Can Dogs Get Tonsillitis? Identification, Treatment, and More

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iStock.com/Mary Swift

Written by Shaunice Lewis

Updated: October 24, 2022

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Many people may already be familiar with the cases of strep throat that children may get and wonder if their dog is susceptible to the illness too. The answer to this is no, dogs can not get strep throat, but they can, however, develop tonsillitis, a similar infection. Although it is uncommon, when it does occur, it is usually found in small dog breeds. Read on to learn more about identifying tonsillitis in dogs and what to do if your dog has it.

What Is Tonsillitis In Dogs?

Tonsillitis is an infection that occurs in your dog’s tonsils. Tonsils are located in the back of your dog’s throat inside small pouches (crypts). The role of the tonsils is to help fight off infections to keep your dog healthy. If your dog is dealing with an infection, the tonsils may swell up due to the inflammation and become much more noticeable.

Unlike strep throat, tonsillitis occurs in dogs when a bacteria or a virus causes the dog’s tonsils to swell. Strep throat, on the other hand, is an infection found in humans that’s caused by a specific bacteria, Streptococcus pyogenes, that causes the tonsils to become swollen and inflamed. This means they are different infections. Dogs can only develop tonsillitis, not strep throat.

If you’ve checked your dog and noticed that the back of its throat appeared red, swollen, and inflamed, your dog could be dealing with tonsilitis and should be taken to see a vet for further care.

How Do Dogs Get Tonsillitis?

dog in car

Yes, dogs

can

get tonsillitis. But they cannot get strep throat.

Tonsillitis is usually a secondary illness that can occur when a dog has another primary disease or illness that targets its mouth or throat area. This means that if you suspect that your dog has tonsillitis, it is more than likely dealing with another health issue that caused tonsillitis itself.

There are different diseases and conditions that can affect your dog’s mouth and allow bacteria to build up and infect its tonsils over time. Some things that could lead your dog to develop tonsillitis include chronic vomiting, coughing, or any other disease that affects the mouth and throat. Sometimes the buildup of tarter can cause a dog to develop a bacterial infection which leads to tonsillitis.

Even though it is most often the case that tonsillitis is a secondary disease of another bacterial infection or condition of the mouth, there are some instances where tonsillitis is the primary infection. Most of the time, when this happens, it is in small dog breeds.

How Do I Know if My Dog Has Tonsillitis?

kennel cough

Tonsillitis may cause your dog to cough or gag.

If you’ve ever experienced strep throat, then you are aware of how tonsillitis feels to your dog. Tonsillitis causes the tonsils to enlarge, as we mentioned before. When this happens, your dog may cough, gag, or swallow often to attempt to “clear” the feeling in its throat. You may also notice that your dog licks its lips constantly or refuses to eat its food.

If your dog refuses to eat, it is because of the pain it is in, and generally, eating or swallowing food could increase its pain and discomfort. You may even notice that your dog tries to eat its food as though it is hungry but then refuse to finish, or it walks away or lays near its bowl. This may be because the dog is hungry and wants to eat but is unable to due to the pain.

Another sign you may notice is that your dog is less active than it normally would be. Having any illness can be exhausting, and if your dog is dealing with tonsillitis, it may not be as active as it normally is. This may, in part, be due to the fact that it isn’t eating as much food as it normally would, so it doesn’t have its usual energy levels. It could also simply be due to not feeling well. Your dog may be attempting to get all the rest that it can while its body fights off the infection.

When people get strep throat it is usually associated with running a fever. However, unlike humans, dogs can have tonsillitis without having a fever. So if you think your dog has the infection and you take its temperature, and it doesn’t have a fever, this does not mean that it doesn’t have tonsillitis. A dog can have tonsillitis and a normal body temperature.

How to Treat Tonsillitis In Dogs

spay a dog at petsmart

A visit to the vet is the way to a proper diagnosis.

In order to treat tonsillitis in dogs it must first be properly diagnosed. As we mentioned earlier, tonsillitis is usually a secondary condition that comes along as a result of another illness. So the most important thing is to have your dog seen by a veterinarian so that it can be properly diagnosed and then treated.

If the tonsillitis was caused by another primary issue, your dog will need to be treated for that as well, which is why it is important to have them seen by a professional. Along with treating the primary issue, your dog will most likely be given antibiotics as a form of treatment for tonsillitis. The veterinarian will likely advise you to give your dog antibiotics for two to three weeks in order to help treat tonsillitis and whatever was causing the original infection.

If the primary issue were from another disease of the mouth or throat, that would be treated accordingly as well. In the more uncommon situation, if tonsillitis was the primary illness itself, then anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed in order to help reduce the amount of pain your dog is in.

Should I Have My Dog’s Tonsils Removed?

In most cases, it is not recommended that you have your dog’s tonsils removed. The tonsils, in both humans and dogs, play an important role in your body’s defense. They help fight off infections of the oropharyngeal cavity, or the mouth and throat. It is usually advised to leave the tonsils as they are since they are such an important part of your body’s immune system.

However, if the tonsils become inflamed regularly or there is a reoccurrence of tonsillitis, then it may be recommended to remove the tonsils. This type of situation is more likely to occur with smaller dog breeds than average or larger ones.

Can a Dog Spread Tonsillitis to Humans?

Technically, yes. A dog can spread tonsillitis to a human, but it is very rare. Strep throat in humans is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. Dogs can harbor bacteria that can cause an infection in humans, so although it is not common, the bacteria can be passed between humans and dogs. Veterinarians can perform culture tests on your dog in order to determine if it is carrying the bacteria.

What Should I Do to Help My Dog While It Recovers?

As we mentioned above, it is always best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian when something goes wrong with its health — especially if you suspect your dog has tonsillitis.

After your dog has been seen by a vet and given the proper diagnosis and medication for treatment, there are a few things you can do at home to ensure that your dog’s recovery goes well.

One of the most important things you can do for your dog during this time is to make sure that it is well-hydrated. Dogs may refuse to eat their food while they have tonsillitis since it may hurt to swallow, but it’s important that they stay hydrated. Keep your dog’s water bowl nearby and make sure it always has fresh, clean water in it for your dog to drink.

Dehydration in dogs can be dangerous, so make sure that it is at least drinking enough water throughout the day. You can also try giving it some dog-friendly fruits like blueberries or strawberries to help it stay hydrated, as well as provide nutrients and alleviate some of its hunger. Soft fruits may be easier for your dog to swallow than its regular food while its tonsils are still swollen.

You should also allow your dog to have plenty of time to rest. If you notice that your dog is less active while it is recovering from tonsillitis, don’t worry, this is normal. Your dog will need to get plenty of rest while its body fights off the infection, so don’t force your dog to be active. Be sure that it has a safe, comfortable place to rest that is away from other household pets while it is in recovery, and keep all bedding and surfaces clean and sanitized to help reduce the spread of germs.

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