Dogs may develop problems in many different parts of their bodies and certain movements may trigger pain, as seen in a dog in pain when eating. If your dog is showing signs of pain when eating, the most logical explanation is that there must be something going on with his mouth, but there actually may be several other problems at play other than mouth pain. While the following are just a few potential causes for a dog in pain when eating, it's important to seek veterinary attention to help pinpoint the exact cause of pain and have it properly addressed.
Still Interested in Food
Generally, dogs who have pain when eating are still interested in food, the only problem is that eating is painful. This is quite different from a dog who is suffering from loss of appetite because of feeling sick or nauseous.
Typically (but not always) dogs suffering nausea or some other illness, may lose their appetite and will turn their head away from even the tastiest of food; whereas, dogs who have developed pain when eating still show quite an interest in food only that they associate food with pain and may be tentative in eating.
A dog in pain when eating may attempt to eat the food and then may whine or yelp or even drop the food on the floor. Some dogs may also start pushing their food bowls around.
A Problem in the Mouth
Some of the most common causes of dogs in pain while eating involve a sore mouth. There may be several conditions that may cause a painful mouth and trouble eating.
An inspection of the dog's mouth may sometimes reveal the underlying problem, but a word of caution is needed here: a dog who is having pain when eating will also likely have pain in having his mouth handled, and therefore extreme caution is needed.
A dog with a painful mouth may attempt to bite, and this includes even the most mellow dogs out there who have never tried to bite for the most part of their lives. When in pain, any dog can bite even the ones with not a mean bone in their bodies!
If your dog allows you to inspect his mouth, there may be chances you may find some evidence of causes of pain such as presence of mouth ulcers, a cut on the tongue, a growth, or a foreign item such as a stick embedded in the mouth.
Tooth and gum problems are one common cause or oral pain in dogs. Look for any red, swollen gums, broken teeth or a strong mouth odor which may be indicative of periodontal disease.
Sometimes mouth problems may not be readily evident and some areas may be difficult to inspect, which is why a veterinary examination is recommended. Some mouth issues may require careful inspection or dental x-rays under anesthesia so to assess the overall condition of the dog's teeth and their roots.
A Muscle Problem
Another problem that may affect dogs who are experiencing pain when eating is masticatory myositis. Myositis means inflammation of the muscle. In this case, the affected muscles are those associated with chewing (mastication).
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Masticatory myositis is an immune system disorder that causes pain in the muscles of the head and therefore makes it painful and difficult for dogs to open their mouths and eat. Basically, what happens here is that the dog's antibodies attack the muscle fibers of the muscles responsible for chewing.
Masticatory myositis is mostly seen in middle-aged or older dogs, and with time, dogs develop muscle atrophy along with a decreased range of motion of the jaw.
Myositis is treated with prednisone and medications to reduce pain. Providing the affected dog with warm, softened food is more soothing than dry, hard food.
Problems With the Jaw
The jaw is just like any other bone in the dog's body and it therefore may be affected by similar problems as other bones. For example, a dog with a dislocated or fractured dog may understandably have trouble eating due to the pain. One may imagine trauma would be a major cause for a fractured jaw, but at times, periodontal gum disease may be so advanced that the jaw bone weakens so much that a spontaneous, pathological fracture may occur with little force.
Other causes for trauma to the jaw include falls with the dog landing on the face from a height, car accidents and gun shot wounds. In some cases, bone infection or cancer of the jaw may cause a pathological jaw fracture.
Obviously, with a jaw dislocation or fracture, the affected dog will be in considerable pain and the top and bottom jaw will not align normally.
Other problems affecting the jaw bone and possibly causing trouble with opening the mouth and eating include osteoarthritis, zygomatic arch fracture and TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint Disease).
"A jaw bone can become weakened by periodontal (gum) disease, thus a spontaneous fracture with minimal trauma can occur." ~Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon
A Retrobulbar Abscess
Not many have heard of this term before, but for those who have, this condition likely brings negative thoughts. A retrobulbar abscess may sound like a complicated term, but all it is, is an abscess behind the eye.
How can a dog get an abscess behind the eye? It can happen that foreign material gets behind the eye or an abscess may develop secondary to a tooth root abscess, mouth infection or a sinus infection.
Affected dogs typically develop a bulging eye, presence of third eyelid, pain when opening the mouth and trouble chewing which may cause the dog to be reluctant to eat, particularly hard food. Some dogs may even vocalize in pain when they are chewing.
Fortunately, in mild cases, dogs may get relief rather quickly (usually just after 2 to 3 days) with a course of antibiotics. More complicated cases, such as those arising from underlying conditions are more challenging and require the underlying causes addressed. Severe cases require surgical intervention to allow the pus to drain from behind the eye.
This is Not Normal!
As seen, there are several reasons for a dog showing signs of pain upon eating. If your dog is showing signs not during eating but right after, there are other conditions to blame such as problems with the upper digestive tract (eg. stomach ulcers, gastritis, esophagitis, esophageal strictures, inflammatory bowel disease and stomach cancer.
Normally, eating from start to finish should not be a painful experience, so if your dog is whining while he eats, after he eats or has trouble chewing or opening his mouth, please see your vet. Left untreated, dogs in pain when eating may lose weight, become malnourished and their underlying problem may get worse.