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Fluid Retention and Tissue Swelling Due to Collection of Lymph in Dogs

Lymphedema in Dogs

Lymphedema is a condition where localized swelling and fluid retention occur due to a compromised lymphatic system. The fluid, known as lymph, contains white blood cells and normally circulates throughout the lymphatic system but can accumulate in interstitial spaces, particularly subcutaneous fat.

Congenital forms of the condition have been observed in bulldogs, poodles, Labrador retrievers, and Old English sheepdogs.

Symptoms and Types

The buildup of fluid (edema) is typically painless and causes pitting; when pressure is applied with a finger, a temporary indentation forms (which may disappear if fibrosis sets in). Limb swelling is evident either at birth or within the initial months of life. It can affect one or multiple limbs, usually starting from the limb’s extremity and gradually progressing upward. In certain instances, lameness and discomfort may also arise.


Hereditary and congenital (existing at birth) types of lymphedema result from abnormalities in the lymphatic system, including aplasia, valvular incompetence, and lymph node fibrosis. Additional factors contributing to the condition may involve heart disease, injuries to the lymphatic vessels or nodes, as well as exposure to heat or radiation.


Providing a detailed history of your dog’s health, including the onset and characteristics of the symptoms, to your veterinarian is essential. Following this, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination along with a biochemistry profile and complete blood count, usually yielding normal results.

However, the most dependable diagnostic test for this condition is lymphography. This imaging procedure involves injecting a contrast substance directly into the lymphatic system to enhance visualization of the affected area before performing X-rays.


While there is no known cure for lymphedema, various medical and surgical interventions have been tried with mixed results. Some patients may benefit from long-term application of pressure wraps and antibiotics to prevent infections, while rest and massage appear ineffective in managing the condition. Additionally, several surgical approaches are available for treating lymphedema, although none have consistently demonstrated positive outcomes.

Living and Management

Given the absence of a cure, veterinarians primarily concentrate on relieving secondary symptoms and addressing complications like lameness. In severe instances, lymphedema may pose a fatal risk for the dog; nonetheless, there have been instances where puppies with pelvic limp involvement have achieved full recovery.

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