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Ptyalism (Hypersalivation) in Dogs

By: Dr. Douglas Brum

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Ptyalism is the term used to describe excessive salivation or drooling. Ptyalism may be normal in certain animals; in fact, some large breeds of dogs may salivate excessively due to the conformation of lips and mouth, like the Great Dane. Other animals might have increased salivation associated with certain stimuli, for example the smell of food, excitement or hot and humid environment. However, when it is a sudden event that persists for an extended period of time, it is usually associated with illness or injury.

General Causes

  • Stomatitis (inflammatory disease of the oral mucus membranes)
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Dental disease
  • Injury to the oral cavity or tongue
  • Contact with caustic agents (chemical or insect stings)
  • Mouth and tongue erosions and ulcers
  • Oral or esophageal foreign bodies or tumors
  • Neurologic impairment of chewing or swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Certain metabolic conditions

    What To Watch For

  • Any abnormal swellings or masses of the lips or in the mouth
  • A foul odor from the mouth
  • Inability to swallow, eat or drink
  • Drooling lasting more than several hours
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Problems breathing


    Often the diagnosis can be made by just the initial physical exam, including a thorough oral and dental exam and a complete history, including the likelihood of toxin exposure. Additional tests may include:

  • Dental X-rays may be suggested to rule out more subtle dental disease

  • A biopsy of a mass or oral lesion may be needed if no oral or dental disease can be identified

  • A complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate for anemia and inflammation

  • A biochemical profile to evaluate for metabolic diseases (kidney and liver disorders)

  • A urinalysis to evaluate metabolic status

  • Chest and abdominal X-rays to evaluate structures in the chest and abdomen

  • Neck X-rays and or a barium swallow to reveal a foreign body, mass or a motility disorder of the esophagus

  • A bile acids blood test for liver function


    Depending on the primary problem that is causing the ptyalism, there are various treatments. Some treatments may include:

  • Dental cleaning or surgery is recommended with dental disease or oral masses.

  • Removing a foreign body might require sedation or anesthesia.

  • Systemic medications (antibiotic, anti-inflammatory) to treat oral infections or inflammatory conditions.

  • If nausea is causing the problem, supportive therapy (fluids, dietary adjustments) may be needed until a diagnosis is achieved.

  • Endoscopy (a fiber optic, movable, long tube that can be used for visualization, removal or biopsy of objects) may be used for foreign body removal in the esophagus or stomach.

  • Metabolic conditions like liver and kidney conditions require identification before specific therapy is instituted.

    Home Care and Prevention

    If there is an acute episode of ptyalism, a quick visual inspection may reveal a foreign body, mass or other oral trauma. Care should be taken not to place ones hands in the animal's mouth to avoid being bit.

    Observe your pet's attitude and behavior for any deterioration. If there is no vomiting, you may offer water to drink. If your pet's behavior is normal and the signs resolve within a few hours, emergency care may not be needed; however report the event to your veterinarian.

    There are some things you can do to try to prevent ptyalism. Vaccinate all animals for rabies. Practice routine dental hygiene (e.g. brushing teeth). Periodic oral examinations should be done by your veterinarian. And, prevent exposure to caustic or toxic compounds.

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