How to Tell If your Dog’s Lymph Nodes are Swollen

The lymph nodes are an important part of your dog’s body. They belong to the lymphatic system and are a kind of filter station. The lymph nodes are part of the immune system. Swelling of the lymph nodes can have various causes. This includes, for example, a harmless infection in the body, for example in the oral cavity. But lymph gland cancer is also conceivable.

For that reason it is important to examine your dog regularly even if symptoms are not shown. We show you how to tell if your dog’s lymph nodes are swollen.

how to tell if your dog's lymph nodes are swollen

How to Tell If your Dog’s Lymph Nodes are Swollen

As already mentioned, swollen lymph nodes are not a direct sign of cancer. The first thing to do is to palpate your dog’s lymph nodes to see which and how many are affected. If your dog is currently suffering from an infection such as the flu or leishmaniasis, the swelling there may be the cause. Then often only one lymph node is affected.

When palpating, you should focus on the following areas of the body (both the left and right sides):

  1. Lower jaw
  2. Neck
  3. Armpits
  4. Groins (inside)
  5. Back of the knees

Feel carefully and remember to always palpate the lymph nodes on the left and right, not just on one side. Talk to your dog as you carefully examine the individual areas. You can take your time. If you don’t feel anything – don’t try desperately to find a node at this point – even if anatomically one should sit there.

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Searching a little wider is okay – but don’t increase the pressure. Perhaps the lymph node at this point is so inconspicuous and normal that it is simply indistinguishable from the surrounding tissue. There is no problem then. However, if the dog responds in pain when palpating a swollen lymph node, it may well be an indication of infection. If this can be reproduced and occurs repeatedly, a precautionary visit to the vet is indicated.

If you can’t feel a lymph node, that’s a good sign. Every dog ​​owner should routinely examine the lymph nodes of his dog. The exact location of the lymph nodes is described above (see position of the lymph nodes). Normally, lymph nodes cannot be distinguished from the surrounding tissue by touch. So if you don’t feel anything, that’s a good sign.

How to Find Swollen Lymph Nodes in Dog

  1. First of all: stay calm yourself and talk to the dog soothingly the whole time
  2. The dog can stand or lie, if they are lying down they have to change sides once during the procedure (if necessary, work with a super treat)
  3. It is important that there is a totally relaxed atmosphere (otherwise the action may be postponed by an hour)
  4. Feel the size and hardness of the lymph node with a gentle, circular motion (parts of the body of the lymph nodes in dogs – see anatomy above)
  5. Always proceed very gently – if the dog shows pain reactions do not continue
  6. Swollen lymph nodes differ from the surrounding tissue by the perceived elevation and increased firmness
  7. In most cases, the nodes can be carefully moved over the underlying tissue
  8. If you’ve made a worrying discovery while palpating, do not show any excitement, panic or pity – just continue to calm your dog down as before and / or distract them with a treat.
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palpating lymph node of lying dog

When Should You Worry About a Swollen Lymph Node?

The following overview is in no way intended to be used for your own diagnosis. Swollen lymph nodes in our dogs give us an indication of an activated immune defense in their body.

The actual cause of the disease can only be determined with a specific diagnosis by the veterinarian or a laboratory. What indications of a disease can the lymph nodes give us? What if one or more lymph nodes are swollen?

If just a single lymph node is swollen and hardened

This indicates a limited inflammation near this lymph node:

  • On the jaw, this can indicate an inflamed tooth
  • In the back of the knee, this can indicate a toenail injury
  • In the armpit, this can indicate an inflammation on the foreleg
  • In the groin, this can indicate an inflammation in the hind leg
  • On the neck, this can indicate a problem with the airways, e.g. kennel cough

When several lymph nodes are swollen and hardened in one area of the body

This indicates:

  • A severe, local inflammation, a focus of infection in this body region
  • Serious injuries, strong sources of infection with bacteria, viruses, etc.

When lymph nodes are swollen and hardened all over the body

  • For example lymph nodes in the head and neck area and in the area of the forelegs and hind legs, armpits and groin on both sides, this indicates systemic disease
  • The immune defense is activated all over the dog’s body
  • Causes can be strong bacterial infections affecting the whole body, e.g. borreliosis , viruses, tumor diseases, in particular lymph gland cancer, malignant lymphoma, etc.

When a single lymph node cannot be moved when palpating

Regardless of the location of the lymph node, if it is hardened or swollen and cannot be moved on its sub-tissue, this indicates that the lymph node is growing into the surrounding tissue and thus gives an indication of a tumor disease.

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Swollen lymph nodes in dogs can only give an indication of a possible disease. Which disease is behind the swollen lymph nodes can only be determined through a detailed diagnosis by a specialist. Only externally examining the lymph nodes is not possible to make reliable diagnosis in the dog.

Important: This article is for informational purposes only. We always recommend that you go to a trusted vet with your pet first.