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Facial Swelling in Cats

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Suddenly finding your pet with a swollen face can be quite startling. Determining the cause of the swelling can sometimes be challenging.

Causes

There are a variety of causes of facial swelling, some more common than others. Sometimes, one part of the face swells, only half the face swells or the entire face may swell. Some causes may include:

  • Infection/cellulitis
  • Allergic reaction
  • Acetaminophen toxicity
  • Hematoma
  • Cancer
  • Muscle inflammation

    Diagnosis

    A thorough physical exam and history can often lead your veterinarian to a diagnosis.

  • Facial swelling due to infection often has an associated wound. The swelling is often warm and painful. The animal typically has a fever.

  • Facial swelling associated with allergic reaction is often associated with insect stings and usually occurs during warm weather. The swelling is often throughout the entire head and is non-painful. Hives are typically present and the animal is usually quite itchy.

  • Acetaminophen poisoning may result in facial swelling, primarily in cats. The cause of the swelling is not completely understood. In addition to facial swelling, itchy paws and brown coloration to the gums may be seen.

  • Hematoma is a large bruise or blood clot that usually develops following trauma but may occur due to a bleeding disorder. This usually results in swelling in one area of the head and may be painful. In shorthaired, light colored animals, a bruise or discoloration of the skin may be seen.

  • Certain cancers that may develop on the head. Chondrosarcoma, osteosarcoma, lymphosarcoma and fibrosarcoma are a few. This typically results in swelling in a specific area and doesn't cause the entire head to swell. Lymph node swelling, located under the jaw, can also look like facial swelling. Tumors may be painful and open wounds may be present.

  • Muscle inflammation is another possible cause of localized facial swelling. Typically, the swelling is localized to the lower jaws or the top of the head.

    Treatment

    Treatment can vary depending on the cause of the facial swelling.

  • For infections, the swelling may need to be lanced and cleaned. Antibiotics are often necessary.

  • For allergic reactions, diphenhydramine and/or corticosteroids are used.

  • Acetaminophen poisoning is treated with acetylcysteine. The drug is used to reduce the toxicity of the acetaminophen to the liver. Intravenous fluids are often necessary. Additional treatment may be necessary in severe cases.

  • Treatment for hematoma may vary on the severity of the trauma or the presence of a bleeding disorder.

  • Treatment for cancer may vary depending on the site of the cancer and the type of cancer.

  • Muscle inflammation is usually treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and/or corticosteroids.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is little home care for facial swelling. If the cause is due to an allergic reaction, oral diphenhydramine may be used initially but is often not effective.

    Preventing facial swelling may not be possible. However, you may be able to prevent fights and bite wounds to reduce the risk of facial swelling due to infection.

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