What is Tonsillectomy?

The tonsils are made up of lymphoid tissue located at the back of the throat. The two separate growths help fight infections in the mouth. When doing this, the tonsils become swollen to the point that they are easily seen when the mouth is open. If the tonsils stay swollen for a prolonged period of time, the condition is referred to as tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is a common ailment in dogs. 

As tonsillitis is generally a symptom of a primary health issue, it can often be treated by addressing the cause. If antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication fail to stop the issue, surgery may be suggested. Rarely is the removal of the tonsils (a procedure called a tonsillectomy) recommended,  however, if an infection has become too severe or if cancer is suspected, it may be the appropriate course of action. In dogs who have short snouts, swollen tonsils may impede breathing to the point that they must be removed. 

Dogs afflicted with tonsillitis often will gag or swallow repeatedly. Eating can be painful due to a sore throat, so the dog may be disinterested in food and begin to lose weight. The issue manifests in small breeds more than large ones. An ACVS board-certified veterinary surgeon should be used to carry out a tonsillectomy.

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Tonsillectomy Procedure in Dogs

The issue may be confirmed through a physical examination of the dog. X-rays may be needed to rule out the presence of a foreign body or to locate cancerous growths. If growths are found, a fine needle aspiration may be required to identify what type of cancer exists. If the dog has an infection, the mouth may be swabbed to collect bacteria so that an appropriate antibiotic can be used. Blood work will also need to be run to determine if the dog is healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia.

If a tonsillectomy is deemed necessary, the dog will be required to fast for several hours preceding the operation. It will then be sedated and placed on its back. The mouth will be secured open throughout the procedure. Local anesthesia will be used on the throat so that the dog can not feel the surgical removal. 

There are multiple ways to perform a tonsillectomy. A regular scalpel may be used to cut the tonsils free by the stalk (an area called a “pedicle”). Pressure will be placed on the wound areas for five minutes to allow blood to clot. An electric scalpel may be used instead, which brings the advantage of cauterizing blood vessels as cuts are made, greatly lessening the amount of blood lost. The tonsils can also be twisted using forceps until the stalk breaks off, or wire may be pulled tightly around the pedicle until the tonsil is severed off. Sutures may be needed to close the wound left by a tonsil removal.

Efficacy of Tonsillectomy in Dogs

A tonsillectomy is a permanent procedure that alleviates issues with the tonsils by completely removing them. The overall success of the surgery will depend on the exact method used and the skill level of the surgeon performing the operation. Newer methods that limit blood loss may be more effective and carry fewer healing complications. 

In brachycephalic dog breeds, the removal of the tonsils should reduce breathing difficulties. If the tonsillectomy is being used to treat cancer, the prognosis will vary depending on how far the disease has progressed. If combined with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the dog may survive over one year post-surgery.

Tonsillectomy Recovery in Dogs

The dog should be monitored for several hours after the procedure to ensure that no complications are present. The veterinary surgeon will likely evaluate the dog thoroughly before releasing it. A medication such as Novasul may be used for its pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties to assist the dog as it resumes eating. Liquid food will be needed for the first few days to not irritate the surgical area. The throat tissue may fully heal in a matter of days, so the overall recovery period will likely be short. A follow-up appointment will be needed if the dog has been diagnosed with cancer, in order to begin a treatment regime.

Cost of Tonsillectomy in Dogs

The cost of a tonsillectomy will depend on which method of removal is chosen. Newer techniques may require specialized equipment, which often costs more initially but can reduce the costs associated with post-surgery complications. On average, a tonsillectomy will cost somewhere between $500 and $800. The overall price of treatment may be far higher if chemotherapy and radiation therapy are required.

Dog Tonsillectomy Considerations

In general, a tonsillectomy is a fairly simple procedure that is not associated with many risks. After surgery, some dogs may experience difficulty swallowing. Infection at the surgical site is possible, and may lead to further issues. Choosing a skilled surgeon can greatly reduce the chance of complications after surgery. This operation should only be performed if it is absolutely necessary, as the tonsils carry out an important role in protecting the body from infection. If young dogs present with tonsillitis, delaying surgery may be advised, as many dogs grow out of this issue without treatment.

Tonsillectomy Prevention in Dogs

To prevent the need for a tonsillectomy, reducing the issues that bring on tonsillitis can help. Good dental health has been shown to decrease the chance of bacterial infection of the gums. This can be done by regularly brushing your dog's teeth and bringing your dog to your veterinarian for annual teeth cleaning. If your dog has been coughing or vomiting excessively, more care may be needed to keep the mouth clean. 

Issues related to the tonsils are seen more often in small and brachycephalic dog breeds. Dogs born with a cleft palate may also suffer more from tonsillitis, and should not be bred. Cancer of the tonsils may be inherited but often develops in dogs older than ten years of age. Environmental factors may increase the chance of cancer development. Because of this, it is important to reduce any exposure your dog may have to known cancer-causing agents such as cigarette smoke and car exhaust. A healthy lifestyle including a high-quality diet and regular exercise may also prevent cancer.