Today we begin a new chapter of canine maladies, viz, those which are associated with the oral cavity. Actually, genuine diseases of the mouth are relatively rare, if the animal is fed well and is otherwise well cared for. The reason for this comparative lack of infections is to be found in the fact that dogs’ saliva has antibacterial properties (enzymes), in addition to being alkaline. Moreover, in the mouth of dogs and cats there exist special bacteria which actually prevent other bad bacteria from implanting themselves and flourishing.
The oral cavity is bounded by the hard and soft palates (on the roof of the mouth), by muscles (on the base), and by the cheeks on the sides and the lips in front. In the mouth is that extraordinary organ, the tongue, and the teeth which are embedded in gums. I should mention also that four pairs of salivary glands drain into the mouth. At the back and on both sides of the mouth, as the mouth exists into the throat, are the tonsils.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be dealing with problems that occur in the lips, in/on the tongue and in the gums. Teeth and canine dentistry will take up a large part of our discussion of the mouth.
How does one examine
the oral cavity?
From time to time, you are advised to look inside your pet’s mouth so as to ensure that everything inside there is clean and healthy and that there is no foul odour emanating from the mouth.
There are several ways to open the mouth of a dog/cat. A lot depends how peaceful, amendable and cooperative your pet is to your manipulation of its jaws. The method I would suggest entails you holding the snout from the top in such a way that thumb is pressing on the space behind the upper canine tooth of the right side the other four fingers are passing are pressing on the opposite area of the left side. With the other hand you can pull down, the lower jaw. Remember it is only the lower jaw (mandibula) that moves. The upper jaw (maxilla), being part of the skull, does not move on its own.
Sometimes, you need to see the dog’s tonsils. This is more problematic. Under normal conditions, the tonsils (=lymph nodes) are
hidden in a sac, and only when there is an infection do they become red and inflamed, and they then protrude outwards from the fold in which they were resting. In order to see the tonsils, one must push down on the tongue while you are opening the mouth. If you don’t see tonsils or only see a piece of them peeping out, that’s good.
I always advise dog owners, especially when they are going to buy puppies, to close the mouth and lift the lips to see how the teeth are biting together. Sometimes, the lower jaw protrudes way in front of the top jaw (undershot). On other occasions the top jaw is much longer than the lower jaw (overshot). These anatomical defects are all too often the result of a mismating, an incestuous reproduction. In fact we veterinarians see dogs being presented for vaccinations/ deworming, etc, that are supposed to be ‘German Shepherds’ and ‘Dobermans,’ etc. Well, since so many so-called ‘breeders’ have not recently acquired genuinely new blood from top-class exemplars of the respective breeds, the dogs do not measure up to the breed standards and the characteristics associated with that particular breed. It is a shame and disgrace, when one considers the high prices being asked for there supposedly pedigreed, pure-breed dogs when in fact they are mongrels. The whole transaction smacks of illegality. Perhaps the Guyana Veterinary Association should take a stand on this matter.
Inflammation of the lips (Cheilitis)
Lesions (wounds) on the lips are fairly common in the dogs, especially playful puppies. They love to chew on things – anything, sharp objects included. The wounds can be quite serious (deep gashes).
During the mating season male dogs tend to be more aggressive towards each other, and these confrontations often result in bite wounds on the lips.
In addition, wounds of the lips can be the result of thorns, grass seeds, fish hooks, etc.
As a result of these wounds, a bacterial invasion can take place and an infection can take root. But, even though this is true, I have to admit that most of the lip infections I have seen in my 30 years of practice stem from infections that have their origin elsewhere in the body.
In fact, if I were to do a statistical analysis of the cheilitis patients I’ve seen, I think that most of the infections of the lip were infections that spilled over from the mouth itself. For example, a bad case of gingivitis (gum disease) could spread on to the lips. In fact, so can dental problems or stomatitis (sore mouth). Of course, if the dog or cat has an itch-associated infection on a part of the exterior (skin, paws, etc), this could make the animal bite at the spot, thus infecting the lips and lip folds.
I can recall once treating a Cocker Spaniel with otitis (an ear infection). Interestingly enough, because the ears were so long and hung down, touching the lips from time to time, the infection had spread from the ears to the lips.
I should mention that the wise text books list a deficiency of the B vitamins, allergic reactions and manges (demodectic and sarcoptic mange) as causes of cheilitis. Other scientists posit that certain breeds, especially those with the droopy lips, have a predisposition for lip infections.
The signs of a lip infection are:-
Scratching and rubbing of the lips
Foul-smelling odour coming from the lips
Loss of appetite
Later, as the infection becomes chronic, the hair around the lips is discoloured and constantly moist with an obnoxious discharge.
The lips become hyperaemic (reddened and swollen) later on; if left untreated, ulcers can develop. I should hasten to add that some lip infections result in a dry and crusty appearance of the lips. When this occurs, the skin of the lips will crack.
Look for the underlying cause. If the infection, at the outset, is in the mouth and is spilling over to the lips, one should treat the original infection. Oral hygiene is always recommended. If the problem is not extensive and is only concentrated on some small portion of the lip, then an antibiotic cream should suffice. If the lesions around the lips are mild, it is possible for a gentian violet solution, painted twice daily on the lips, to suffice. If there is ulceration, then I would recommend any good germicidal detergent, plus antibiotics (given orally). In some more advanced cases, your vet might advise a mild chemical cauterisation with a five per cent silver nitrate solution. Vitamin B complex tablets seem always a good supporting treatment. Let your vet, having seen the patient, advise you.
Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237 226-4237.