Foreign objects in the dog’s mouth

Foreign objects in the mouth include bone splinters, slivers of wood, sewing needles and pins, porcupine quills, fish hooks, and plant awns. Sharp objects can penetrate the lips, gums, and tongue. Other objects can get caught between the teeth or wedged across the roof of the mouth. Pieces of string can become wrapped around the teeth and tongue.

A common place for a penetrating foreign body is beneath the tongue. On lifting the tongue, you may see a grapelike swelling or a draining tract. This means the foreign body has been present for some time.

In areas where cockle and sand burrs are prevalent, many small spines can become embedded in the tongue and gums as the dog grooms burrs from her coat and feet.

The signs of a foreign body are pawing at the mouth, rubbing the mouth along the floor, drooling, gagging, licking the lips repeatedly, and holding the mouth open. When a foreign object has been present for a day or longer, the principal signs may be lethargy, bad breath, and refusal to eat.

Treatment: Obtain a good light source and gently examine your dog’s mouth, as described earlier in this chapter. A good look may reveal the cause. It is possible to directly remove some foreign bodies. Others will require a general anesthetic, which means a trip to the veterinarian.

A thread attached to a needle should not be pulled out, because it can be used to locate the needle.

Foreign bodies present for a day or longer are difficult to remove and may cause infection. They must be removed, and the dog evaluated, by a veterinarian. After removal, the dog is placed on an antibiotic for one week.

Fish Hook

To remove a fish hook from the lip, if the barb is visible, cut the shank next to the barb with wire cutters and remove the hook in two pieces. If the barb is embedded in the lip, determine which direction the barb is pointed and push the hook through until the barb is free. Do not try to pull the barbed end back through the tissue! Then cut the hook and remove it. Treat the puncture wound as described in Wounds.

DO NOT attempt to remove a fish hook embedded in the mouth or one that has been swallowed with the line attached. Take your dog to the veterinarian at once.

Porcupine Quills

Porcupine quills can penetrate the face, nose, lips, oral cavity, feet, and skin of the dog. Always check carefully between the toes, as dogs may get quills stuck there from their face as they paw at them. The decision to remove quills at home is based on the number of quills, their location, how deeply they are embedded, and whether professional help is readily available. Quills inside the mouth are difficult to remove without anesthesia.

To remove quills at home, restrain the dog as described in Restraining for Examination and Treatment. Using a surgical hemostat or needle-nose pliers, grasp each quill near the dog’s skin and draw it straight out on the long axis of the quill. If the quill breaks off, a fragment will be left behind, causing a deep-seated infection that requires prompt veterinary treatment.

After removing quills, observe your dog for about one week, looking for signs of infection, abscess, or deeply embedded quills working their way out.

Dogs with many quills will need anesthesia to be sure all the quills are removed. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics for a large number of quills. Broken-off quill fragments can migrate in the tissues and cause serious deep-seated infections.

String Around the Tongue

Swelling and bluish discoloration of the tongue may be caused by a rubber band or a string around the base. Occasionally a dog swallows one end of a string and the other end loops around the tongue. The harder the dog swallows, the more the string cuts into the tongue. Depending on how tightly the tongue is constricted, the venous and/or arterial blood supply may be cut off, resulting in irreversible tissue damage.

Signs of tongue strangulation are similar to those of a foreign object in the mouth. It is easy to overlook a constriction because the band cuts into the tissue. A close inspection may be necessary to find the string and divide it, then cut it off using blunt-nosed baby scissors. If the dog is struggling, take her to the veterinarian right away to have it done.