Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when the lymph system malfunctions and fluid accumulates in soft tissues.
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and organs that removes a clear fluid called lymph from the body. Lymph helps to remove excess water and other materials from the tissues, including bacteria, damaged cells, and toxins. The lymphatic system also plays an important role in fighting infections. Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when the lymph system malfunctions and fluid accumulates in soft tissues.
Lymphedema may occur as one of two different types: primary or secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema usually occurs after surgery to remove lymph nodes, while secondary lymphedema can develop at any age without any apparent cause. Secondary lymphedema can be caused by cancer treatment (such as radiation therapy), certain conditions like heart disease or kidney failure that affect normal fluid drainage from your body’s tissues; it may also result from obstructions within your lymph vessels because of trauma or infection.
More commonly seen in dogs over 6 years of age, the causes may include allergies, tumors, chronic inflammation, long term antibiotics and surgery.
The cause of lymphedema in dogs is unknown, although it has been linked to:
- Tumors or cancerous growths
- Chronic inflammation of the lymph nodes, which can be caused by bacterial or viral infections (like Lyme disease) or parasites in the body. Prolonged use of antibiotics can also lead to chronic inflammation.
- Long-term use of steroids for treating skin conditions such as eczema and allergic reactions that often cause severe itching; these steroids suppress the immune system and can lead to lymph node swelling.
- Surgery on lymph nodes or removal due to cancerous growths may also cause lymphedema.
Lymphedema often starts as localized swelling and can progress to affect multiple areas of the body.
There are a few ways to treat your dog’s lymph edema. If you notice that your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, it is important to take them to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Your vet will likely run tests and determine what type of lymphatic system malfunction led to your pup’s condition. In some cases, medications may be prescribed; however, this can be expensive and only helps temporarily reduce swelling (if any).
If you notice swelling on your dog’s body, your veterinarian will run a full body examination to diagnose lymphedema and review any associated health risks.
If you notice swelling on your dog’s body, your veterinarian will run a full body examination to diagnose lymphedema and review any associated health risks. They may also perform tests such as:
- A complete blood count (CBC), which checks for infection or inflammation.
- A urinalysis, which helps identify kidney problems.
- Radiographs, or X-rays of the chest and abdomen to check for an underlying cause of the lymphedema (such as cancer).
Your vet will likely take a biopsy to determine if the condition is primary or secondary lymphedema.
Primary lymphedema is caused by a problem with the lymphatic system, which is responsible for removing fluid from tissue and transmitting it back to blood vessels via the lymph nodes. The most common cause of primary lymphedema in dogs is congenital heart disease; other possible causes include cancer, infections, surgery or trauma that damages the lymphatic system.
Many cases of lymphedema are idiopathic (unknown cause), but treatment will focus on relieving the symptoms of swelling and pain.
Most cases of lymphedema are idiopathic, meaning they have no known cause. However, treatment will focus on relieving the symptoms of swelling and pain. Treatment will depend on the stage of lymphedema.
In early stages where there is localized swelling and no lymph duct obstruction, compression therapy (as prescribed by your veterinarian) may be sufficient. Supportive bandages can also be useful by helping to reduce swelling by applying pressure directly over the affected areas.
Tucked behind her front legs was an area of swelling about the size of a tangerine.
You should be familiar with your dog’s body parts, including the areas behind her front legs. If you notice swelling in that area, it is important to bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Swelling could be a sign of an injury or infection—or even something more serious, like lymphoma or mast cell tumor.
The most important thing is to keep an eye on your pet and let the vet know if you notice any changes in her gait or behavior. That way they can provide treatment right away!
Treatment will depend on what stage your dog’s lymphedema is in; early cases have better outcomes than later stages that involve more widespread swelling.
The treatment plan for a case of canine lymphedema will vary depending on what stage it is, since each stage has its own set of challenges. In general, there are four possible ways to treat lymphedema:
- Medications can help relieve pain and inflammation caused by the condition, but they don’t stop the buildup of fluid or improve lymph flow.
- Surgery can remove excess fluid or clear out blockages that are causing swelling, though not all dogs are good candidates for this procedure.
- Exercise therapy helps increase blood flow and decrease swelling overall; this method should also be used along with medication and surgery if possible.
- Diet changes may help prevent some symptoms from recurring post-treatment by reducing inflammation (i.e., less salt intake) or promoting healthy circulation (i.e., omega-3 fatty acids).
While there is no cure for lymphedema, treatment can help manage the condition and prevent further progression. Treatment options include physical therapy, compression garments and surgery to remove affected tissues.