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Paralysis of the Jaw in Dogs

Trigeminal Neuritis in Dogs

Paralysis of the jaw, known as trigeminal neuritis, is a condition in dogs characterized by the sudden inability to close the jaw due to dysfunction in the mandibular (jaw) branch of the trigeminal nerves, one of the cranial nerves. This medical issue, marked by inflammation, is treatable. It typically stems from nerve injury, which can manifest as neuritis, demyelination (the loss of the nerve’s protective fatty sheath that aids in signal transmission), and in some cases, fiber degeneration affecting all branches of the trigeminal nerve and the nerve cell body. While cats may experience it infrequently, trigeminal neuritis primarily affects dogs.

Symptoms and Types

  • Sudden onset of a drooped jaw
  • Inability to close the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty in properly taking in food
  • Messy eating habits
  • No loss of sensation in the jaw or face
  • Normal swallowing function

Causes

The exact cause of trigeminal nerve neuritis is presently unknown, although it is potentially immune-mediated.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your dog, considering its medical history, onset of symptoms, and any potential incidents that may have triggered the condition. Blood tests, including a blood chemical profile, complete blood count, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel, will be ordered to eliminate other diseases. It’s essential to rule out rabies as it is a significant concern. Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays will be employed to assess the skull and jaw bones, while bone marrow core biopsies and muscle biopsies may be necessary to exclude other disease possibilities.

Treatment

The primary treatment approach involves providing supportive care. Your dog will require assistance with eating and drinking. If you can adequately care for your dog at home, outpatient treatment may be possible. However, if you are unable to provide care, your dog will need supportive nutritional therapy at the veterinary hospital to ensure it receives essential nutrients.

If your dog can still lap up and swallow offered food, you can use a large syringe placed in the corner of the mouth to administer water and pureed foods, with the dog’s head slightly elevated to facilitate swallowing. Subcutaneous fluids may also be administered under the skin. While feeding tubes are rarely needed to maintain adequate food intake, they may be necessary if your dog cannot take anything into its mouth or swallow food provided.

Recovery and Management

Trigeminal neuritis typically resolves on its own within 2-4 weeks. One consequence of this condition is the shrinkage of the muscles involved in chewing. Once the condition has stabilized, and your dog regains normal jaw movement, you can assist in strengthening its jaw muscles. Your veterinarian will provide guidance on appropriate exercises tailored to your dog’s overall health and age.

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