Swollen Lymph Nodes in Dogs: Is This an Emergency?

Does your dog have swollen lymph nodes? Are you worried about what this could mean for their health? How do you know when swollen lymph nodes indicate a canine emergency that needs immediate veterinary attention?

In most situations, swollen lymph nodes in dogs do not require emergency veterinary care if the swelling goes away after a few days. However, if the swelling doesn’t go away, or the reaction is caused by a tick bite or a dental issue, it is best to seek veterinary treatment. 

This article explores the various ways dogs can get swollen lymph nodes and what constitutes the situation as an emergency. If you suspect your dog is experiencing a medical emergency, go to the veterinarian or emergency vet right away.

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How Do Dogs Get Swollen Lymph Nodes?

There are a variety of ways your pup can get swollen lymph nodes. Certain diseases, infections, and even cancer can cause your dog’s body to react a certain way, giving them swollen lymph nodes.

Skin Disease and Infection

Several types of skin diseases and infections of the skin can lead to swollen lymph nodes. If your dog suffers from frequent skin problems and also has lymph node swelling, the two are very likely linked.

If your dog’s swollen lymph nodes always get better when the skin problems clear up, they are not likely a sign of an emergency situation. Otherwise, however, your pup should see the vet if both of these symptoms are occurring at once.

Bacterial or Fungal Infection

Bacterial infections of the body can also contribute to swollen lymph nodes. If you’ve ever been sick and have had swelling under your ears, this is an example of lymph node swelling related to infection. The same can occur in your dog, and it may also happen if your dog has any fungal infections, too.

If the swollen lymph nodes get better as your dog recovers from the illness in question, they are not a cause for concern. However, if they remain swollen or if your dog doesn’t seem to be able to recover very well, see a vet as soon as possible.

Lyme Disease dog-lyme-disease-from-ticks

Lyme disease is a tickborne illness that can be very dangerous for dogs. It can lead to a variety of long-term symptoms, even if treated, and many dogs will deal with Lyme flare-ups for the rest of their lives. In some instances, it can be fatal if left unmanaged for too long as well.

If your dog has swollen lymph nodes following a known tick bite, or if you have been out in the woods with your dog shortly before the lymph node swelling, go to the vet right away. See an emergency vet if your dog’s symptoms include any other problems.

Autoimmune Disorder

Autoimmune disorders can cause your dog’s body to respond incorrectly to infection or illness. They can also cause the dog’s body to react even when there are no problems present. When either of these events happens, the lymph nodes may swell as a physical response to the immune issue.

Your vet will need to diagnose your dog with an autoimmune disorder. If you suspect your pet has a disorder like this, see your regular vet as soon as possible. Autoimmune disorders rarely require emergency vet trips, but they do need to be managed long-term with the help of your vet.

Dental Disease

Dental disease frequently causes swelling of the lymph nodes in the face and neck. The same can happen in humans, and it is not uncommon at all in dogs. If your dog has a broken or infected tooth, gum disease, an abscess in the mouth, or any other dental health issue, lymph node swelling is likely.

Take your dog to the regular vet as soon as possible for dental issues. Your vet may recommend a cleaning, or your dog could need dental surgery, depending on the severity of the underlying problem.


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Finally, cancer is another potential cause of lymph node swelling in dogs. This is the reason why lymph node swelling should always be carefully observed and monitored for signs that it is not improving. If your dog’s swollen lymph nodes do not get better in a few days—or if they do not go back to normal shortly following an illness or infection—this could be a potential sign of cancer.

Only your vet can tell you for sure whether or not your dog has cancer. Suspected cancer does not require a trip to the emergency vet, but it does mean your dog needs to see his regular vet within the next few days to get diagnosed.


Swollen lymph nodes are a key indicator that something is going on in your dog’s body. However, that problem may only be a mild one in most cases. The severe issues that cause lymph node swelling can be potentially life-threatening, so it’s important to talk to your vet if your dog experiences this symptom for longer than a couple of days.

Additionally, if your dog has any severe symptoms along with lymph node swelling, don’t wait to see a vet. The sooner you respond to a situation like this, the better off your dog will likely be.

For pet emergencies in Atlanta, GA, The Village Vets has a 24/7 emergency location in Decatur, GA. If your pet is facing an emergency, give them a call at (404) 371-9774.

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