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Key takeaways

Sialocele describes the leakage and accumulation of saliva in the tissues surrounding the salivary gland.

  • Dogs with a sialocele present with a firm, painful swelling around the head and neck, which sometimes fluctuates in size
  • The exact location and symptoms vary depending on which salivary gland is affected
  • Other symptoms include excessive drooling, difficulty eating, choking, or bulging of one eye
  • Investigation involves physical examination and recovery of saliva in a needle sample from the swelling
  • Treatment is surgical and involves removal of the gland, ligation of the draining duct, or creation of a new opening in the mouth to bypass the blocked duct
  • Drainage of the gland during investigation is useful to reduce pain and swelling, but is not a permanent solution
  • Prognosis following surgery is good, but some cases may recur
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A closer look: Sialocele in Dogs

Sialoceles are painful and distressing, and can be dangerous without treatment as the swelling sometimes causes breathing difficulties. Dogs presenting with swelling around the head and neck require prompt veterinary assessment.

Dogs have four pairs of major salivary glands. The mandibular and sublingual are most commonly affected.

Symptoms may be accompanied by swelling beneath the jaw line, on the neck, or under the tongue.

Parotid sialoceles usually present with swelling in the cheek region.

Zygomatic sialoceles usually present with swelling around the eye and bulging of the eye. In some cases one eye may appear to look in a different direction (strabismus).

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Risk factors

Siaoloceles sometimes fluctuate in size, particularly in cases of a blocked duct.

Possible causes

Sialoceles result from leakage of saliva into the surrounding tissues. The exact trigger for the leakage is often unknown but usually includes:

  • Injury (including bite wounds)
  • Blockage of the salivary duct
  • Tumors
  • Damage during other procedures (iatrogenic)

Main symptoms

The main symptom of sialoceles is swelling around the head and neck. The location varies depending on which gland is affected.

Testing and diagnosis

Investigation of sialoceles involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Laboratory testing including needle sample of the swelling
  • Atropine test (stimulation of salivation)
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Surgical exploration

Steps to Recovery

Treatment of sialoceles includes:

Drainage: normally a temporary solution to reduce discomfort

Surgery: options include

  • Ligation of the duct
  • Marsupialization - creation of a new opening when a duct is blocked
  • Removal of the affected gland

Prognosis following treatment varies according to treatment options. Drainage of the gland is usually a temporary procedure and recurrence is common, whereas complete excision of the gland and duct has a good prognosis.


Sialoceles are not contagious and are difficult to prevent. Avoiding situations where dogs are at risk of injury to the head and neck may reduce sialocele formation. Common examples include places where dogs are able to fight, and not throwing sticks for retrieval.

Is Sialocele in Dogs common?

Sialoceles are an uncommon presentation in dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • Drainage to reduce discomfort
  • Removal of the gland and duct with sublingual and zygomatic sialoceles
  • Marsupialization in sublingual sialoceles that present with swelling under the tongue (known as a ranula)
  • Ligation of the duct in parotid sialoceles


Joseph Harari DVM MS DipACVS - Writing for Vetlexicon

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