacterial infections.

Surgical intervention may be the likely route of treatment for cases that involve the removal of tumorous growths or necrotic tissue/bone. Tooth extractions and cleaning will be done should the tongue be swelling due to periodontal disease.

If the cause of glossitis was due to an allergic reaction to an insect sting, then depending of the severity, your veterinarian will first aim to locate and take out the stinger and then will administer a small dose of liquid baby Benadryl. Via a syringe, a liquid dosage is given every 6 to 8 hours at around 1 mg per pound of weight.



Recovery of Glossitis in Dogs

Recovery may take 4 to 6 weeks depending on the owner’s supportive care. Dogs may be put on a nutrient rich wet food diet, mainly if teeth have been recently extracted. However, if your pet refuses to eat for an extended period of time, tube feeding may be the suggested.

If cases are severe and progressive, such as chronic kidney disease, your vet may prescribe regular fluid administration. This may initially be done intravenously at the hospital and eventually, subcutaneously once or twice a week at your home.

In cases such as periodontal disease, your veterinarian may request a follow up on the mouth health and will suggest regular tooth brushing and possibly routine dental cleanings.

It has been suggested that home removal of plaque may be best done by a veterinary prescribed chlorhexidine gel, toothpaste and mouthwash. In order to reduce further inflammation, your dog may be given NSAIDs and opiates.



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Glossitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Ask a Vet



Terrier mix


2.5 Years


Unknown severity


0 found helpful


Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Cracked Tongue, Lack Of Appetite

My dog has recently become disinterested in her food, I just noticed she also has a cracked tongue. Please could you advise? I have pictures...

Aug. 7, 2020



Dr. Michele K. DVM


0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Without being able to see her, it is difficult for me to say whether the tongue is causing a problem or not. If she has a decreased appetite, it may be a good idea to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine all of her, see what might be going on, and give you a better idea as to what treatments she may need. I hope that all goes well for her!

Aug. 8, 2020

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