Vet Advice: When Is Excessive Drooling in Dogs an Emergency?

I was asked recently by the staff at the vet hospital: when is excessive drooling in dogs an emergency? They were concerned about one of the dogs boarding there. Shilo was a young, healthy dog. But it was her first time boarding. 

I went to the kennel area and saw the poor pup standing at the door with an anxious look on her face and thick ropes of saliva hanging from her lips. The staff wanted to know why she was drooling uncontrollably.

Sudden onset of excessive drooling in dogs should be considered an emergency until proven otherwise. Although there are non-lethal causes of hypersalivation, there are many very serious causes of the condition. The faster you take action to get your vet involved the more likely your dog will have a good outcome.

Causes of Excessive Drooling in Dogs

There are three basic reasons dog owners notice saliva dripping from their dog’s mouths: 

  1. Increased production of saliva
  2. Saliva is not being swallowed normally
  3. Combination of 1 and 2 at the same time

Let’s get into a little more detail on some of the specific reasons dogs develop excessive salivation and licking.

Tummy Troubles

Drooling in dogs is frequently caused by nausea. When a dog is sick to their stomach, they sometimes go crazy licking themselves and objects like carpet or furniture. Here’s a partial list of gut issues that cause nausea in dogs:

  • Dietary indiscretion–ate something he shouldn’t have (very common)
  • Parasites like worms or Giardia (very common)
  • Acid reflux (common)
  • Pancreatitis (common)
  • Blockage of GI tract by a foreign object (common)
  • Bloat/GDV–stomach distension and twisting (somewhat common)
  • Megaesophagus–flaccid, stretched out esophagus (uncommon)

Your vet will want to run some tests to narrow down the possibilities. Expect your dog to have a CBC and chemistry panel done on his blood. Fecal parasite tests, Xrays and urinalysis are also very helpful when looking for causes of hypersalivation in dogs.

Behavioral Issues

Anxiety and extreme excitement can cause sudden, excessive drooling in dogs. Remember the dog (Shilo) I mentioned earlier? After a full physical exam and review of her history, I determined she was healthy but super anxious about boarding in the noisy kennel. We moved her to a quieter place and she stopped drooling!

I’ve also heard of male dogs starting to drool non-stop when there is a female dog in heat nearby. I’m not sure if that’s due to excitement or anxiety–you’ll have to ask them!

Yellow lab in a kennel (is excessive drooling in dogs an emergency)
Boarding is stressful and could cause excessive drooling in some dogs.

Allergic Reactions

Allergies of various types are pretty common in dogs. The most common type of canine allergy is atopy. Atopy is the medical term for an inherited tendency for a dog’s immune system to overreact to environmental substances. The most common trigger of allergy symptoms in dogs is plant pollen.  

When humans have allergies, they usually have a runny nose and itchy eyes. But in dogs, allergies cause itchy and/or inflamed skin. You’ll notice an allergic dog licks and chews his body a lot more than normal. The armpits, belly and feet are the itchiest areas for most dogs. All that licking and chewing will make some dogs drool, too.

Another type of allergy in dogs is a food allergy. Although it’s much less common than pollen allergies, true food allergies can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Hypersalivation can go along with these GI symptoms. 

Contact allergy/contact dermatitis occurs when a dog’s skin touches something they’re allergic/sensitive to like wool or cleaning products. This sort of skin reaction can be severe, causing pain, licking and possibly drooling.

Problems in the Mouth

When looking for a reason for a dog’s drooling and licking, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t forget to look inside a drooling dog’s mouth! Dogs are known for chewing sticks and getting a piece jammed between their teeth and across the roof of their mouth. If your dog is drooling a lot suddenly, carefully check her mouth and upper throat for foreign items.

Dogs can sustain oral injuries from chewing on all different kinds of things. Chemical burns, electrical burns, abrasions, broken teeth and lacerations in dogs’ mouths are common injuries seen in veterinary practice.

Dental abscesses below the gumline are frequent in dogs and commonly cause increased salivation. The abscess isn’t always visible to the naked eye. Your vet will be able to see it on an intraoral radiograph. Drooling can also be caused by severe gum disease or stomatitis

Mouth tumors can appear on a dog’s tongue, throat, or gums at any time. If it’s in the mouth, you might be able to see it, but if it’s in the throat, your vet will need to use special imaging techniques to find it.

Drooling may be a result of salivary gland disease. A dog’s salivary glands can be affected by traumatic neck injuries, infection, inflammation and cancer. A diseased salivary gland often causes swollen, painful tissue in the neck and jaw area.

Less Obvious Causes of Excessive Drooling in Dogs

Stings by bees, wasps, and scorpions can cause a lot of discomfort and drooling if dogs lick or ingest the creature. A sting can also trigger a systemic reaction, causing the dog to drool excessively. Licking of the paws is to be normal, especially if the sting was on one of the feet.

Sometimes drooling is a symptom of severe respiratory disease in dogs. But heavy, fast breathing and coughing are the more typical respiratory symptoms we see. Pneumonia and left-sided congestive heart failure are common canine respiratory problems. 

In dogs, neurological illnesses can generate a variety of odd symptoms including hypersalivation. Drooling can be caused by a focal seizure, a brain tumor, a central nervous system infection/inflammation, or a problem with the trigeminal nerve. (1) 

Seizures, muscle spasms, excessive drooling, face scratching, and paw licking are all symptoms of hypoparathyroidism in dogs. The parathyroid gland is part of a dog’s endocrine system and is found in the throat area. Low blood calcium and high blood phosphate are caused by gland dysfunction. In the majority of cases, the cause is unknown. The Beagle, Miniature Schnauzer, and Toy Poodle are among the breeds that are more likely to have hypoparathyroidism.

Hypersalivation and paw licking are occasionally caused by pain. As previously stated, envenomation by a bee or scorpion can result in drooling and paw licking as a result of pain. Clinical indications may be similar if an extremity is injured.

Heavy panting and profuse salivation are symptoms of heatstroke, overheating, and malignant hyperthermia. Other signs and symptoms include unusual gum color (very red or purplish) and heated skin.

Systemic disorders like advanced pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney or liver disease can cause severe nausea and drooling in dogs. However, almost all dogs with severe disease have other symptoms besides drooling including vomiting, decreased appetite, changes in drinking habits, weight loss, etc.  

Ingestion, inhalation, and skin exposure to toxins are common occurrences in pet dogs. Pyrethroids (flea/tick preventives), oral exposure to Bufo toads, and organophosphate pesticides are all common dog poisons. These toxins cause life-threatening conditions that require emergency medical attention.

Is Excessive Drooling in Dogs an Emergency?

Sudden excessive drooling in dogs should cause you serious concern. It may even be an emergency situation.

Some dogs with excessive drooling are experiencing life-threatening injuries and diseases. Others have less lethal problems, but they all need to be addressed quickly.

Is excessive drooling in dogs an emergency?

The bottom line: if your dog has suddenly started drooling, it could be a serious situation and might even be a life-threatening emergency. Seek veterinary care right away.

What to Do for a Dog with Sudden Excessive Drooling

If your dog is conscious, breathing normally and appears stable, you can take the following first-aid actions at home before transporting him to the vet clinic:

  • Look in the dog’s mouth for injuries and foreign objects–only if you can do so safely! Don’t get bitten. The vet can use sedatives to do the oral exam if necessary.
  • As long as the dog is conscious, gently rinse the mouth with lukewarm water. Be careful not to use so much that he inhales it.
  • Think about any other symptoms you’ve noticed in the recent past that could clue your vet into the origin of the problem.
  • Look around and see if your dog got into something in your house or yard. Tell the vet about any medication or supplements your dog takes or may have accidentally eaten.

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References

  1. Kent, M., Song, R. B., Glass, E. N., & de Lahunta, A. (2019). A Salivation Abnormality with Trigeminal Nerve Dysfunction in Dogs. Journal of veterinary dentistry, 36(1), 8-16.