It can be a very painful and scary experience for your dog if they suffer a broken jawbone. Today, our Northwest Veterinary Clinic of Mount Vernon vets explain the causes of a broken jaw in dogs, how the injury can be treated, and how to care for your pet after this injury.
Causes of a Broken Jaw in Dogs
Mandibular fractures tend to occur because of trauma, or as a result of periodontal disease. Common traumatic events include a dog being struck by a car or an altercation with another dog.
Periodontal disease can cause a dog to be more likely to suffer a jaw fracture. The bone loss weakens the mandible, predisposing it to fracture when a dog does something as simple as bumping into furniture, chewing on one of its toys, or even biting down on a piece of food.
In the case of vehicular trauma or an altercation with another dog, it is important to have your pet fully evaluated for additional injuries. When the fracture occurs or is noticed, it is always best to have your pet seen by your vet or seek emergency veterinary care. Once the dog is stabilized or treated for other injuries, the jaw fracture can be addressed.
The Goal of Repairing a Jaw Fracture
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 its feet.
Treating Jaw Fractures in Dogs
Repairing a jaw fracture with metal plates, screws, and wires is 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, your pet will need to abstain from chewing on toys or anything hard for several weeks. Put away any hard toys which may cause the acrylic splint to become dislodged. 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.
The Prognosis for a Jaw Fracture Repair
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 a great prognosis.
Older, small-breed dogs with severe periodontal disease that suffer fractures during surgical extractions tend to have less-than-ideal healing characteristics. The prognosis may be poor, guarded, or fair.
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.
Caring for Your Dog After 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.
Initially, 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.