Dog with facial swelling around eyes

Key takeaway

 Facial swelling in dogs can be the result of allergic reaction, infected trauma, dental issues, and tumors. This symptom requires veterinary attention; treatment depends on the root cause of your dog’s facial swelling.

Facial Swelling in Dogs: How to Help Your Pup

It can be very disconcerting when your dog’s face swells up. You’re not only worried because the animal looks like something out of a horror show, but you’re also concerned that your pet might have a serious health problem.

That may or may not be the case. Sometimes facial swelling is a fairly harmless reaction, and other times it requires emergency care. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the potential causes behind facial swelling in dogs and describe potential treatment options for your pup. 

What Is Facial Swelling in Dogs?

In the simplest terms, dog facial swelling is an enlargement or an edema (fluid build-up) that is trapped under the skin. It can happen on any part of the face, including the head, muzzle, eyes or ears. It may be symmetrical or you might see a dog’s face swollen on one side.

Sometimes a dog's swollen face appears suddenly, but it can show up gradually over time and it may come and go. It may take the form of small bumps or hives, sometimes with the hair standing up, andinvolve itchiness.

Common Causes of Facial Swelling in Dogs

There are dozens of causes and their variants, but facial swelling is generally produced by infection, trauma, allergies, dental problems, or tumors.

common cause of facial swelling in dogs

Traumatic events can sometimes cause facial swelling, but when the trauma site gets infected, your dog’s head and neck can get lopsided swelling. Often, after an animal bite or penetrating injury, abscesses on the head and neck will appear suddenly. There is also usually a  fever associated with the swelling.

Dogs with this sort of facial swelling will often refuse to eat or drink because of being painful. Cellulitis may also be present and is characterized by chronic tissue inflammation. In addition to swelling and pain, there can be tenderness and redness.

Dog with swollen face

In the case of dog allergies, there are many possible culprits, including household chemicals, bug bites, bee stings, plants, foods, pollen and medications. Some allergic reactions may result in mild reactions For example, dog dermatitis can be handled relatively easily, but other reactions may be more life-threatening. The most severe types can cause the throat to swell and close off the airway. If the dog has trouble breathing, has pale gums or passes out, it’s a medical emergency. Get the animal to a vet right away.

If your dog has trouble breathing, has pale gums or passes out, it’s a medical emergency.

Dental issues that can lead to facial swelling include cavities, gum disease, infected or fractured teeth and other kinds of tooth damage or facial bone fractures. These produce not only swelling but also fever, depression, lack of appetite, and a lot of pain. It may take tooth removal or other dental treatment to resolve this, along with a course of antibiotics to mitigate infection.

Dogs can get cancers and tumors just like people and other animals. These might be either malignant or benign. Often there is swelling of the lymph nodes connected with the facial swelling.

While it’s rare, dogs such as boxers, Great Danes, Labrador retrievers, Doberman pinschers and some terriers can have a condition known as craniomandibular osteopathy. It usually appears in puppies and causes drooling, fever and loss of appetite. It often stabilizes as the dog reaches adulthood.

Treating Facial Swelling in Dogs

Regardless of what caused it, facial swelling can be life-threatening if it progresses to the throat and cuts off breathing. That’s why it’s important to contact a vet rather than to try to diagnose and treat the problem yourself. If the swelling you describe to the vet is mild, they may recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine that you can administer to reduce the swelling. However, don’t give your dog any medications, even OTC meds, without a veterinarian’s advice.

 facial swelling can be life-threatening if it progresses to the throat

Once you bring your dog in and the vet ensures that the animal is in no immediate danger, they will want to understand the cause of the problem. Sometimes, with a sting, bite or other traumatic event, the reason for swelling will be apparent.

To help determine the cause, the vet may require a complete history of the animal and their lifestyle. This would include diet, daily activity regimen, vaccination history and the environments the dog has visited recently. The vet will need to know the history of the swelling, whether it came on suddenly or gradually, and whether the dog’s facial appearance has changed over the course of the swelling. Let the doctor know if there have been any unusual behaviors.

The veterinarian will likely do a physical exam which may include blood work and urine and stool samples. There may be some tissue samples required.

From that point, the treatment regimen depends on the primary cause. If there was a bite, puncture or other trauma that broke the skin, the vet might soak the wound, flush it with an antiseptic and treat the pet with antibiotics.

If there’s a dental abscess, it’s important to deal with it quickly. That may involve dental procedures such as removing the infected tooth and following up with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers.

If there was an allergic reaction, the vet will try to pinpoint the allergy, often using skin and blood tests. If the culprit is food or medication, a change in diet or prescriptions may be called for. If it’s something in the environment, such as plants or pollen, you may be advised to avoid the triggering situations. There are medications that can be effective against allergies, including antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotic ointment.

Swelling due to tumors can be a more difficult problem. Tumors are caused by uncontrolled cell growth and need to be dealt with early, even if they’re not cancerous. Typical treatments are surgical removal and radiation therapy.

Preventing Facial Swelling in Dogs

Not all causes of facial swelling can be avoided, but many can. For example, you can reduce the probability of a puncture wound by keeping a distance from wild or unknown animals, avoiding hard bones as a treat, and supervising play with other dogs.

If you suspect your pet has allergies, your veterinarian may be able to confirm it and to identify the allergen. You then can avoid exposure to the substance that’s at fault.

You can prevent dental abscesses by brushing the dog’s teeth and getting routine cleanings and X-rays. In addition, you can examine your pet’s mouth about once a month to detect the presence of tumors. If your pet’s breath smells wrong (different from everyday “dog breath”), tell your veterinarian about it.

Facial Swelling in Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my dog's face swollen?

One of the difficulties facial swelling presents is that there are so many possible causes. The main culprits, however, can be divided into four categories:

  • Infected trauma, such as an animal bite, bee sting, penetrating wound or other trauma where an infection develops.
  • Allergic reactions, including those to food, meds, household cleaning supplies and natural outdoor allergens.
  • Infection or abscess from a damaged tooth or other dental issues.
  • Tumors, either cancerous or benign.

What can you give a dog for a swollen face?

While there are several medications, including some OTC drugs such as antihistamines, that are effective for swelling, you should never give your animals meds without consulting your veterinarian. Often major swelling requires higher doses than are normally recommended, and it’s unsafe for anyone other than a vet to administer these doses.

If the swelling is minor, your veterinarian may suggest you give antihistamines and/or anti-inflammatories.

Can I give my dog Benadryl for a swollen face?

Benadryl is safe for dogs. It may be effective if the swollen face is due to allergies because it reduces itching, redness, hives, and inflammation. However, it’s important to talk to a vet first. If your dog’s face is swollen, a vet should be the one to determine the cause, and more significant treatment may be required.

How long does it take for face swelling to go down?

The good news is that, depending on the cause, if the dog is treated promptly and properly, they’re likely to completely recover from the swelling. However, it’s difficult to pinpoint a time frame. With the right treatment, there will usually be some reduction in swelling immediately. In many cases you can expect swelling to disappear within a few days at most

Final Notes: Opt for Convenient Veterinary Care

Facial swelling is an enlargement or edema, and it can occur on any part of the face. The primary causes of facial swelling in dogs are infected trauma, allergies, dental problems, and tumors. Face swelling can be a life-threatening condition, especially if the swelling reaches the throat and restricts the airway. That’s why you should always contact a vet about facial swelling.

When your dog suffers an emergency such as facial swelling, you need a vet with an office where you can bring the animal. But what about all the other veterinary services your dog requires over their lifetime? Many of those don’t necessitate a live visit, but traditionally you’ve had to make that visit, maybe taking time off of work for the appointment. Perhaps there’s been a long wait even to get on the doctor’s calendar.

Now there’s a company with a new way to maintain your pet’s health. It’s called Dutch, and it brings pet care right to your home. Telemedicine has been filling the gap in human health care for a number of years, and now Dutch provides telemedicine for your animals.

Your relationship with Dutch starts with an online visit. Board-certified veterinarians determine if your dog or cat is a good candidate for online care. If that’s the case, Dutch will deliver a customized treatment plan right to your home address, along with any medications your animal needs. You and your pet will establish an ongoing relationship with vets affiliated with Dutch.

Prevention of facial swelling is preferable to dealing with it once it happens, and Dutch can help you with the ongoing care that reduces the chances of a swelling incident. For those occasions where you actually need live treatment, Dutch maintains relationships with veterinarians throughout the country and will recommend that you visit a local clinic. It’s the new, convenient, effective way to keep your best friend healthy over the long haul.