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.
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.
Oral papillomas are painless warts that grow on the lips and in the mouths of dogs younger than 2 years old. They are caused by the canine oral papilloma virus. Initially, papillomas are small and pink. Over four to six weeks, they increase in size and take on a rough, grayish-white, cauliflowerlike appearance. As many as 50 to 100 papillomas may be present.
Skin papillomas caused by the same virus are common and occur on the surface of the eyelids and the skin of the body.
Treatment: Oral papillomas usually disappear spontaneously in 6 to 12 weeks. If they fail to do so, they can be removed by surgery, freezing, or electrocautery. Chemotherapy is effective in dogs with numerous lesions. The dog's immune system makes antibodies that prevent reinfection.
Growths in the Mouth
A common tumor in the mouth is the epulis, seen most often in Boxers and Bulldogs. These benign tumors grow from the periodontal membrane in response to gum inflammation. They appear as growths on a flap of tissue. There are often multiple growths. Rarely, an epulis becomes malignant.
Gingival hyperplasia is a condition in which the gums grow up alongside or over the teeth. A familial inheritance has been identified in Boxers, and is suspected in Great Danes, Collies, Doberman Pinschers, and Dalmatians. The enlarged gums can interfere with eating and are easily traumatized. They also predispose the dog to periodontal disease. If any of these occur, the enlarged gums should be surgically removed.
Malignant tumors in the mouth are rare. In order of frequency, they include melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and fibrosarcoma. These tumors tend to occur in older dogs. Biopsy is required to make an exact diagnosis.
Dogs with oral tumors may drool, have trouble eating, and/or have a very foul odor to their breath. The drool may be bloody.
Treatment: Early, aggressive treatment of mouth tumors, with wide local excision and/or radiation therapy, offers the best chance for a cure. Surgery may involve removing part of the upper or lower jaw.
In many cases the tumor is already too far advanced for treatment. The prognosis is best for squamous cell carcinomas. Fifty percent of treated dogs survive a year or longer.
This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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