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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.

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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Ask a Vet

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Australian German Shepherd mix

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Ten Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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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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0 Recommendations

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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Mila

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German Shepherd

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Leg
Drainage

I have a two year old German Shepherd with localized swelling to her back right leg for the last six months. I’ve taken her to the vet three times now; we had blood work done, x rays, urinalysis and cultured fluid from her leg. The only issue the vet could find was that the sample of fluid grew a resistant strain of bacteria when cultured. The vet gave us antibiotics two separate times and the swelling has not improved. Mila does not display any other symptoms; she’s energetic, eats, plays, goes to the washroom regularly.. she doesn’t seem to be in any sort of distress. However, every few weeks the fluid will drain from her leg from the top of her paw which seems to provide her with some relief, but the fluid accumulates again over time and drains again in a few weeks. Is there any recommendations as to what can be done? I was thinking of trying a compression stocking but is there anything else I can do for her or is this something she has to live with and hope it eventually subsides on its own? Thanks! Jenna

Aug. 26, 2018

Mila's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

With conditions like lymphedema, there is little that can be done unless the underlying cause can be established; placing a compression sock/bandage on the leg isn’t going to cure the condition, it will probably result in the fluid constantly draining from the leg. In these cases, it would be best to consult an Internal Medicine Specialist to see if they can narrow in on a cause so that the primary cause can be treated or managed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Preston

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Austrailian Shepherd Mix

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5 Years

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Mild severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Limping
Swollen Foot
Fever (Sometimes)

Preston has a hind leg that periodically swells. When he was a little puppy it was swollen all the time. We tried all kinds of antibiotics and treated him for Lyme disease because he was found with ticks on him. After medication didn't help the swelling the vet told me it was likely lymphedema and to massage it when it swells. As he grew the swelling went down on it's own and would come back once every couple months. After a couple years we had to amputate a toe because the bone had deteriorated. After the amputation we had no more swelling for about a year and a half, then suddenly it came back. Now it flares up about once every 4 to 6 months. Is this typical of lymphedema? I take him to the vet every time his foot swells up but they haven't been able to find any underlying cause.

Aug. 25, 2018

Preston's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Lymphedema may be primary or secondary and in order to start to treat the condition it is important to determine the underlying cause otherwise all you can do is manage a flare up medically but not addressing the underlying condition. If your Veterinarian has been unable to determine an underlying cause you should think about consulting a Specialist for and examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Max

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German shepherd mix

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1 Year

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Heavy Breathing
Mild Difficulties With Swallowing,
Drinks More Water Then Usual
Golfball Sized Lump On Neck
Pain If Touched

My dog has a lump on his neck. It started really small a week or two ago, but now its pretty big. It's more on the right side of the front of his neck. We don't have the money to go to the vet, but is this a lymphedema?

Aug. 5, 2018

Max's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

There are many structures in the neck and numerous glands (lymph nodes, thyroid glands, salivary glands etc…) which may be swollen, without examining Max I cannot say specifically which structure is swollen or what the underlying cause is; whilst I understand money can be tight, some things still need to be checked in person by a Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 5, 2018

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Cinnamon

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Coonhound

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swollenleft Hind Led
Swollen Left Hind Leg..Doesn'T Seem

Cinnamon (Redtick Coonhound) age 10...had a mammory growth surgically removed.long incision(10-12") after 3 days edema occured in hind leg on 1 side of incision looks discolored..she is on antibiotics(cephalexin) 2x day carprofen 2x day tramadol prn.My vet advised massage area 10-20 every hour..I think the staples at the most distal end is pinching..no bleeding...staples come out in another11 days. Vet offered to keep her at clinic have tech do massage & compression wraps hourly..said it would cost $$... the surgery cost $1300. I don't have more $$ to spend..I think the vet office is responcible for it!! Thanks, Donna

April 10, 2018

Cinnamon's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Lymphedema can be a very serious complication from hind end surgery, and is not a predictable effect. If you are not able to spend the money to keep her at the clinic, perhaps you would be able to have daily rechecks, and may be able to work something out with your clinic as to cost, as this is not the fault of the surgeon, or Cinnamon - ideally, everybody just wants her to heal.

April 11, 2018

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Buster

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Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

dog-age-icon

1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fever
Lethargy
Inflammation

Our dog has a very swollen neck and face. The inflammation is rock hard. He has been on antibiotics for 4 days and the swelling doesn't seem to be going down. His fever has broken at this point and he seems to feel better. How long will this swelling last? How can we reduce the swelling on his neck and face?

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Doobie

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English lab

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Limping
Skin Infection

My English Labrador was born with congenital lymphedema. Both his back paws and one of his front paws were swollen up until he was 1.5 years old. Now only one of his back paws look a little swollen. Due to the lymphedema is has a very low immune system and tweaks his legs often when he’s playing and in May 2018 he had a fever of 106.8... a result of a skin infection that came out of no where. Just this last weekend he had another fever of 105.5 and was limping on his back leg and we were told it was a skin infection again and the limping was a symptom of his body not being able to circulate the blood flow. We were told he needs to be on a prescription eliminating diet because they think his food might be causing these fevers although they were over 1.5 years apart. We have no idea where to begin with this elimination My English Labrador was born with congenital lymphedema. Both his back paws and one of his front paws were swollen up until he was 1.5 years old. Now only one of his back paws look a little swollen. Due to the lymphedema is has a very low immune system and tweaks his legs often when he’s playing and in May 2018 he had a fever of 106.8... a result of a skin infection that came out of no where. Just this last weekend he had another fever of 105.5 and was limping on his back leg and we were told it was a skin infection again and the limping was a symptom of his body not being able to circulate the blood flow. We were told he needs to be on a prescription eliminating diet because they think his food might be causing these fevers although they were over 1.5 years apart. We have no idea where to begin with this elimination diet. He’s already allergic to fowl so we can’t have anything with that in it.

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Blue

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Aussie Siberian

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1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Joints

My dog is a 1 year old Aussie mix and his leg has suddenly swelled to about twice it's prior size. About two days ago we took him to the vet because he was not able to put weight on the same leg. After some pain and deep bruising meds the pain seems to be gone, but the swelling is intense. He was also quilled a month ago which the vet seems to think his intial pain was linked to. Is this lyphedema?

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Lucy

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Golden Retriever

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lymphedema In Hind Leg After Cancer

My 9 yr old golden retriever has severe lymphedema in her hind leg from mammary cancer surgery which had spread to her lymph nodes in her groin. She is receiving caraprofen and we tried compression wraps but the fluid just builds up in her thigh and perineum. Now her hind end is swollen too and she has taken off the hair around her anus. She still wants to go for walks and enjoys her meals. Are diuretics ever given to dogs for this? When she rests we put pillows under her back end. I'm at a loss. Any help would be great.

Lymphedema Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$2,500

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