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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Painful Swallowing

Here's a case sent in by Kristin...

I have an 8 month old Maltipoo that I rescued 4 months ago. He was late getting his shots because the previous owners did not give him his shots. He has had his 6 in 1 shots but has not received Bordatella because I thought it was included in the 6 in 1.

Recently he has been sick. Slight cough, slight fever so I took him to the vet and he has been on antibiotics for approximately a week.

Nothing too abnormal about this scenario so far right? Well, here is where it gets interesting.
I told the vet the first thing I noticed about him being sick was an unusual behavior. When he would attempt to eat he would extend his front left leg out in front of him and whine in pain. He went off his feed entirely just prior to me taking him to the vet for about 3 days. The vet prescribed him doxycycline twice a day and he seems better in the sense that he is not lethargic, wants to play. However he still does not want to eat and still exhibits discomfort when he does try to eat.

I know you say its unlikely he would have anything stuck in his throat-as did my vet but he is acting normal with exception to this behavior and he refuses to eat. Whenever he does attempt to eat he extends that front leg and it seems painful to him. I've tried force feeding him baby food, canned food and soft table scraps. He wants to eat but then he remembers that its going to hurt and only eats a very little when hes practically starving.

If he did have kennel cough, wouldn't a weeks worth of doxy get him back on track-why is he still experiencing pain? Any thoughts, advise or experience you may have had with these symptoms would be so greatly appreciated. 

This doesn't sound like kennel cough to me, though I can't say for certain without having seen the patient.  Kennel cough normally causes a dry, resonant cough that can be easily stimulated with palpation of the trachea.  Doxycycline is a great antibiotic for this kind of infection, though it can take 10-14 days to fully resolve a case.  The pain and odd behavior that you describe isn't something that we see with kennel cough or other respiratory infections.

I'm a bit puzzled as to what could be causing the behavior based only on the description.  It sounds like there is pain in swallowing, which may be related to a problem in the esophagus. I would want to rule out some kind of stricture or narrowing of the esophagus, which can be very difficult to determine in a general practice.  The two best ways are with an endoscope or fluoroscopy.  Fluoroscopy involves a moving x-ray taken while a pet is in the act of swallowing, and requires special radiology equipment that you won't find in a private general practice.  Some veterinarians do have endoscopes, so this might be another option.

However, a simpler option could be pain from an inflamed throat or esophagus, similar to what happens to us when we have a sore throat.  This should improve with antibiotics, though it may take longer than a week.  Analgesics or steroids prescribed by your vet could also help.  I would recommending talking to your vet about this option first, and if you don't start seeing results within a few days look into further diagnostics.  Keep in mind that such diagnostics may involve being referred to a specialist and will not be cheap, but at the same time he can't go for long without eating easily.

Make sure to do follow-ups with your vet.  Good luck!


  1. I had a dog that had the same kind of the same symptoms. However he would not stretch out his paw but he would whine and rub his mouth with his paw.

    Went to the vet and this vet thought it was stomach cancer. it was not, I wasted time on this.

    Long story short it was a tumor in the soft pallet.
    As the tumor grows it causes the dog pain when it opens its mouth and also the tumor begins to restrict breathing.

    I am not saying your dog has this and I pray and hope with all my heart that it is nothing, but that is one place I would ask the vet to look, for some reason they don't think to look there at least a couple of vets I saw never thought of it.

    Perhaps it is rare?

  2. A tumor on the soft palate is indeed rare, and would have to be large to cause difficulty swallowing. Definitely worth a look, though, before proceeding to more expensive diagnostics.

  3. It was recently discovered that my dog (14 yo) has a large tumor on the back of her throat - attached to her left tonsil and soft palate. Are these tumors normally cancerous? A little concerned to read that soft palate tumors are rare. I am trying to wait patiently for biopsy results.

  4. to tenbluetaters.

    My dogs tumors were cancerous. I did not discover them until too late. I cannot say about your dogs so it would be best to write to DR Bern directly.

    I was told had I discovered them on time they could have been removed.

    Again I can only say about my dog and this may not be the case with your dog, also you may want to take your dog to the vet too.


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