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Your dog's tongue is a unique structure with specialized tissue adapted to allow your dog to taste, manipulate food, and aid in vocalization. However, if trauma occurs to the tongue or disease such as lingual tumors occur, a portion of your dog's tongue may need to be surgically removed. Although lingual tumors are not common in dogs, when they do occur they are generally aggressive. The most common malignant tumor of the tongue is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Removal of the tumor and surrounding lingual tissue is necessary to treat cancer and prevent spread. A partial glossectomy is the removal of any free (not directly anchored to the oral cavity) portion of the tongue. Subtotal and total glossectomy involve the removal of part or all of the tongue including lingual tissue attached with the genioglossus to the oral cavity. The goal of partial glossectomy is to remove sufficient lingual tissue to allow sufficient margins where neoplasia or damage has occurred, but leave as much tissue intact as possible. Partial glossectomy, if necessary in your dog, is performed under anesthesia by a qualified veterinary surgeon.
Your veterinarian will provide you with preoperative instructions which will include fasting your dog from food prior to surgery. Because surgery takes place in the oral cavity, it is likely that general anaesthetic will be performed by intravenous medication rather than by intubation through the oral cavity which would hamper the procedure. Partial glossectomy will be performed by excising a portion of the free (not anchored) of the tongue and associated damaged or diseased tissue. This will be done by making an incision anterior to the damaged tissue or tumor, between the tumor and the back of the mouth cavity. Incisions used may be longitudinal, cuneiform or transverse depending on the location of disease or damage. When a tumor is involved, tissue margins up to 2 cm caudal to the tumor will be removed if possible. A surgical marker will be used to mark the area to be excised. A clamp may be placed to help prevent bleeding. The lingual tissue is cut away starting at one side. Litigation is performed as the tissue is excised away and blood vessels are encountered; suturing is performed periodically to close the incision as tissue is removed. If the lingual artery is intercepted it will need to be resected and any major nerves encountered will be preserved as much as possible. If possible, reconstruction with skin flap repair may be conducted and, as much as possible, a normal tongue shape will be preserved. Your dog will be put into recovery post-surgery and monitored for recovery from anesthetic and hemorrhaging from the glossectomy site.
If lingual tumors are present, there is a risk of recurrence in remaining lingual tissues from partial glossectomy. More aggressive glossectomy may be an option depending on malignancy of tumors. Sufficient margins must be removed along with lesions in order to adequately treat lingual tumors. Treatment with chemotherapy or radiation in conjunction with partial glossectomy will provide the optimum outcome where malignant tumors are present.
Post-surgery, your dog may need to be provided nutrition with a feeding tube or administered a liquid or soft food diet depending on the amount of lingual tissue removed. You will also have to ensure that no items are available for your dog to chew on post-surgery that would cause damage to the surgical site. A basket muzzle may be useful in preventing oral damage during recovery. Medication prescribed by your veterinarian should be administered as directed and may include pain medication and antibiotic. Most dogs recover well and adapt well with up to 60% removal of their tongue. Partial glossectomy usually involves less loss of tissue and your dog should not have trouble coping post-surgically.
Partial glossectomy in your dog will cost between $200-$500 depending on the amount of intervention required and whether reconstructive procedures are performed.
Blood supplied from lingual artery and facial nerves connected to the tongue need to be considered during partial glossectomy. A surgical plan should be developed to determine what tissue needs to be removed and the location of major arteries and nerves before surgery.
A plan to address any interference of these vessels and nerves will reduce the likelihood of bleeding or nerve damage caused by excision of lingual tissue.
Although prevention of lingual cancers is not well understood in dogs, removing hazardous objects that might damage your dog's oral cavity and tongue will help prevent surgical intervention being required on the tongue from trauma. Routine monitoring by your veterinarian to discover lingual neoplasia at an early stage will allow for less invasive partial glossectomy to be an option in treating lesions.
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My dog (15lb) was attacked by 2 big dogs while we were walking and ripped her throat open. I got her to the emergency vet, and then had to move her to the vet hospital an hour away. The following day the surgeon advised that the tongue had been separated from the larynx. They reattached it 6 days ago and said there was good blood flow but were unsure of the extent of nerve damage. Two days ago they removed the trachea tube and she is breathing on her own. More improvement today. The concern is still the tongue, the surgeons plan to take another look inside on Mon. So far, she does not appear to have any feeling, the tip, which hangs out, is dark red and developing a black spot. Here is my question. The doctors have given her top-notch care and I have no complaint -- but have admitted they are getting into uncharted waters. I want to know if there is someplace, someone, I can turn to who might be expert in this field -- if there is some treatment that can increase the chances of her keeping all or enough of her tongue to be able to eat normally as opposed to being fed through a tube?
Aug. 4, 2018
This would be something to speak with your Veterinarian about as they will be familiar with Specialists in your area, I don’t know which city or country you live in. The extent of trauma to the throat suffered by AJ is not something seen usually in practice and it may be a case that a portion of the tongue may be lost due to lack of blood flow. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Aug. 5, 2018
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My dog (9) has a lingual mass back of tongue. No spread to lymph nodes or lungs. It is very hard to make decision about surgery. Wonderful surgeon, but my head is aching with the thought of my sweet girl losing part of her tongue. What if we don't do it?? Biopsy showed aggressive squamous cells
Oct. 6, 2017
I would recommend surgery on any oral mass where possible as further growth may impede eating and may be easily damaged by foreign objects (sticks etc…). I understand your concern about surgery, but with good perioperative care and appropriate risk management the surgery should go well; ultimately this is your decision, but I would go for it based on the information provided. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Oct. 6, 2017
My yellow lab also had SCC and had to have over half her tongue removed and she was able to adapt very well. I was also worries that she would not adapt well, but I was pleasantly surprised when one week after the surgery she learned how to drink water again on her own and eat her food. I find big chunks of meat easier to feed her than normal kibble due to the size. It can get really sloppy with the smaller kibble. This is a very aggressive cancer though. It has been 3 months since her surgery and another small mass popped up and she was able to get it removed again because the location was okay and would not compromise anymore of her tongue. I am hoping I can get at least another year with her. She is only 9. I do highly recommend surgery. If anything it will give her a better quality of life for the remaining time your dog has. Having this kind of cancer in the mouth is extremely painful.
Jan. 25, 2018
My dog also just recently was diagnosed with melanoma on the base of her tongue that extends right up to the midline. I wish surgery was an option but going up or past midline will compromise the viability and blood supply to the tongue. I'm wondering about complete amputation of the tongue. There are some stories of dogs adjusting to this and eventually learning to eat and drink without a feeding tube. Just wondering if others have experienced this and how was adjustment and care of your dog after the amputation.
Oct. 25, 2017
Can you get your dog's tongue removed if he licks too much? If not, what is another solution?
June 15, 2018
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