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Salivary Mucocele in Dogs

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Several salivary glands supply saliva to the mouth to assist with lubrication of the food and begin the process of digestion. Salivary glands are located under the ears, in the back of the mouth, and under the tongue, and the saliva produced within each gland travels through a small duct to get to the oral cavity. Damage to the gland or the duct can lead to leakage of the saliva into the adjacent tissues and create a mucocele. The saliva is mildly irritating to the tissues, and these tissues respond to the irritation by creating a layer of granulation tissue around the pocket of saliva.

Depending on which salivary gland and duct are actually affected and where the resulting swelling occurs, the problem may be given a different name and may cause different symptoms.

The common forms of this condition are:

  • Cervical mucocele (or sialocele), if the mandibular salivary gland and its duct are the source for the leakage. The cervical mucocele causes a soft, non-painful swelling under the rear corner of the lower jaw under the neck.

  • Ranula, if the sublingual gland and its duct are the source. A ranula causes a soft swelling under the tongue that leads to difficulty in chewing or swallowing and can cause blood-tinged saliva if it breaks open in the mouth.

  • Pharyngeal mucocele, if the zygomatic salivary gland is involved, which leads to a swelling in the back of the mouth. A pharyngeal mucocele may cause the animal to have difficulty breathing as the collection of saliva in the wall of the back of the mouth gets large enough to occlude the airway. These mucoceles can also lead to difficulty swallowing and can cause blood-tinged saliva if they break open in the mouth.

  • Zygomatic mucocele, also originates from the zygomatic salivary gland behind and under the eye A zygomatic mucocele can cause swelling under the eye or bulging of the eye out of the socket.

    Blunt trauma is usually suspected as the cause for a mucocele, but rarely is an actual event identified as the cause of the problem. Animals that chew on hard toys or sticks can develop ranulas or pharyngeal mucoceles. Trauma to the neck, as might occur with the use of a choke collar, can result in development of a cervical mucocele.

    This problem can occur in any age or breed of dog. Dogs are more frequently affected than cats. Untreated, the salivary mucocele can become infected. With treatment, however, the prognosis is generally excellent for these patients.

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