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Do Dogs Have Tonsils? Can They Get Tonsillitis?

Though dogs and humans have many physiological similarities — like tonsils, the way we treat them when they are inflamed is often different.

Like humans, dogs have tonsils. You’ll find two pairs of visible tonsils located on either side of their throat. Since they have these lymph node-like structures, dogs are susceptible to tonsillitis just like people.  

Do Dogs Have Tonsils?

Do dogs have tonsils? Yes, dogs have three tonsils. They include:

  • The lingual tonsil
  • A pair of palatine tonsil
  • The pharyngeal tonsil

The tiny lingual tonsil in dogs sits at the base of the tongue. Due to its small size, you can barely see it.

Palatine tonsils are the only visible tonsils in dogs. They exist as a pair, and you’ll find each on the lateral sides at the back of the dog’s throat.

Similar to the lingual tonsil, the pharyngeal tonsil in dogs is diffuse. It’s present in the throat, where the nasal cavity opens into the throat.

In most cases, dog owners will only see the reddish pair of palatine tonsils in their dogs. The other two tonsils are too tiny to be seen.

The Role of Tonsils in Dogs

Tonsils are part of the dog’s hemolymphatic system. Their primary role is to fight infections. When dogs contract diseases, their tonsils inflame and swell out of their crypts. If you open the dog’s mouth, you will see the two red palatine tonsils at the back of the dog’s throat.

What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation or infection of the tonsils. It is a secondary infection that occurs due to underlying issues in the dog’s lungs or airways.

Any disorders in the pharynx (throat), nose, or mouth will likely cause tonsillitis in dogs. Some dogs also get this infection due to enlarged esophagus, chronic coughing, and chronic vomiting. Tonsillitis can affect any dog, but it’s prevalent in small dog breeds.

Symptoms of Dog Tonsillitis

When tonsils get infected, they bulge out and are very painful. Dogs might feel excruciating pain when they try to swallow food. This pain might lead to appetite loss.

The enlarged tonsils might also cause the dog to gag a lot. Dogs feel like something is in their throats, and they will attempt to swallow.

Affected dogs may have soft coughs and may produce tiny quantities of mucus. Some experience excessive salivation and may lick their lips repeatedly. Fever may accompany severe tonsillitis in dogs.

Causes of Dog Tonsillitis

The inflammation of tonsils occurs when other underlying conditions affect dogs’ oral cavities. The tonsils might inflame due to:

  • Tumors
  • Severe gum diseases
  • Dental issues
  • An infection
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Continuous coughing
  • Foreign objects lodged in the dog’s mouth

Pathogenic bacteria are the primary cause of these diseases. So, bacterial infections in dogs can lead to tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis is unlikely to occur in healthy, active dogs that don’t have secondary diseases. However, there are instances of primary tonsillitis in pups of smaller breeds.

Chronic tonsillitis is common in young, brachycephalic dogs. These are dogs that suffer from upper respiratory disorders. Such breeds include the Pug, English Bulldog, Boston terrier, Pekingese, and the French Bulldog. Tonsillitis occurs when the pharyngeal defense mechanisms of these dogs start to mature.

Diagnosis of Dog Tonsillitis

If you suspect your dog has tonsillitis, it’s advisable to call the veterinarian. The vet might diagnose tonsillitis through clinical symptoms, the dog’s history, and physical examination.  

Inflamed palatine tonsils are red, swollen, and the vet can quickly view them via an oral examination. Your vet might also enquire about any symptoms the dog shows. Constant coughing, vomiting, appetite loss, and changes in behavior might indicate tonsillitis.

Since tonsillitis occurs due to other underlying health issues, the vet might examine other diseases. Tests like x-rays, complete blood count, and dental radiographs might be necessary to identify the primary infection.

open dog mouth showing tonsils

Treatment of Dog Tonsillitis

The exact treatment modality depends on the cause of tonsillitis in your dog. In general, vets prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and infections.

A general practitioner can offer dog tonsillitis treatment. With that said, your dog might require a specialist to treat severe tonsillitis.


If tonsillitis arose due to other underlying diseases, the vet might first offer medication for these diseases.

The affected dog might require a cough suppressant if the tonsillitis is due to chronic coughs. In the case of chronic vomiting, anti-emetic drugs might come in handy.

The vet might prescribe antibiotics for up to 15 days to treat bacterial tonsillitis. Further tests and treatments might be necessary if the dog is unresponsive to antibiotics.

Analgesic medication might be necessary to reduce inflammation and pain that accompany tonsillitis. It isn’t uncommon for the vet to prescribe nonsteroidal drugs like Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox, and Deramaxx.

Medical Procedures

If there’s a foreign object lodged in the dog’s throat, the veterinarian must remove them before offering medication.

Should tonsillitis be a result of periodontal diseases, the vet might recommend dental cleaning or extraction.

Supportive Care

Most dogs suffering from inflamed tonsils find it hard to eat and drink. They may therefore become malnourished and dehydrated.

In mild cases, the vet might opt for subcutaneous (under the skin) fluid administration. In extreme cases, intravenous fluid administration might be necessary to deliver nutrition to the dog.

Home Care

All dogs with tonsillitis encounter difficulty when swallowing food. That’s why you should feed your affected dog a soft, palatable diet until the inflammation reduces.

Is a Tonsillectomy Necessary?

Vets highly discourage the removal of tonsils. It isn’t a good idea because tonsils play a vital role in fighting infections in dogs.

Your veterinarian might recommend tonsillectomy if the dog has tumors or recurring tonsillitis. Surgery might also be necessary if the enlarged tonsils affect airflow in the pharynx.

Ensure that certified specialists carry out the surgery. Post-surgery care might also be necessary to ensure your dog recovers well.

Is Tonsillitis Contagious?

Dog tonsillitis isn’t contagious to other dogs or humans. Bacteria accumulation in the dog’s mouth is responsible for this condition. However, secondary diseases that trigger tonsillitis can be infectious.

Why Your Dog Keeps Coughing

Tonsillitis isn’t the only condition that causes your dog to cough. If your dog frequently coughs or gags, it might be due to:

Always take your dog to the vet if they have a continuous cough. Coughing often is not regular behavior in a healthy dog.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor