Examining the oral cavity

Last week we dealt with the symptoms of ailments in the mouth. In order to have a closer look in the oral cavity, one has to open the mouth and examine the inside. Generally, neither dogs nor cats like this intervention too much.

Three things we must understand and accept before attempting to open the mouth. Firstly, only the bottom jaw (mandibula) moves. There is no sense trying to pull open the top aspect of the jaw (maxilla), because it is an integral part of the whole skull.

Secondly, no dog, and especially not one that is experiencing pain because of some ailment in the mouth, is comfortable with the idea of you manipulating its mouth.

20131215dr steveThirdly, even if you follow the advice and methodology offered below, you must be careful not to get your fingers caught in jaws of a snapping dog. You could be severely injured, even by your pet who loves you dearly.

Of course, it is clear that once you open the pet’s mouth, you have a greater chance of diagnosing the problem, whether the focus is on the teeth, the gums, the tongue, the cheeks, the tonsils, the palate, the entrance to the throat, the soft tissue below the tongue, or a combination of these.

Please also keep in mind that problems in the mouth might have their origin elsewhere, but exhibit themselves as symptoms in the mouth. For example, there are sub-mandibular lymph nodes beneath the jaw (you can feel them as small pea-like structures at the angle of the lower jaw bone), which can become swollen, if there is an infection of certain tissues in the oral cavity, especially those in the throat area. Just as a nail wound on the sole of the feet can cause a swelling of the lymph nodes in the inguinal (groin) area, so too a throat infection can create a painful swelling of the sub-mandibular lymph nodes. So, even before you try to open the pet’s mouth, look first at various areas around the mouth on the outside, in order to ascertain whether there might be an externally located condition which is manifesting itself inside the mouth and vice versa.

How does one open a dog’s mouth?

There are different methods to open a dog’s mouth. I prefer to go with my left hand from the top, holding the upper jaw in such a way that my thumb and fingers squeeze a piece of the upper lip skin inwards. In this way, if the dog bites upward, it will hurt its own skin first, my fingers being protected by the skin fold. Then, with my right forefinger, I can pull down the lower jaw. This enables me to get a good look inside the mouth.

In case of the cat, just get a good hold of the scruff of the neck with the left hand, then pinch a fold of skin at the front of the lower jaw with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, pulling downwards. The oral cavity opens up and you can examine it at will.

If you just want to examine the gums, or the teeth, or the pet’s bite (how the teeth of the lower jaw and the upper jaw meet), you could simple raise the upper lips and the lower lips in turn. Healthy gums are pink and smooth; healthy teeth are firm in the socket and should be without plaque and not ‘rotten’. Pale gums are a reflection of an anaemic condition which could be caused by worms or some internal injury causing a blood loss, or even an iron deficiency or poor diet. Bad teeth are often a sign of poor nutrition.

I should mention that one text in a manual on dog care advises that a dog’s mouth can be opened by placing your thumb in the space behind the canine tooth while exerting pressure against the roof of the animal’s mouth. You then pull down on the lower jaw with the other hand. In order to see (beyond the tongue) the tonsils and the back of the mouth, you may push down the back of the tongue with your finger.

Now, for me, all of these explanations are straightforward. But, of course, I’ve been doing this for almost 47 years. It is to be expected that during such a long period, some degree of dexterity would have been learnt. You, on the other hand, may need an actual demonstration. That’s what your vet is there for. He/she would be more than willing to show you, on the spot, how the manipulations described above are carried out.

I don’t know which day you celebrated Diwali, but please accept my Diwali greetings, even though belated. In fact, the philosophy contained in the Diwali celebrations can never be late, since it is perennial and eternal.

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.


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