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 infectious diseases 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 associated with the maladies of the mouth.
How does one examine the oral cavity?
There are several ways to open the mouth of a dog/cat. A lot depends how peaceful, amenable 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 the thumb is pressing on the space behind the upper canine tooth of the right side, while the other four fingers 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 (mandible) that moves. The upper jaw (maxilla), being part of the skull, does not move on its own.
What to look for
Sometimes, you need to see the dog’s tonsils. This is more problematic. Under normal conditions, the tonsils (lymph nodes) are hidden in a cavity (see the last sentence of the 2nd paragraph) and only when there is an infection do they become red and inflamed, and they then protrude outwards from the cavity 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.
As an aside, I should mention that 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 an incestuous mating. In fact, we veterinarians see dogs being presented for vaccinations/dewormings 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 charged for these supposedly pedigreed, “pure-breed” dogs, which, in fact, are mongrels. The whole transaction smacks of illegality (false advertisement; knowingly deceiving a customer). Perhaps the Guyana Veterinary Association should take a stand on this matter.
Now, having opened the mouth, you should make a quick scan of:
(i) The palate (hard and soft: We’ll speak in more detail about the palate when we deal with palate ailments later). Are there growths on the palate (top of the mouth)? Are there cuts/miscellaneous lesions on the palate surface? Is the palate clefted (a long cleavage on the middle or on either side of the roof of the mouth)? Don’t be alarmed about the colour of the palate. Some breeds have a permanent, ingrained marking on the roof of the mouth. If you are in any way perturbed, discuss the matter with your vet.
(ii) The tongue: Are there cuts/bruises/decaying tissue on the tongue? Is it anaemic (white) or healthy pink? Is it dry? Does it have a foreign body stuck in its muscle? (The tongue is made up of several muscles.)
(iii) The cheek: Again, one should look for lesions, swellings, and so on.
(iv) The teeth: Are they white and healthy looking (no holes, no cracks, no pieces broken off, no dental plaque, and so on).
As we discuss, in future TPCs, specific ailments causing damage to these above-mentioned oral organs and tissues, we will go into much greater detail.
Enjoy your week.
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 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.