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Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs

The temporomandibular joint, often abbreviated as TMJ, is the pivotal hinge joint connecting the jawbone (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) on each side of a dog’s face. This joint facilitates the essential functions of chewing and mouth movements.

TMJ disorders, also known as temporomandibular joint disorders, can impair a dog’s ability to chew and move its mouth normally. Dogs affected by TMJ disorders may experience pain while opening or closing their mouths. While these disorders can affect any dog breed, certain breeds such as basset hounds are more prone to TMJ issues. Additionally, cases of open-mouth mandibular locking have been documented in breeds like Irish setters and basset hounds.

Symptoms

  • Difficulty in opening or closing the mouth
  • Mandible bone may appear displaced and visible from the side of the face (deviation of the mandible bone)
  • Pain experienced while chewing food
  • Vocalizing or whining while attempting to eat
  • Loss of appetite

Causes

  • Injury or trauma resulting in fractures to the joint
  • Stress on the joint from carrying heavy objects in the mouth

Diagnosis

Most affected animals are brought to their veterinarian due to difficulty eating normally. Initially, a detailed history of the dog’s health will be obtained, including the onset of symptoms, any prior traumas or injuries involving the mouth or head.

Following the history-taking, the veterinarian will perform a comprehensive physical examination, focusing on the mouth, bones, and joints. Laboratory tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis, may be conducted. These tests typically yield normal results, particularly if there are no other underlying diseases present.

X-rays remain crucial in diagnosing TMJ disorders, allowing for a better assessment of the facial bones and joints. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be employed for a more detailed view, especially if available in the clinic. In cases where more severe conditions like infection or tumor are suspected, a small sample of muscle tissue from the jaw may be taken to confirm or rule out other potential diseases with similar symptoms.

Treatment

The treatment for TMJ disorders involves addressing the underlying cause and managing the symptoms. In cases of complete TMJ dislocation, the veterinarian may attempt to repair it by placing an object near the joint and gently closing the mouth to reduce the dislocation. If this method proves ineffective or if the issue becomes chronic, surgical intervention may be necessary to correct the defect.

Pain relievers will be administered to alleviate discomfort associated with these disorders. Additionally, muscle relaxants may be prescribed to reduce muscle tension resulting from the TMJ disorder.

Living and Management

Following surgery, your dog may experience soreness and will require adequate rest in a calm environment, away from other pets and active children. Consider providing cage rest for a brief period until your pet can safely resume normal movement without overexertion.

Your veterinarian will prescribe a short course of pain relievers and mild antibiotics to aid in your pet’s recovery and prevent opportunistic bacterial infections. It’s crucial to administer medications exactly as directed, following the proper dosage and frequency. Remember, overdosing on pain medication is a preventable cause of death in household animals.

Given the potential for significant pain, your dog may need regular pain relief medication until symptoms fully resolve. In cases where eating is compromised, your veterinarian may utilize a feeding tube to ensure your dog receives necessary nutrients. You will receive instructions on how to manage the feeding tube at home to facilitate your dog’s recovery in a comfortable and tranquil environment.

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