Symptoms of Mouth Problems in Dogs

An important sign of mouth pain is a change in eating behavior. A dog with a tender mouth eats slowly and selectively, dropping food that is particularly coarse and large. A dog with pain on one side of the mouth often tilts her head and chews on the opposite side. With an extremely painful mouth, the dog stops eating altogether.

Excessive drooling is common in all painful mouth diseases. It is often accompanied by bad breath. Any form of halitosis is abnormal. Periodontal disease and gingivitis are the most common causes of halitosis in dogs.

Sudden gagging, choking, drooling, and difficulty swallowing suggest a foreign object in the mouth or throat.

Difficulty opening and closing the mouth is characteristic of head and neck abscesses, nerve damage, or jaw injuries.

Cheilitis (Inflammation of the Lips)

Cheilitis usually results from an infection inside the mouth that extends to involve the lips. In hunting dogs, chapped lips can be caused by contact with weeds and brush. Dogs with canine atopy may irritate their lips by constantly rubbing and pawing the face.

Cheilitis can be recognized by the serum crusts that form at the junction of the haired and smooth parts of the lips. As the crusts peel off, the skin becomes raw and denuded and is sensitive to touch. Involvement of the hair follicles produces a localized folliculitis.

Treatment: Clean the lips daily using benzoyl peroxide shampoo (OxyDex or Pyoben), or hydrogen peroxide diluted 1:5 with water. Then apply an antibiotic-steroid cream such as Neocort. As the infection subsides, apply petroleum jelly or aloe to keep the lips soft and pliable. Chapstick may also be used. Periodontal disease or canine atopy, if present, should be treated to prevent recurrence.

Mouth Lacerations

Lacerations of the lips, gums, and tongue are common. Most occur during fights with other animals. Occasionally a dog accidentally bites her own lip or tongue, usually because of a badly positioned canine tooth. Dogs can cut their tongues picking up and licking sharp objects, such as the top of a food can.

An unusual cause of tongue trauma is freezing to metal in extremely cold weather. When the tongue pulls free, epithelium strips off, leaving a raw, bleeding surface.

Treatment: Control lip bleeding by applying pressure to the cut for 5 to 10 minutes. Grasp the lip between the fingers using a clean gauze dressing or a piece of linen. Bleeding from the tongue is difficult to control with direct pressure. Calm the dog and proceed to the nearest veterinary clinic.