Tonsillitis in Dogs
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Race Foster, DVM

Dogs have tonsils like humans do. Dogs have one set of tonsils: one tonsil is located on each side of the throat. They are found within a fold of tissue referred to as a tonsillar crypt. The tonsils are part of the lymphatic system. They can become inflamed, and when they do, it is called tonsillitis.

What are the causes?

The inflammation can be due to a number of conditions including:

  • An infection
  • Foreign object lodged in mouth
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic productive coughing
  • Severe dental and gum disease

What are the symptoms?

As with other throat and mouth irritations, many dogs will be reluctant to eat and will drool excessively because swallowing is painful. Other dogs with the same condition may swallow repeatedly. Dogs may also retch, cough, and act depressed. Depending on the cause, they may also have a fever (a normal adult canine temperature is 100.5-102.5°F). When inflamed, the tonsils become enlarged and red, fold out of the crypts, and are easily visible with the naked eye.

What are the risks?

As in humans, tonsillitis is seldom serious; however, it can be chronic and annoying.

What is the management?

In treating tonsillitis, we need to first find out what is causing the tonsillitis and then treat this underlying cause. For instance, we may need to determine what is causing the chronic vomiting or coughing. The throat would be examined for the presence of a foreign object, such as a stick, which could be lodged in the throat and cause inflammation of the tonsils. In these instances, the foreign object would be removed and the animal placed on antibiotics. If dental disease is the problem, a professional dental cleaning and other procedures may be necessary, along with antibiotics. Only in severe chronic tonsillitis of unknown origin should the tonsils be removed. The canine tonsils are lymphoid tissue and therefore, are important in fighting diseases. Whenever possible, they should be left intact.

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