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Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Tonsillar Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

Tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma is a malignant tumor that originates from the epithelial cells of the tonsils in dogs. Epithelial cells form a protective layer covering both internal and external surfaces of the body. Squamous epithelium consists of flat, scale-like cells known as squamous cells. Tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma is highly invasive and has a propensity for metastasis.

This aggressive tumor tends to locally infiltrate surrounding tissues and frequently metastasizes to distant organs, including the lungs. It predominantly affects middle-aged and older dogs, with a higher incidence observed in urban settings compared to rural areas.


  • Eating challenges
  • Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)
  • Breathing issues
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Oral discharge containing blood
  • Weight loss


The precise cause is unidentified.

It occurs ten times more frequently in urban-dwelling dogs compared to those residing in rural areas.


Providing your veterinarian with a comprehensive medical history of your dog’s health and symptom onset is essential. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination, focusing on inspecting the lymph nodes in the neck area. Enlarged lymph nodes suggest an immune system response to an invasion, but only laboratory analysis of lymph node fluid and tissue can determine the nature of the invasion, whether viral, bacterial, or cancerous.

Following the initial examination, routine laboratory tests, including complete blood count, biochemical profiles, and urinalysis, will be ordered by your veterinarian. Typically, the results of these tests are within normal ranges unless concurrent diseases are present. A biopsy of the lymph nodes will be taken and sent to a veterinary pathologist for analysis. This tissue sample will undergo microscopic examination to detect cancerous cells, aiding in reaching a definitive diagnosis.

Additionally, X-rays of your dog’s skull and thoracic regions may be conducted to detect signs of metastasis. Skull X-rays might reveal bone involvement, indicating tumor spread into the bone, while thoracic X-rays can assess the extent of metastasis in the lungs.


Surgery may be employed to perform an aggressive excision of the tonsils and affected tissue. However, most patients are deemed inoperable at the time of diagnosis, either due to the tumor’s location or the extent of its spread prior to detection.

Excision of the affected lymph nodes might be performed to halt further dissemination of cancerous cells, but it rarely offers a permanent cure. Some patients may undergo radiotherapy, although its efficacy remains uncertain, leading to its infrequent use.

In cases where surgical intervention is feasible and most of the affected area can be removed, the tumor and impacted lymph nodes will be excised. Following surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be administered to prevent or slow the spread of cancerous cells to other parts of the body.

Living and Management

Proper nutritional support plays a crucial role in maintaining your dog’s body weight and condition, especially during recovery from surgery. It’s vital to keep a close eye on your dog’s food and water intake as they may have a reduced appetite post-surgery. In some instances, using a feeding tube temporarily might be necessary, and your veterinarian will guide you on its correct usage, including placing it directly into the dog’s stomach, and help you establish a feeding schedule.

Following surgery, your dog will likely experience discomfort and soreness. Your veterinarian will provide pain medication to alleviate this discomfort. It’s important to create a quiet and comfortable resting area within your home for your dog, away from other pets, active children, and high-traffic areas. Outdoor trips for bladder and bowel relief should be brief and manageable for your dog during the recovery phase. Administer pain medications cautiously, adhering closely to dosage instructions, as overdosing can lead to serious accidents, which are preventable.

Unfortunately, the overall prognosis for dogs affected by this tumor is poor due to its aggressive nature and tendency to metastasize to other parts of the body. Despite treatment, survival time generally does not exceed several months. The decision to proceed with surgery or chemotherapy depends on the specific prognosis. In certain cases, end-of-life pain management may be necessary.

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