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Lockjaw in Dogs

What is Lockjaw in Dogs?

Lockjaw in dogs is a rare condition where the animal finds it difficult to either open or close their mouth. When people talk about a dog having lockjaw, they usually mean tetanus, as one of the prominent symptoms of tetanus is stiffness or lockjaw in the jaw. However, other factors can lead to lockjaw in dogs. Several of these factors relate to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) function. The TMJ serves as a hinge where the upper and lower jaws connect, so any trauma or disease affecting the TMJ can impair the dog’s ability to open its mouth. Lockjaw may also stem from conditions impacting the muscles and nerves surrounding the mouth.


Lockjaw in dogs manifests as the inability to open or close the mouth. The symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause, and they may include:

  • Drooling
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Swelling
  • Observable pain or discomfort in the dog
  • A deep wound near the jaw
  • An ear infection
  • Swelling around the eye


The primary cause commonly associated with lockjaw in dogs is tetanus, which stems from a nerve disorder triggered by an infection from the Clostridium tetani bacteria. Tetanus arises when toxins produced by bacterial infection, often in deep puncture wounds, travel through tissues to the nearest nerve. Initially, clinical signs may manifest at the site of infection before spreading through the nervous system to impact the entire body.

However, the jaw can become locked open or closed due to various factors, including:

  • Fractures or disorders affecting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
  • Muscular diseases surrounding the TMJ
  • Nerve disorders
  • Infections other than tetanus
  • Birth defects
  • Cancers
  • Inflammatory conditions such as masticatory myositis

One of the simplest causes of lockjaw occurs when a dog bites down on an object that becomes lodged between its molars, like a stick, preventing the mouth from closing. This scenario is particularly common among large-breed dogs that enjoy carrying heavy objects in their mouths.


Diagnosing lockjaw in dogs hinges on identifying the root cause behind it. Upon a dog’s presentation with an open mouth and excessive drooling at a veterinarian’s office, most veterinarians promptly inspect the back of the mouth to check for any foreign objects like sticks lodged therein.

Certain conditions like tetanus and masticatory myositis may be identifiable through a thorough physical examination alone. Issues related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), such as malformations, trauma, or injuries, often necessitate sedation for an examination along with radiographic imaging (x-rays).

In cases where infections, inflammation, or cancer are suspected, or when there are concerns about the overall health status of the dog, comprehensive diagnostics like a complete blood count and biochemistry panel are typically requested. The extent of testing varies depending on the suspected diagnosis, ranging from physical examination-based diagnoses to those reliant on laboratory findings.


Treatment approaches for lockjaw in dogs vary according to the diagnosis made by the veterinarian. Conditions related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may require surgical intervention, whereas straightforward inflammatory issues could potentially be managed with anti-inflammatory medications.

Living and Management

In certain instances, time and physical therapy can aid in the resolution of lockjaw in dogs. Conversely, more severe cases like tetanus may necessitate an extended hospital stay. Regardless of the underlying cause, prompt and accurate diagnosis enhances the likelihood of a simpler resolution for the dog.

Lockjaw in Dogs FAQs

Are there home remedies for lockjaw in dogs?

Due to the various causes and treatments associated with lockjaw, there aren’t specific home remedies for it. It’s advisable to check if there’s anything lodged in your dog’s mouth, but do so carefully to avoid harm. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian might demonstrate physical therapy exercises that you can perform at home to aid your dog’s recovery.

Are certain breeds predisposed to lockjaw?

While there isn’t a specific breed disposition to lockjaw, dogs that frequently carry heavy items in their mouths are at a higher risk of injuring themselves or getting something wedged in the back of their mouth. Certain breeds, such as the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Weimaraner, King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, and several other large-breed dogs, are more susceptible to masticatory myositis, which can lead to lockjaw.

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