A closer look: Excessive Drooling (Ptyalism) in Dogs
Ptyalism is a symptom of many underlying conditions, some of which are life-threatening emergencies. Excessive drooling accompanied by behavioral changes, vomiting, inability to swallow, difficulty breathing, abdominal distention, or an unequal pupil size requires immediate veterinary care. Excessive drooling with no other symptoms is unlikely to be an emergency, but still requires prompt veterinary assessment to rule out serious underlying disease.
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There are two basic physiological causes of ptyalism: excessive production of saliva, or interference with the normal swallowing of saliva. Excessive saliva production commonly results from injuries and irritants, but also occurs with impaired neurological function. Difficulty swallowing occurs as a result of a variety of oral, esophageal, and neurologic disorders.
Underlying conditions include:
Tumors of the mouth or esophagus can also result in difficulty swallowing.
Ptyalism varies in severity. It may be seen intermittently, consistently, or as a single occurrence, with or without other symptoms.
Excessive salivation in response to an irritant is often intense but brief. Since excessive salivation occurs as the body’s natural response to an irritant, it is often self-limiting and goes away once the irritant is no longer present.
Repeated episodes of excessive drooling or a consistent increase in saliva production warrant veterinary assessment, even if there are no other symptoms. These situations are more indicative of a chronic problem, such as a neurologic disorder, stuck object, or tumor.
Testing and diagnosis
The underlying causes for ptyalism are investigated through:
- Physical examination
- Sedated examination of the mouth or throat
- Blood work
- Diagnostic imaging
Treatment depends on the underlying cause, and ranges from symptomatic care to surgical intervention to remove tumors or stuck objects.
Occasionally, copious drooling that is within normal parameters for the dog in question may be mistaken for excessive salivation.