Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped nodules of tissue located under the skin and within body cavities. These are often mistakenly referred to as glands, and when they become enlarged or firm, referred to as “swollen glands”. Lymph nodes are a very important part of the immune system and create the cells that help fight infection in the body and produce protection against diseases.
Lymph nodes are not easily found in dogs and cats if they are normal in size. However, enlarged or swollen lymph nodes are often easily found, and feel like firm, oval or round swellings under the skin. The diagram below outlines the most common locations on the body where enlarged lymph nodes may be felt. There are matching lymph nodes on both the left and right sides of the body, so you may feel enlargement on one or both sides.
Lymph node enlargement can be caused by several things such as infection (from tick-borne diseases or fungal infections), inflammation (skin allergies), or cancer. Lymphoma, a type of cancer that arises from the immune system, is one of the most common reasons that multiple lymph nodes become enlarged all at once in dogs. Cats with lymphoma may also have enlarged lymph nodes, but less commonly than dogs.
If you notice a new or unusual swelling in your dog or cat, especially in any of the locations noted in the diagram, please give us a call so we can further evaluate it. One of the first steps is often sampling nodes with a small needle (a fine needle aspirate), which allows us to identify the cell types that are in the lymph node and determine what may be causing them to be enlarged. This is a quick and painless test that allows us to determine the next step that is needed to care for your pet.
If you have any questions or have concerns that your pet may have swollen lymph nodes, please give us a call at 318-797-5522 today.