As a young adult dog, Jasper has the mind of an energetic, playful puppy in the body of a fully grown dog. He is full of enthusiastic energy and curiosity, which makes him prone to getting into minor mishaps. Like many young dogs, he loves chewing objects: dogs don’t have hands, so they need to use their mouths to explore the world.
Jasper chews just about anything chewable that comes within his reach. This is easy to control at home: Noel has learned to keep the floor clear so that there’s nothing for him to chew other than the special dog toys which are designed for him to enjoy. When he’s out on walks, it’s more difficult to stop Jasper finding stuff to chew: he tends to disappear into undergrowth, coming out proudly holding an object in his mouth. It’s usually just pieces of wood, but there’s always the worry that he’ll find something unsavoury, like a rabbit carcass or something rotting and smelly.
Last week, on one of his regular morning walks with Noel’s wife Jonie, he disappeared into the bushes as usual. Jonie could hear him crashing around, and she presumed that he was hunting for something to chew, as usual. Then all of a sudden, a yelping, squealing sound could be heard from deep in the undergrowth. Jasper was having some sort of crisis.
The vegetation was too dense for Jonie to get in there, with brambles, branches and nettles blocking the way, so she couldn’t go in to find out what was happening. She had to wait, calling Jasper repeatedly. The squealing continued, and after a few minutes, Jonie could hear the rustling sound of the small dog making his way back out to the open.
As Jasper emerged, Jonie could see that there were small branches and twigs stuck to the long fur around his face. He must have found himself in type of chewer’s paradise, surrounded by pieces of wood that he could gnaw. He’d had fun at first, chewing everything within reach, but then he must have somehow got tangled up with the vegetation, with the small, spiky pieces of wood and bramble becoming embedded around his head. He was clearly uncomfortable, whining and yelping as he ran towards Jonie, and pawing at the right side of his face.
Jonie presumed that the tangled-up vegetation was causing him discomfort, and she tried to hold Jasper still while she pulled it off. Jasper was in obvious distress, shaking his head and wriggling, but Jonie eventually managed to clear the debris away.
To her surprise, even when she’d done this, Jasper continued to yelp in a distressed way, lifting his paw to try to rub the right side of his face. It was only then that Jonie realised that there was something else going on inside Jasper’s mouth. She rushed Jasper back to Noel at home. When Noel tried to open his mouth to have a look, Jasper yelped, shook his head and refused to let him see. Noel could do no more to help him, and it was obvious that there was a serious ongoing problem, so they rushed him down to my clinic.
As Jasper came into my consulting room, he was still pawing at the right side of his face and squealing. It’s common for short lengths of twig to become lodged in dogs’ teeth, or sometimes stuck across the roof of the mouth, and I presumed that this is what must have happened. Noel held Jasper while I tried to open his mouth to have a look, but he refused to let me see. He was in too much discomfort and distress.
I gave him an intravenous injection of sedation to calm him down, and five minutes later, he was sleeping soundly. Now I could take a good look at what was causing the problem.
As I opened his mouth, he didn’t stir at all: the sedation had been very effective. I could see immediately what was causing the problem, and it was something I had never seen before, in thirty years of being a vet.
I’d expected to find a short piece of wood or bramble stuck inside his mouth, but there was nothing like that there. Instead, Jasper was suffering from an extreme case of biting his own lip.
His right upper canine tooth was deeply embedded in his right upper lip. This meant that he must have been experiencing acute pain whenever the right lip was touched, either by himself pawing at it, or by a human trying to open his mouth to help him.
It’s hard to work out how he had managed to do this: he must have been engrossed in some sort of chewing frenzy while deep in the undergrowth, and his upper lip must have stretched downwards and inwards, just at the particular moment when he was closing his mouth the chew a piece of wood. There was no way that Jasper could have solved this crisis himself: the tooth was deeply embedded.
Now that he was sedated, the problem was easily fixed: I just stretched his upper lip down and disengaged the tooth. There was no need to stitch the small hole closed: he’ll be on antibiotics for a few days, but I expect the wound to rapidly heal naturally.
Noel makes sure that Jasper has plenty of safe objects to chew, such as food-stuffed Kong and K9Connectible toys, but somehow it’s not enough for him. Despite this recent crisis, Jasper is always going to be an enthusiastic chewer. He just loves chewing, and nothing is going to change that.