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Pet Health

06/06/2022

Your Dog’s Lymphatic System (and why you should care)

As I was researching for a blog about preparing your dog for grooming, I was struck by an article regarding…

As I was researching for a blog about preparing your dog for grooming, I was struck by an article regarding the importance of a dog’s lymphatic system, something I have never really thought about. I have learned that an improperly functioning lymphatic system is a factor in so many health problems for our furry friends. Let’s talk about what the lymphatic system does and what we can do to help keep our dog’s system humming…

First of all, I want to remind you that we are not medical professionals at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Your veterinarian is the expert on all things health-related for your pet. We are only interested in providing you with helpful information we learn by working with pets.

The function of the lymphatic system is complicated and amazing at the same time. Incredibly, the lymphatic system and its benefit to the body are often overlooked. Medical experts who realize its importance believe that many – if not most – chronic diseases in our pets are due to a lymphatic system impairment. Wow!

What is the lymphatic system and how does it work?

So, in the simplest terms, here is how the lymphatic system works: All day long the body is moving blood through the veins and capillaries. This is the body’s way of delivering nutrients to our cells. While doing so, some excess liquid escapes the veins and capillaries and ends up in the tissues (skin – and other connective tissue, muscles, and nerves). The liquid is called lymph.

Lymph cannot be allowed to stay in the tissues. The lymphatic system is responsible for moving the lymph from the tissues back into your bloodstream. As the lymph is moved through the tissues, it picks up the bad stuff – waste products our bodies produce, and either purifies it or moves it to the liver or kidneys where all that nastiness is expelled from the body. What it is actually doing is “cleaning up” the immune system. Incredible, right?

Stay with me here… It seems like a lot of detail, but I really only scratched the surface of what all the lymphatic system does. There is so much more to it. It is important that we have a decent understanding of how essential a properly functioning lymphatic system is to our dogs because here’s the kicker: Any blockage or sluggishness that impedes the function of a dog’s lymphatic system can be seriously damaging to their health. Keeping the lymphatic system flowing properly is critical to your dog’s health and well-being, and we, as pet owners, can help with that. That’s pretty significant.

What causes our dog’s lymphatic system to become encumbered – or malfunction?

Well, first of all, there are many dog lymphatic diseases. Without detailing each different type of lymphatic disease, it is more important that we know the causes of lymphatic system malfunction or disease. The causes can be either acquired or inherited (congenital). A malfunction can begin from something as simple as an infected hot spot to as serious as a tumor. Causes range from infection, inflammation, illness, scar tissue blockage, trauma (injury), cancer, congestive heart failure, or hypertension. When a dog’s lymphatic system malfunctions, the ability to effectively move lymph through the system is affected.

These causes can either block or hinder the flow of lymph or result in an overproduction of fluid that overwhelms the lymphatic drainage system.

What happens when our dog’s lymphatic system loses the ability to move lymph?

If a dog’s lymphatic system fails or is sluggish, its immune system will be impaired. An impaired immune system weakens our dog’s ability to fight infection or disease. Technically, the body will not be able to remove cellular waste from the tissues.

If either is not corrected, the chances of the dog developing cancer or disease increase.

What are the symptoms that my dog’s lymphatic system is not working properly?

The most visible sign that the lymphatic system is not working properly is swelling. Usually, swelling begins at the paw and moves into the leg. The chest, abdomen, ears, face, or tail may also swell. Other signs may include dry, crusty, or itchy skin, lipomas, arthritis, eye discharge, or unspecific pain. Look for a “dullness” of the eyes and overall tiredness. Any of these symptoms could be a result of a lymphatic system that is not functioning properly.

What can we do to support our dog’s lymphatic system?

As pet parents, we can support our dog’s health by helping the lymphatic system do its job. This will help your dog live a longer, healthier, and more active life. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Make sure your dog drinks plenty of fresh, clean water. Drinking enough water, as well as making sure the water is fresh and clean are both equally important. Water helps move the liquid through the bloodstream, flushing out the icky stuff.
  2. Adequate exercise is essential to a healthy functioning lymphatic system. Movement increases the flow of lymph. Also, as your dog exercises, he draws in oxygen. Oxygen serves as a sort of pump to the lymphatic system, assisting in the removal of toxins from organs and tissue.
  3. Brushing is a great way to stimulate your dog’s lymphatic system (Now you know why I found this information while researching dog grooming). Veins and capillaries are close to the surface of the skin. Daily brushing with a good bristle brush works wonders in helping to move lymph through the system.
  4. A thorough brushing is the first step in any professional grooming process at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. We also use a bathing system called a called Hydrosurge® on every bath. It is a therapeutic massaging unit that sprays shampoo, water, and air to penetrate the dog’s fur – right down to the skin, removing dirt, dander, etc. The massaging effect of the Hydrosurge is a great way to stimulate lymphatic flow.
  5. Give your dog – what I call – a deliberate petting. Not the normal stroke of your hand over the fur or scratch under the chin, but more of a massage. Start by rubbing your dog’s feet, and then move up to the joints, kneading, and applying light, circular pressure. Continue over the body with long strokes and soft presses. Applying gentle pressure encourages lymph flow through the body. My dog loves this.

So, you ask… What is a lymph node?

I’m glad you asked 😉. Lymph nodes are little bean-shaped glands that filter infection and disease and destroy germs from lymph fluid as it flows through. Lymph nodes are an important part of the immune system.  Lymph nodes become enlarged when your dog’s body is fighting off disease, infection, a virus, or bacteria, so if your dog is sick, chances are, the nodes will be enlarged, or even painful.  Swollen lymph nodes in your dog are usually the first sign that something is wrong. (BTW, I read somewhere that dogs have over 100 lymph nodes!)

Where are my dog’s lymph nodes?

Now that we’ve covered what a lymph node is, you are probably asking yourself, “But where are dogs’ lymph nodes?” When you take your dog to the Veterinarian, have you noticed that they feel your pup all over? This is not just affection: they are also checking your dog’s lymph nodes. You’ll notice them feeling under your dog’s jaws, the groin area underside near the top of your dog’s back legs, armpits, and behind their knees.

What is Canine lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes or the lymphatic system and is one of the top 5 most common cancers in dogs. It usually affects middle-aged to older dogs. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, some breeds are predisposed to lymphoma. They list Golden Retrievers, Boxer Dogs, Bullmastiffs, Basset Hounds, Saint Bernard’s, Scottish Terriers, Airedale Terriers, and Bulldogs as breeds that appear to be at an increased risk. It is especially important to keep an eye out for symptoms of lymphoma in these specific breeds.

Can a damaged lymphatic system be repaired?

We recommend you visit your veterinarian for any medical diagnosis and treatment. Your veterinarian can prescribe a treatment plan to help your dog feel its best. Depending on the extent of illness or damage, treatment may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids, acupuncture, cold laser therapy, nutritional supplements, or maybe medicinal herbs.  Lymphoma in dogs may require chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

Preventative care is most important

The best thing we can do is give our dogs all the tools they need to assure good health, including a healthy functioning lymphatic system.: As we touched on above, fresh water, adequate exercise, nutritious food, regular grooming, and routine medical attention, (and plenty of affection) are essential in preventing dog lymphoma. Visit your veterinarian for any sudden changes in your dog’s physical or mental wellness to prevent any major problems before they occur.

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