Lymphedema in Dogs

Lymphedema in Dogs

Health & Safety

Lymphedema is a condition that affects some breeds more than others although any dog can develop the problem. It is a condition that negatively impacts a dog's lymphatic system which results in fluid retention and swelling in certain sites on their bodies. The fluid which is called lymph, circulates throughout a dog's lymphatic system and contains white blood cells. It tends to collect in certain areas and more especially in the subcutaneous fat found in a dog’s body.

Breeds Most at Risk

As previously mentioned some breeds are more predisposed to inheriting congenital types of the disorder than other breeds and this includes the following:

  • German Shepherd
  • Bulldog
  • Poodle
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Old English Sheepdog

Symptoms to Watch Out For

When the fluid accumulates in certain parts of the body forming oedemas, it does not cause a dog any pain, but it pits when pushed in with a finger and this depression vanishes if a thickening of connective tissue occurs. A dog's legs swell up which happens when puppies are first born or soon after during the following few months. One or several of a dog's limbs may be affected with the swelling beginning at the lower part of a leg before slowly moving further up a limb. In certain instances, a dog might become lame and they could also experience pain and discomfort on an affected limb.

The Causes

There are congenital and hereditary forms of the condition which sees puppies being born with lymphedema. The problem is caused when a dog's lymphatic system does not develop as it should which could include for the following reasons:

  • Aplasia
  • Valvular incompetence
  • Lymph node fibrosis

However, there could be other underlying causes which could include the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Trauma to a dog's lymphatic system
  • Trauma to a dog's lymph notes
  • Exposure to heat or radiation

Diagnosing the Problem

A vet would need to have a dog's full medical history and be told how the onset of their symptoms first started. They would carry out a full examination and may well recommend carrying out the following tests to determine whether a dog has inherited the disorder:

  • A biochemistry profile
  • A complete blood count

With this said, the most effective test a vet would be able to carry out on a dog suspected of suffering from lymphedema is called a lymphography which allows a vet to better see what area is most affected by the condition when they view the X-rays.

Treatment Options

For the moment, there is not cure for lymphedema in dogs. However, a lot of research is being undertaken with an end goal being to better understand which treatments might be the most effective at treating dogs with the condition. In some instances, pressure bandages and certain antibiotics have been useful when used long-term on certain dogs. Sadly, even complete rest and massaging affected limbs does not alleviate the problem and although there are several surgical procedures available for dogs with lymphedema, they have not proved to be that effective.

Living with a Dog Suffering from Lymphedema

As previously mentioned, there is no cure nor is there a proven effective treatment for the condition. As such, a vet would treat any secondary problems that may arise as a result of a dog suffering from lymphedema which includes them being lame. If a dog suffers from a very severe case of lymphedema, it could prove fatal, but there have been reports of puppies making a full recovery when they experienced a pelvic limp involvement.



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