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What is Lymphedema?

Swelling anywhere on your dog can be a scary thing to see, but it is even scarier to your dog. It may not be painful, but anyone who has ever had any kind of swelling can tell you that it is a very uncomfortable and strange feeling. Most of the time, the cause of your pet’s lymphedema is caused by another illness or injury. For example, swelling of the abdomen or chest may be from cancer or heart disease, while swelling of the face, neck, or tongue could possibly be an allergic reaction.

Lymphedema is a condition described as a collection of lymph fluid in certain tissues in your dog’s body because of obstructions in the lymphatic system (lymph nodes, vessels, and organs). It is the job of the lymph vessels to absorb these fluids that leak out into your dog’s tissues from the capillaries. These vessels then send the lymph fluids back into the bloodstream, where they are able to be used in the immune system functions. The causes of lymphedema may be from a chronic illness or an acute condition such as an injury. It may also be a secondary condition stemming from another illness or it can be the primary illness. However, with a primary lymph disorder, the symptoms are usually noticed in a canine when they are puppies under two months of age. The most common and obvious sign of lymphedema is the swelling of one or all extremities or the abdomen.

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Lymphedema Average Cost

From 566 quotes ranging from $1,200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$2,500

Symptoms of Lymphedema in Dogs

Lymphedema is fluid build-up somewhere on your dog’s body. It can also show other symptoms, such as:

  • Swelling of any of your pet’s legs or anywhere on the body, including the face and abdomen
  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Injury anywhere on the body
  • Change in skin color
  • Refusing to eat or walk
  • Any abnormal behavior

Types

There are several types of lymphedema. The most common are:

  • Congenital aplasia – Defective or missing tissue or organ
  • Hyperplasia - Organ enlargement

  • Hypoplasia – Abnormally small tissue or organ
  • Neoplasia - Tumor

  • Radiation therapy – Cancer treatment
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Causes of Lymphedema in Dogs

Higher occurrence in: 

  • Certain breeds (Borzoi, Rottweiler, Bulldog, Poodle, German Shepherd, Tervuren, Labrador Retriever, Old English Sheepdog, German Shorthaired Pointer, Great Dane)
  • Injury or burn
  • Tumors
  • Infections
  • Heart disorders
  • Compromised liver function
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Diagnosis of Lymphedema in Dogs

When you take your dog to the veterinarian be prepared to explain the symptoms you have noticed and when they began. In addition, you should bring your pet’s vaccination  records and medical history if you have it. Be sure to tell the veterinarian if you have given your dog any kind of medication as well. Neglecting to do so can cause the wrong diagnosis or a bad reaction when the veterinarian gives your pet medication. An extensive physical examination will be performed first, which will usually include weight, height, reflexes, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, respirations, breath sounds, skin and coat condition, and pupil reaction time.

The veterinarian will also need to perform some diagnostic tests, such as a chemical analysis, complete blood count, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), urinalysis, packed cell volume (PCV), liver panel, heartworm test, and a biopsy of the fluid from the affected area. Also, a lymphangiography will be done by injecting dye into the lymph nodes before x-rays are performed. This is one of the most accurate tests in determining the reason for the lymphedema after the normal blood tests fail to find the cause. Additionally, the veterinarian may need to do an ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI for a more detailed view.

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Treatment of Lymphedema in Dogs

Just like most conditions, the treatment for lymphedema is based on the cause or the lack of a cause. If the swelling is mild and the veterinarian cannot find a cause, the best choice may be to wait and see if it goes away on its own or if it gets worse. However, there are some treatments that the veterinarian can try, which are:

Pressure wraps

Wrapping the affected area with a compression bandage can help reduce the swelling right away. The veterinarian will show you how to rewrap the area so you can change the bandage on your own.

Warm water massage

Water therapy, or hydrotherapy, is great for dogs and their owners if done together. You may choose to have a professional do the massage if you are wary about doing it yourself. The heat of the water and weightlessness can instantly make your dog feel better. Continued therapy may be able to lessen the lymphedema or get rid of it completely, but that depends on the cause.

Medications

If your dog has any kind of infection or if the veterinarian suspects infection is imminent, antibiotics are prescribed. Corticosteroids can help get rid of the swelling right away, or a type of benzopyrone, which can also reduce swelling.

If the underlying condition is cancer, surgery may be the best treatment, along with radiation or chemotherapy. In the case of heart disease, the veterinarian will probably run some more tests or prescribe medication such as beta blockers or ACE inhibitor.

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Recovery of Lymphedema in Dogs

There is no cure for lymphedema, but if the underlying cause is found and treated, the condition may simply go away as well. Continue to watch your pet for complications or the return of lymphedema. Continue to visit the veterinarian regularly as recommended.

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Lymphedema Average Cost

From 566 quotes ranging from $1,200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$2,500

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Lymphedema Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Saint Bernard

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My dogs left leg has been swelled from last 2 days, the vet says there is accumulation of fluid as he’s not able to pass urine because of high creatinine (3.5 is the reading).What should we do, his kidney treatment has started from today. Any recommendations from your side how should we approach it from now?

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Unfortunately, without knowing more about your dog's situation, it isn't possible for me to offer any advice. I think your veterinarian is doing a good job, from your description, and it would be best to continue to follow their advice. I

Oct. 20, 2020

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Australian German Shepherd mix

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Ten Months

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Had Lymphodema, But Has Bad Infection In Rear Legs - Results Not Back Till Monday

Dogs leg swelled up really bad over the weekend, took him to ER vet Monday and he said he was in bad shape and if this was something unrelated to a trigger like an infection euthanasia might be the best option. I said to test and we’ll address it after we have facts. So he did come back with an infection but won’t know what till this Monday. Dog is on all those meds now and his legs have come down some but he has red rash like all over his legs and the skin is blistering and falling off as it continues to bleed. It’s blood not pus but I’m concerned he’s missing something? Can send pics.

July 10, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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From your description, it does not sound like they are missing anything at this point. I'm sorry that is happening to your dog, that sounds terrible. It sounds like he may have been bitten by a spider or a snake, if that's possible in your area? Many times, with that type of injury, the tissue necrosis can be dramatic and awful, but does heal overtime. It will be important to keep in close communication with your veterinarian if your dog is not hospitalized. I hope that he recovers well!

July 10, 2020

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Lymphedema Average Cost

From 566 quotes ranging from $1,200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$2,500

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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