If your dog is coughing, has difficulty swallowing and seems to be hungry but won’t eat, he may have something more serious than a sore throat. If his tonsils are inflamed, he could have tonsillitis.
This condition is more common in small dogs, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, as well as short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs.
When humans get a sore throat it can just be an isolated infection, but it’s not so simple for dogs.
Webmd writes, “Most sore throats are associated with infections in the mouth, sinuses or respiratory tract. They can also occur with systemic diseases such as parvovirus, distemper, herpes virus and pseudorabies [a virus that mainly affects pigs]. Dogs with an anal gland infection may also have a sore throat from spreading the infection while licking at their glands.”
You probably won’t even notice your dog’s tonsils unless they’re inflamed. “This generally occurs as a secondary symptom of a sore throat,” notes pets.webmd.com.
Here are the symptoms to watch for and the treatment for tonsillitis.
What Causes Tonsillitis?
As with humans, a dog’s two tonsils are lymph glands in the back of the throat that ward off the invasion of bacteria, viruses and foreign matter.
“Tonsillitis can be caused by any infection or irritation of the mouth that allows bacteria to multiply and enter the throat,” write John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS, on webvet.com. “The most common cause is probably build up of bacterial tartar on the teeth and associated inflammation of the gums. Most cases of tonsillitis are caused by overgrowth of bacteria that are normally found in the mouth, which means that it is not usually contagious to other pets or people.”
Persistent coughing, gagging or regurgitating stomach acids into the throat can also lead to tonsillitis, according to webmd.
What are the Symptoms of Tonsillitis?
The symptoms of tonsillitis and a sore throat are very similar. For a sore throat, pets.webmd.com and webvet.com say to look for these symptoms:
- Red and inflamed throat
- Softly coughing
- Gagging as if something is caught in his throat
- Exaggerated swallowing
- Licking lips repeatedly
- Loss of appetite; he may approach his food bowl, but won’t eat
- Pus-like drainage coating the back of his throat
If your dog has tonsillitis, he may show these additional symptoms:
- Tonsils are visible, bright red and swollen
- White spots (localized abscesses) can be seen on the tonsils
How is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?
“The diagnosis of tonsillitis is based on a recent history consistent with throat irritation as well as examination of the tonsils,”. “A thorough physical exam looking for other illnesses or diseases is important. Frequently, tonsillitis is not the primary problem.”
Your vet may perform any of these tests, according to PetPlace.com and pets.webmd.com:
- Throat culture to see if bacteria are causing the infection
- X-rays to check for foreign objects such as bone fragments
- Biopsy to rule out common tonsil cancers such as lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma
How is Tonsillitis Treated?
If your vet cannot determine the cause of your dog’s tonsillitis, your dog may need to take an antibiotic for 10 days, according to pets.webmd.com. During this time you should feed him soft, canned dog food mixed with water.
If the tonsillitis is caused by tartar build-up, your dog will need to have his teeth professionally cleaned.
Although it’s a permanent cure for tonsillitis, it’s unlikely your dog will need to have his tonsils removed. “Tonsillectomy for chronically inflamed tonsils is seldom necessary,” writes pets.webmd.com.
How is Tonsillitis Prevented?
Besides keeping your dog’s teeth clean, there is little you can do to prevent tonsillitis.
“Since tonsillitis is usually associated with other illness or disease, it is very difficult to prevent,” writes PetPlace.com. “Once tonsillitis is diagnosed, appropriate treatment usually resolves the condition.”