Ruptured salivary glands in dogs

Ruptured salivary glands are called a salivary mucocele. This is an accumulation of saliva under the skin in a saclike swelling. Several sets of salivary glands are present on both sides of the mouth and head. Mucocele swellings are usually under or behind the lower jaw, alongside the face or occasionally under the tongue.

Salivary mucoceles develop when saliva leaks from a salivary duct or portion of a salivary gland. The specific cause of the salivary mucocele is often unclear. Blunt trauma or penetrating trauma to the jaw or side of the head and face can lead to rupture of a salivary duct and leakage of saliva into the surrounding soft tissues. When saliva leaks into the soft tissues, it stimulates a strong inflammatory reaction. Eventually, a saclike structure forms that keeps the saliva collected in one area.

Salivary mucoceles may be soft, flabby and nonpainful, or they can be large, firm and painful. The diagnosis of a salivary mucocele is often suspected based on the appearance and location of the swelling. Aspiration of the swelling using a small needle and syringe reveals fluid that contains saliva and mucoid material. This material is often sent to the lab for analysis to make sure there are no cancer cells involved.

In some cases, surgery to drain the saliva and mucus is all that’s necessary. Some mucoceles recur after drainage, and surgical removal of the entire affected salivary gland must be performed. Depending on the gland in question, referral to a veterinary surgery specialist may be recommended as some of the salivary glands are very close to important blood vessels and nerves and the surgery can be very intricate.

Prognosis for most salivary mucoceles is good, though recurrence is possible if the gland is not removed. Surgical removal of the entire affected salivary gland, while invasive, has an extremely good chance of a complete cure. Salivary mucoceles are not immediately life-threatening and may exist throughout the dog’s life without causing problems. Talk to your veterinarian if you feel swelling in the neck area of your dog, as the swelling may be a ruptured salivary gland.


Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

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