Excessive Drooling (Ptyalism) in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Ptyalism is the term for excessive drooling. 

• All dogs drool from time to time under normal circumstances, but increased salivation is an indicator for a variety of medical problems

• Causes of ptyalism include excessive production of saliva due to an irritant, nausea, or neurologic malfunction; or normal production with a problem to outflow, like an esophageal obstruction

Common associated conditions include dental disease, toxicosis, and pancreatitis, all of which require urgent medical attention

• Diagnosis of the underlying cause involves a physical exam, sedated oral exam, diagnostic imaging, blood work, endoscopy, and/or biopsy

• Treatment varies widely depending on the underlying cause, and can range from no treatment required to surgery

• Prognosis also varies depending on the underlying condition

A Closer Look: What is 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.

Possible Causes

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:

Conditions that cause nausea -> • Pancreatitis • Kidney disease • Gastritis • Inflammatory bowel disease

• Liver disease • Motion sickness

Oral or esophageal irritants ->• Dental tartar  • Foreign objects lodged in throat or mouth

Toxins -> • PesticidesAntifreezeOnions

Neurological disorders -> • Rabies • Epilepsy

Oral or esophageal injuries from sharp objects, electrocution, or chewing on hard items;

And tumors of the mouth or esophagus

Risk Factors

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 • Blood work • Diagnostic imaging • Endoscopy • Biopsy

• Sedated examination of the mouth or throat

Treatment depends on the underlying cause, and ranges from symptomatic care to surgical intervention to remove tumors or stuck objects.

Similar symptoms

Occasionally, copious drooling that is within normal parameters for the dog in question may be mistaken for excessive salivation.

Associated Symptoms

Symptoms that may be seen along with ptyalism include panting, pawing at the mouth, vomiting, or swellings or lumps in the mouth or throat. Excessive salivation due to more serious underlying conditions like neurological disorders, toxicosis, and kidney or liver disease are often accompanied by other symptoms like seizures, behavior changes, excessive drinking and urination, and jaundice.

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