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Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils; in dogs, tonsillitis is rarely seen as the primary disease and is most often seen in small breeds.

The tonsils are similar to lymph nodes. The role of both of these structures is to fight infection. The pair of tonsils are located in small pouches or crypts at the back of the throat. When they are fighting infection, they may enlarge due to inflammation or infection. Swollen, red tonsils will bulge out of their crypts and can be easily seen in the back of the throat.

Chronic tonsillitis may occur in brachycephalic dogs (those bred to have flattened faced and short noses) along with inflammation of the upper throat. Bacteria are a frequent cause of disease. Plant fibers or other foreign bodies that lodge in a tonsil may produce a localized 1-sided inflammation or abscess.

In general smaller dogs are more susceptible to tonsillitis than the larger breeds – except when the inflammation is caused by a foreign body.

Causes of Tonsillitis in Dogs

The inflammation is caused by:

  • Dental disease: tartar builds on the teeth, the gums become inflamed, and your dog’s tonsils may be affected
  • Any condition in the mouth that allows bacteria to multiply in the throat

Other causes include:

  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic productive cough
  • Foreign object stuck in mouth

Symptoms of Tonsillitis in Dogs

There are not always overt symptoms when a dog has tonsillitis. Should signs be present they may include gagging that precedes a short, light cough, which may lead to small quantities of mucus being expressed. A dog with severe tonsillitis may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Poor appetite
  • Listlessness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Salivation
  • If there is a concurrent infection, fever may be present


Tonsillitis is diagnosed through history, clinical signs, and physical examination. Enlarged and inflamed tonsils can usually be seen on oral examination. Since there is normally an underlying condition, the veterinarian will look for other primary diseases and may recommend testing, such as complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry, chest radiographs (x-rays), or dental radiographs.

Treatment of Tonsillitis in Dogs

If an underlying source of the infection can be found, it must be treated. Antibiotics are given for two to three weeks to treat both the tonsils and the primary infection. If there is tartar and periodontal disease present, the teeth should be assessed and treated appropriately. In some cases of primary tonsillitis, anti-inflammatory treatment may help relieve the pain.


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