DOG COULD BE SUFFERING FROM FACIAL PARALYSIS
Record - 12/23/2017
Q: I'm worried my dog had a stroke. Her face looks crooked and I don't think she is moving one side of her mouth because food falls out when she eats.
What you are describing is a facial paralysis, or palsy. A large nerve called the facial nerve originates in the brain and supplies the muscles to the face and ear. When that nerve stops functioning normally (partial dysfunction results in palsy and full dysfunction results in a paralysis), dogs experience an inability to move their face on the same side as the affected nerve.
This results in an inability to blink the eye or the ear, and typically a lip droop. The droopy lip usually results in increased drooling from that side of the mouth as well as possibly dropping food and water from the mouth. Chewing and swallowing are not affected. Affected pets are still able to feel their face and ears, but they are not able to move them. The biggest consequence of this condition is the inability to blink. Blinking keeps the eyes hydrated and healthy, and is also a protective measure to keep debris out of the eye. Without the ability to blink, patients are at risk for damaging the cornea, resulting in a painful scratch or ulcer. Dogs have the ability to compensate for this by elevating the third eyelid and "blink" with this eyelid, however it takes a few days for dogs to learn how to do this.
There are several causes of facial paralysis in dogs, the most common of which is idiopathic facial nerve paralysis. There is no specific cause for this syndrome and it is diagnosed by ruling out other causes, including an inner/middle ear infection, hypothyroidism, inflammatory diseases of the brain and tumors of the nerve or inner ear. While dogs can have "strokes" or vascular accidents in the brain, they usually don't result in just a facial paralysis but rather a combination of other clinical signs such as balance disorders, seizures, changes in behavior, gait, etc.
If you suspect your dog is not moving his face properly, a visit to you veterinarian is warranted. Your veterinarian will perform a neurological exam, an ear exam and eye exam. Blood work can be performed as well as a thyroid panel to look for hypothyroidism. If an inner-ear infection is suspected, oral antibiotics can be prescribed. If a corneal ulcer is detected specific eye medications are used. If the eye appears healthy, it is helpful to use artificial tears to help keep the cornea healthy while the dog is not blinking. Consultation with a veterinary neurologist and an MRI of the head and brain can be considered to rule out other causes, such as a tumor, stroke or encephalitis.
Idiopathic facial nerve paralysis does not have a specific treatment. Signs usually resolve within three weeks but in some cases the droopy appearance of the face remains and the blink does not come back completely. Provided the eye is kept healthy with artificial tears or by the dog using his third eyelid to blink, the resulting condition is usually cosmetic. Occasionally, both sides of the face are affected.
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Dr. Kerry Bailey
North Jersey Record
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