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Causes of a Lump on a Dog's Throat

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Lump on a Dog's Throat

Finding a lump on a dog's throat can be a scary experience, mostly because the first thought comes to cancer. There are several causes of a lump on a dog's throat and the only way to know for sure is by having the dog see the vet. There can be benign, not-so-benign and even malignant causes of a lump on a dog's throat, so it's important to see the vet sooner than later to play it safe. Often, the vet can easily find the underlying cause by performing a simple, test. Following are several potential causes of a lump on a dog's throat.

lump on a dog's throat

Lump on dog's throat due to lymphoma

A Lump on a Dog's Throat

If you found a lump on your dog's throat or neck area, this may feel alarming, but the good news is that it's far better finding a lump and having it investigated by the vet than not knowing of it's existence. Many dog owners find a lump on the dog's throat when grooming their dogs but in dogs with long hair, a lump on a dog's throat may be tricky to be detected.

Lumps on a dog's throat may be found in different locations. There may be a single lump or  lumps on both sides of dog's neck. The lump may be small or large. Some lumps feel soft, squishy and moveable, others may feel more solid and firmly attached. Some lumps may be found, under the jaw, mid-line of dog's throat or off to the side.

It may be tempting to try to diagnose a lump on a dog's throat at home, but you often can't tell what they are just by feel alone, and often times not even can your veterinarian. The diagnosis of a lump on a dog's throat often derives from a simple test known as "fine needle aspiration" followed by closely observing the aspirated cells under a microscope. In some cases, the most definite answer comes from a biopsy entailing a full tissue sample.

Treatments of lumps on a dog's throat vary and are based on the underlying cause. Benign lumps that grow quite large may need surgical removal if they enlarge and push on structures in and around the neck such as the esophagus, and the airway.

A Fatty Mass

dog-swollen-lymph-nodes-fna

Lumps are often aspirated with a small needle.

One of the most common causes of an isolated lump on a dog's throat is what's known as a lipoma. A lipoma is simply an accumulation of fat that is found under the dog's skin.

Typically, lipomas are soft masses that are easily moved under the skin. However, it's important to consider that not always soft masses are necessarily lipomas. "Have your dog’s lumps tested (not just “looked at”), warns veterinarian Dr. Damian Dressler, the "dog cancer vet." There are several malignant dog cancers that may feel as soft lumps under the skin.

Usually, a lipoma can be easily identified by fine needle aspiration. The vet typically knows he is dealing with a lipoma considering that, when aspirated, only fat cells are recovered, explains Dr.  Johnny D. Hoskins, a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine.

When a lipoma is found, it is standard practice in veterinary medicine to let them be. Surgery is usually only indicated when they grow large enough to interfere with a dog's activity or with the correct functioning of an organ. In the case of a lipoma on a dog's throat, you want to evaluate with the help of your vet whether it may interfere with a dog's ability to breath and swallow.

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Presence of an Abscess

An abscess takes place when bacteria brew under the surface of the skin. As pus accumulates under the skin, it forms a "pus-pocket," which may grow and eventually starts resembling a little (or sometimes even a big) lump. An abscess can be caused by a puncture wound (like a dog or cat bite, but sometimes even an insect bite can cause it), presence of a foreign body or any type of trauma causing some sort of break in the skin.

Usually, an abscess has a fast onset, often the swelling happens quickly over the course of less than 24 hours from when bacteria are introduced into the skin. In most cases, the swelling is quite warm and painful to the touch.

A fine needle aspirate of the area is often a first diagnostic approach. The vet will look at the cells under the microscope. The presence of purulent material (pus) is often indicative of an abscess. If an abscess is found, the vet will likely lance it, drain it, flush it under sterile conditions and then the dog is put on antibiotics. Complicated abscesses may require a drain placed in them so to continue draining out the pus.

Salivary Gland Problem

In some cases, swellings in the neck region are not abscesses, but a collection of saliva in the tissues from an injured salivary gland, explains veterinarian Dr. Bruce. 

A salivary mucocele is the name for the collection of saliva which has leaked from a salivary gland that has been damaged. Affected dogs may show a soft, painless swelling in the upper neck region, throat or inside the mouth, along the tongue. The name for the collection of saliva in the upper neck region, by the jaw, is known as a cervical mucocele. This is the most common type.

Along with the swelling in the neck area, some dogs may also develop respiratory distress or trouble swallowing if the mass is enlarging too much. Obviously, this requires prompt treatment considering that affected dogs may die from acute respiratory distress.

Diagnosis is obtained by fine needle aspiration. In the case of a salivary mucocele, the aspirate appears as a clear, yellowish or blood-colored thick, ropy fluid that is composed of saliva. Presence of white blood cells may be indicative of an infection in the salivary gland or an abscess.

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Thyroid Tumors

Thyroid tumors in dogs are not very common as they account for 10 to 15 percent of all head and neck cancers. Affected dogs are usually around the age of 10. Thyroid tumors include carcinomas and adenomas, with carcinomas being more common (comprising 63 to 87.5 percent of all thyroid cancers).

Carcinomas present in most cases as uni-lateral growths (found only on one side), with bilateral growths (affecting two sides), being a sign of more extensive disease. The growth may locally invade the dog's esophagus, trachea, larynx, muscles of the neck and blood vessels. This cancer may spread to the dog's lumps, lymph nodes, but also adrenal glands, kidneys, liver, heart and brain. Affected dogs may show trouble swallowing, breathing problems, and there may changes in the dog's bark.

Adenomas are diagnosed less than 50 percent of the time. These growths show as well-encapsulated, freely movable growths that present on one side of the neck. They may vary in size to quite small to quite large. These masses are not painful. Dog owners may report presence of clinical signs from a few weeks to even many years. Fine needle aspiration can help diagnose these types of tumors as there may be presence of cancerous cells. Surgery is needed to remove these tumors.

dog lymph node chart

Other Causes 

There are several other potential causes for a lump on a dog's throat. For example, the sudden onset of a swelling by the throat can be the result of a bug bite. Other causes of masses may include a harmless cyst or other more malignant growths such as mast cell tumors, lymphosarcomas and fibrosarcomas.

There are lymph nodes in the area of the throat and these can sometimes enlarge. A typical area of lymph node enlargement takes place under the dog's jaw (the submandibular lymph node).

An enlarged lymph node in dogs can be indicative of inflammation or infection affecting some place in the dog's body. When this happens the condition is known as reactive lymph node hyperplasia. However, in some cases, swelling of the lymph nodes under the dog's jaw area can be a sign of a cancer known as lymphoma.

A lump on the dog's throat can sometimes also be a hematoma (in other words, the collection of blood under the skin, also known as a bruise) perhaps as a result running into something (trauma).

At times, what feels for the dog owner as a lump in reality is simply the dog's trachea. The trachea feels like a large firm mass located midline on the dog's neck, below the jaw. In certain dogs, especially the larger ones, the trachea may appear as a more prominent feature, explains veterinarian Dr. Christie.

As seen, the causes for a a lump on a dog's throat can be many! The only sure way to know what is going on is by seeing the vet.

Photo Credits:

  • Joel Mills, This is a 12 year old Golden Retriever with lymphoma. The left submandibular lymph node is swollen, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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