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Lymph Node Inflammation, Intestinal Tract (Lymphangieasia) in Dogs

Lymphangiectasia in Dogs

Lymphangiectasia is a condition in dogs characterized by the dilation (expansion) of lymphatic vessels within the gastrointestinal tract, encompassing the stomach, small intestines, and large intestines. These lymphatic vessels, akin to veins, facilitate the circulation of lymph, a fluid that carries white blood cells and aids in the removal of bacteria and other substances from body tissues. Additionally, lymph transports fats absorbed from the small intestines, eventually reintroducing them into the bloodstream to maintain bodily functions.

Lymphangiectasia poses an obstructive challenge to the gastrointestinal lymphatic system, leading to the leakage of body proteins through the intestines. Certain breeds, such as soft-coated wheaten terriers, basenjis, Norwegian lundehunds, and Yorkshire terriers, exhibit a familial predisposition to this condition. While lymphangiectasia can affect dogs of any age, it is most commonly observed in middle-aged individuals. Notably, except for soft-coated wheaten terriers, there is no distinct gender or age bias in the development of lymphangiectasia across breeds, although in the case of soft-coated wheaten terriers, females exhibit a higher susceptibility compared to males.

Symptoms and Types

  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and beneath the skin
  • Excessive gas in the stomach or intestines
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea) caused by fluid buildup in the space between the chest wall and the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • Chronic (long-term) diarrhea, which may be intermittent or continuous, ranging from watery to semisolid consistency


Primary or congenital lymphangiectasia can manifest as:

  • Localized swelling affecting only the intestinal lymphatic vessels.
  • Accumulation of lymph due to blockage of lymphatic vessels and/or lymph nodes, resulting in swelling.
  • Diffuse lymphatic abnormalities, including the accumulation of milky fluid between the chest wall and lungs, as well as in the abdomen.
  • Blockage of the thoracic duct, which is responsible for emptying lymph into the general circulation.

Secondary lymphangiectasia may be triggered by:

  • Right-sided congestive heart failure, where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands.
  • Inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), characterized by sac thickening.
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome, a condition involving blocked blood flow in the liver veins.
  • Cancer, such as lymphosarcoma.


The primary clinical indicator of lymphangiectasia is the loss of protein. However, several other medical conditions can also lead to protein loss, necessitating the veterinarian to eliminate them before confirming a diagnosis of lymphangiectasia.

A comprehensive blood analysis will be conducted, encompassing a chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis. Given that lymphangiectasia affects the intestines, a fecal smear and flotation test will be performed to rule out intestinal parasites. If infectious agents are suspected, a culture of the fecal smear can provide further insights. Chest and abdominal X-rays may be employed to rule out cardiac issues and cancer, while abdominal ultrasound can help rule out congestive heart failure.

In some cases, an endoscopy may be warranted. This procedure involves using a tubular device equipped with a small camera to visualize internal structures and collect tissue and fluid samples for biopsy. Endoscopy enables the veterinarian to examine the gastrointestinal tract and obtain mucus samples. Additionally, an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) may be recommended to assess the heart’s electrical currents for any abnormalities in cardiac electrical conduction, providing further information about heart function if necessary.


Based on the final diagnosis, your dog will likely receive outpatient treatment. Hospitalization may be recommended only if severe complications arise necessitating intensive care. A low-fat diet rich in high-quality protein will be initiated, supplemented by additional fats and calories as prescribed by your veterinarian.

Surgical intervention is uncommon, but if a lymphatic blockage is identified, surgery may be advised to alleviate the obstruction. In cases where inflammation and thickening of the pericardial sac occur, surgical repair may be recommended.

Medications prescribed may include steroids to alleviate inflammation and antibiotics to treat underlying infections or prevent opportunistic infections during treatment.

Living and Management

Regular monitoring of your dog’s body weight is essential, and your veterinarian will establish a follow-up schedule to assess protein levels and observe any recurrence of clinical symptoms, such as fluid accumulation. The frequency of follow-up visits will be determined by the severity of the disease.

The long-term outlook for lymphangiectasia is uncertain. While some dogs may not respond well to treatment, others may experience remissions lasting from several months to over two years. However, the duration of remission can vary based on underlying conditions and the severity of the disease itself.

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