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Salivary Mucocele in Dogs

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Salivary mucocele is a condition in which saliva leaks from a damaged salivary gland or duct and collects in the surrounding tissues. The condition is also known as sialocele, cervical sialocele, cervical mucocele, ranula, and salivary cyst.

Although trauma is considered to be the usual cause for the damage to the duct or gland, it is rare that a specific traumatic event can be identified. Salivary mucoceles are more common in dogs than cats. Any age and any breed can be affected with this problem.

They cause a soft, usually non-painful, swelling located adjacent to the affected salivary gland. Cervical mucocele is the most common form of this condition and usually show no symptoms except for the swelling under the rear portion of the jaw.

A mucocele under the tongue, called a ranula, is also very common and can cause difficulty chewing or bloody saliva. Less common forms of salivary mucoceles are pharyngeal mucoceles that can cause difficulty swallowing or breathing, and zygomatic mucoceles that occur near the zygomatic cheek bone beneath the eye, which can cause swelling under the eye or problems with the eye itself.

Mucoceles can become infected if not treated, but the prognosis is excellent with treatment.

Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Palpation of the swelling under the neck or on the face, or examination of the mouth if the swelling is under the tongue or in the back of the mouth.

  • Fine-needle aspiration of the swelling to determine if the swelling is filled with saliva.

  • Radiographs and blood tests are not necessary for this diagnosis.

    Treatment

    Treatment may include:

  • Periodic lancing or drainage of the mucocele. Unfortunately, this usually results in recurrence.

  • Definitive treatment is by surgical drainage of a ranula or pharyngeal mucocele or by excision of the affected salivary glands and ducts for cervical or zygomatic mucoceles.

  • Antibiotic therapy may be instituted to prevent infection or if infection is suspected.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Inform your veterinarian about any abnormal swelling, whether it appears to be bothering the animal or not. Any difficulty in chewing, swallowing, and especially breathing problems, should be brought to your veterinarian's attention immediately.

    After surgery, watch for potential complications:

  • Redness or drainage of the incision
  • Recurrence of swelling
  • Bloody saliva

    Even though trauma is suspected to be the cause for most mucoceles, it is unreasonable to try to avoid all situations that could lead to this problem. The use of choke collars should be limited and the animal should be prevented from chewing on sticks.

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