My Dog Has a Swollen Face

Unless your dog's facial swelling occurs in a gradual, perfectly symmetrical fashion, the swelling should be obvious. The reasons for a dog's face to swell up are varied, but they're not difficult to decipher with the proper guidance.

What to Look For

To properly examine your dog's face, choose a comfortable area with good lighting. Start with your dog standing so that no wrinkles or skin folds prevent an accurate assessment of her facial swelling. Look your dog straight in the face, comparing your current evaluation with your memory of what is normal for her. Move your dog's head side to side and up and down to get an accurate look at all aspects of her head, including the eyes, chin, muzzle, jaw line, and the base of her ears.

Apply gentle pressure to the areas that appear swollen, checking for signs of injury, tenderness, and heat. Finally, follow the directions in “My Dog Is Drooling Excessively” to properly examine your dog's mouth.

What to Do

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did the swelling appear to occur spontaneously rather than gradually? Spontaneous swelling of the face is usually the result of some form of trauma, infection, or allergic response. The latter could be due to ingesting a certain food or chemical, or to an insect bite or sting. In either instance, as long as your dog continues to breathe comfortably and you notice no blood, pus, or dramatic injury to any of the specific areas of the face mentioned above, start applying cold compresses. Giving your dog a weight-appropriate dose of an antihistamine such as Benadryl may help reduce the swelling significantly. See “How to Treat Your Dog's Allergic Symptoms” [not available online].
  • Did the swelling come on slowly? Slow swelling of the canine muzzle/face is worrisome because it may suggest various forms of cancer or a systemic disease such as chronic renal failure. Dental disease can cause this type of gradual swelling as well, so be sure to have your veterinarian conduct a thorough workup of your dog, including blood testing, if this is the case. This should be done within a few days of noticing the swelling, if possible.
  • Is there evidence of injury to the area? Bruising, punctures, and lacerations can all cause swelling. If any of these are present, treat them as aggressively as you feel comfortable doing. Be sure to ensure against infection by disinfecting and using an antibiotic ointment, such as Bacitracin, Neosporin, etc.
  • Is there blood and/or pus in the area? Blood alone should be cleaned and evaluated for ongoing blood loss and controlled as appropriate. See “How to Control Bleeding” [not available online]. If there is pus present, the swelling may be an accumulation of more pus under your dog's skin, which is called an abscess. In this case, the use of a warm compress and gentle but steady pressure may allow you to drain the bulk of the pus from the site and thus reduce the size of the swelling. Antibiotics will still be necessary, however, so chances are you will need to see your vet for further treatment and a prescription.
  • Did your oral exam reveal any dental issues? Chronic dental disease is a fairly common cause of facial swelling. Any time it is severe enough to result in noticeable facial swelling, it is enough to merit a visit with your vet. Without your vet's help, your dog could end up losing some teeth and developing more serious systemic illnesses due to the entry of oral bacteria into her bloodstream.