Treating lymphedema in dogs

April 13, 2012

In a dog’s body, the lymphatic system serves as the drainage system. To help the immune system ward off diseases, the fats and lipids absorbed from the intestines are transported by the lymphatic system to the blood. The body fluid’s balance is maintained as well by this system as fluids that managed to break away from the blood vessels were returned to the bloodstream. Lymphatic tissues therefore have the important role of warding off antigens to prevent the occurrence of diseases. However, as with any system of the body, disorders that will affect the health and the wellbeing of the pet can happen. Canine lymphedema is one of the disorders of the lymphatic system of dogs.

Lymphedema occurs when there is an abnormal accumulation of lymph fluids in the soft tissues. The retention of the protein-rich fluid will cause a lymphatic obstruction resulting to the swelling of the affected limb. This lymphatic system disorder affects all breeds of dogs. Canine lymphedema can be primary or secondary. Lymphedema is primary if the condition is present at birth or if the condition develops several months after the birth of the dog. The abnormality of the formation of the network of vessels where the protein-rich lymphatic fluid passes through is believed to be hereditary thus Old English Sheepdogs, Poodles and Labrador Retrievers are some of the breed most susceptible. This lymphatic system disorder is considered secondary if it is acquired. Secondary lymphedema can be idiopathic or the condition has developed for unknown reasons. However, this type of lymphedema is commonly associated with infection, trauma that has damaged the lymph nodes or the lymphatic vessels. The condition can be the result of radiation therapy in dogs with cancer.

Dogs are great sources of joy. These furry friends easily win the affection of the family. Dog owners, especially those that have formed a close bond with the pet would ensure that the dog receives not only its basic needs but also all the imaginable things that will make the pet comfortable. A dog with lymphedema would need the caring touch of the owner. Dogs with this condition are generally healthy but they may suffer from severe fatigue. Usually, the swelling will start at the foot; advance to the leg and to the body. Swelling can occur on all the limbs but the hind legs are most commonly affected. Due to the swelling, the abdomen, the underside of the chest, the ears and the tail would have discolored skin. The skin would have a spongy feel so that dents will be formed if a finger is pressed to the affected limb. Most dogs with this disorder will remain active although individuals that are severely affected would be in pain and may suffer from lameness so that the owner’s assistance is needed to make the pet stand. The dog owner’s concern though is to protect the pet from anything that will cause infection. Lymphedema makes the dog susceptible to infection. Healing of injuries will be delayed in dogs with this condition.

There is no curative treatment for lymphedema. A dog owner’s goal is to minimize the symptoms. Dogs are hardy animals. Mild cases of lymphedema would have no adverse effect on the dog’s health. For severe cases, pressure wraps, warm water massage and the administration of Benzopyrones drugs will be necessary to reduce swelling. Treatment goal is to improve lymphatic transport. The size of the edematous limb has to be reduced to direct and enhance the flow of fluids to the regions where there is normal lymphatic circulation. This can be achieved with the use of pressure wraps. Compression bandages though have to be regularly changed to prevent the affected area from being infected. Benzopyrones are drugs that stimulate macrophage breakdown of the interstitial protein so that they can be efficiently absorbed by the bloodstream and consequently reduce swelling.

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