Swallowing Problems in Dogs

By Bridie Cavanaugh

Swallowing problems in dogs is referred to as dysphagia. There are many causes of dysphagia. It may be a sign of a small problem or a more severe illness or injury. Early diagnosis is important to insure appropriate treatment. Bring your dog to the veterinarian for appropriate diagnosis at the first signs of swallowing problems.


If you dog exhibits any signs of swallowing problems, it should immediately be taken to the veterinarian for appropriate diagnosis. Swallowing problems in dogs can be very painful and if left untreated can lead to malnutrition, pneumonia or even death.


It is very important that the cause of the swallowing problem be diagnosed correctly. Your veterinarian will examine your dogs head and mouth. They will then probably require a complete oral examination requiring sedation. The veterinarian may also request blood tests, urinalysis and potentially X-rays of the head, neck and chest. Additional specialized diagnostic tests may also be requested to confirm diagnosis of the swallowing problem.


Swallowing problems in dogs have many potential causes. These include:

Nerve dysfunctions Inflammation, or damage, of the chewing muscles, tongue, gums, mouth or pharynx Muscular dystrophies Muscle paralysis due to rabies, tetanus, tick bites or botulism Injury to the mouth, jaw or tongue
Fractured bones or teeth Dental issues Foreign body Cyst, tumor or granuloma Airway disease Poisoning Immune disorders


The most commonly reported symptoms of swallowing problems are coughing, nasal discharge and vomiting. Other symptoms may include:

Drooling Bloody saliva Excess saliva Unable to keep food in the mouth Numerous swallowing attempts Loss of appetite Weight loss Mouth pain Halitosis Muscle weakness Gagging


The treatment for swallowing problems will vary depending on the diagnosed cause. Treatment should begin as early as possible and may include:

Dietary changes -- softer food may be recommended Feeding tube or intravenous feeding Antibiotics -- to combat bacteria Surgery Medication specific to underlying disease Steroids - to treat inflammation