Broken jaws are an alarmingly common, and painful, injury in dogs. Here, our San Jose veterinarians delve into the causes of a broken jaw in dogs, how they can be repaired, and advice on caring for your pup as their jaw heals.
Why does my dog have a broken jaw?
Mandibular fractures tend to occur because of a trauma, or as a result of periodontal disease. Common traumatic events include a dog being struck by a car, injuries from trying to catch a fast-moving hard ball, or an altercation with another dog.
Periodontal disease can greatly increase the chances of your dog experiencing a jaw fracture. This is because the bone loss that occurs due to periodontal disease weakens the mandible, predisposing it to fracture when a dog does something as simple as bumping into furniture, chewing on one of their toys, or even biting down on a piece of food.
If your dog suffers from a broken jaw due to a car accident or because of an altercation with another dog, it's extremely important to have your pet fully evaluated for additional injuries that may not be obvious straight away. When the fracture occurs it is essential to get your dog to a vet for care as quickly as possible. Contact your vet right away, or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital. Once the dog is stabilized or treated for other injuries, the jaw fracture can be addressed.
How can my dog's broken jaw be treated?
The most important objective in jaw fracture repair surgery is to allow your dog to eat and rest comfortably as soon as possible after the injury. If either the upper or lower jaw heals in the wrong alignment, the patient may suffer from malocclusion. It is very important to avoid injury to the tooth roots and the neurovascular (nerve and blood vessels) bundle within the mandibular or infraorbital canals. The ultimate goal is to successfully repair the fracture and get your dog back on their feet.
Repairing a jaw fracture with metal plates, screws, and wires are sometimes required to treat a broken jaw, but some fractures can be treated with acrylic splints. Splints are much simpler to place and in many cases do not require a complicated surgical incision. The main goal of treatment is to make sure that the teeth line up correctly.
Once an acrylic splint is in place, it will be necessary for your pet to abstain from chewing on toys or anything hard for several weeks. Put away any hard toys that may cause the acrylic splint to dislodge. Feed only softened food until your vet tells you that it’s safe for them to eat hard food again. Once the doctor feels that the fracture site is healed, a second brief anesthesia is required to confirm healing with x-rays. If the fracture is healed, the splint is removed.
Depending on the method used to repair the fracture, one last anesthetized procedure may need to be scheduled to remove the wire or splint in the mouth.
Will my dog's jaw be back to normal once it heals?
The prognosis for jaw fracture repair typically ranges from good to excellent, with a few exceptions. Maxillary fractures tend to be fairly stable and carry an excellent prognosis. The prognosis for mandibular fractures is more variable and heavily influenced by the cause(s) of the fracture(s). Mandibular fractures resulting from minor trauma such as a mild fall, tend to have an excellent prognosis.
Older, small-breed dogs with severe periodontal disease that suffer fractures during surgical extractions tend to have suboptimal healing characteristics. The prognosis may be poor, guarded, or fair for these dogs.
The prognosis also depends on the severity of the injury. If the neurovascular blood supply is damaged, the prognosis is reduced. The cause of the trauma, impact force, duration of the injury, and bacterial contamination all play a role in your dog's outcome.
How should I care for my dog after their jaw surgery?
After repairing the fracture, your vet will provide detailed instructions regarding home care for your dog. Patients need to be confined and kept on a leash to minimize running, playing, or jumping around during the healing process. Regardless of the type of repair technique used, we often recommend that pet owners feed a soft diet or food made into a paste-like consistency to minimize pressure and motion around the fracture.
What can I feed a dog with a broken jaw?
Right after your dog's jaw surgery, a feeding tube may be necessary while they adapt to their new situation. Feeding tubes can sound scary to pet owners, however, most patients adjust quickly and tolerate the feeding tube very well. Detailed instructions for the feeding tube including how to use it, care for it, and specific feeding instructions are always fully explained and written down for your reference.
Once your vet feels that your dog has healed enough to begin eating they will prescribe pain medications for your pup that will be strong enough to allow your pet to eat soft foods without pain. Canned food or softened kibble should be fine, your vet will recommend the best food to feed your dog during their recovery.
You may be asked to monitor your dog's eating so that you can let your vet know if your pup isn't eating as much as they should. Some dogs may find it easier to eat smaller more frequent meals if your schedule allows. It is also a good idea to keep an eye on your dog's weight. If your four-legged friend begins losing weight, contact your vet for advice on how to coax your dog to eat more.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.