from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday 21 October 2011

slack-jaw syndrome in dogs

For those of you who know my blog, just to say that yes that title is literal, and if you don't fall into that very tiny percentage of people who might be interested in neurological disorders in canines, come back later when normal service will be resumed! This post is to add to the info available on the net for others who find themselves at some stage in my position the last week or two.

My beautiful hound has had a sore and inflamed eyelid for months. We didn't know the cause. As I use almost exclusively natural remedies (my daughter was brought up without ever having antibiotics or any allopathic medication) and know a lot about medical herbalism, that was the obvious route for treatment. No response. I succumbed after a few months to a vet visit and antibiotics – mostly because it was troubling her, and because we needed to know it was nothing contagious – eg ringworm – as she was going to be staying with my daughter with a friend with dogs. No result. Six months on, no nearer its clearing up, we gave her another course of antibiotics and then added in topical steroid cream – I wasn't happy, but was feeling desperate (had tried everything natural I could think of by then).

A few days later (and incidentally unlikely to be the allopathic meds, though a bit of me would of course like to blame a reaction on the pharmaceuticals), something changed in her face – she looked old, suddenly, kind of caved-in, and her eyes weren't right.

Next symptoms were her pupils became hugely dilated, and then her mouth started to hang open. At first it was only a centimetre or two, then four or five cms, and that's how it's been.  Her eyes became extraordinarily red and one nearly closed. (I see she's acquired a small crescent of blueish pigment in her brown irises, at the bottom, too.) At this point she stopped being able to drink, and mostly also to eat – her tongue worked but since she couldn't close her mouth she couldn't get food back into her throat, or chew it, against gravity.

It's been a challenge. Two vets looked at her and both were baffled – the symptoms didn't add up to anything immediately recognisable. A. said 'I wouldn't normally suggest my clients do this, but you might try googling the symptoms.' So I did: 'trigeminal neuritis' came up. Both vets investigated further and agreed that was the most likely cause. (It's rare.)

Basically that's an inflammation or disturbance in one of the main nerves that serve the face; this one affects both jaw and eyes; and therefore the muscles that control both. I don't know for sure, of course, but my sense is that the inflammation in the eyelid travelled back up a nerve.

The prognosis is mixed. In many cases it follows trauma to the head (maybe her eye counts); sometimes it's a symptom of an underlying disorder; sometimes it's idiopathic. Sometimes (rarely) it's permanent. Often it can start to clear between 2-4 weeks after its onset. We're on day 13, and for the first time today she managed a handful of small biscuits alone. Drinking's still an issue, but I suspect this is partly psychosomatic: when she found a day or two in that she couldn't lap up water (she prefers puddles, flowerpots, stream water even though we're on a borehole) she avoided going near it at all, so won't try.

I can't pretend it's not been a struggle. I've found myself at midnight squatting beside her in tears (after a time in which a lot of work pressure, lack of sleep, and worries about health issues for my mum have stretched me to my limits) as milky porridge flies around the cloakroom in which she sleeps, splattering The Man's coats, the floor, my face, her coat, her new bed; struggling with a tiny syringe to get a teaspoonful of water down her while she reacts traumatically, burying her head and shaking. It's a huge effort to get even a quarter litre of water down her each day – the minimum I guess she needs not to dehydrate.

I've learned some strategies. Hard food she can't manage. Liquid food ditto. She can manage finely chopped raw chicken – because of my ethics I've been buying expensive free range organic (so guess which vegetarian's been living on spuds this week?) – and cooked fish. I can get cold lumpy porridge down her by hand, tiny lump by tiny lump, if it's not too wet. Today she shared my apple and cinnamon bun from the guys in the market.

I've never bought pork in my life before, but she liked the sausages produced by our neighbour from his free range pigs that we pass each day (well, not these exact ones as they're still alive) (incidentally perhaps you know that most pigs are intensively farmed in appalling conditions, sows dropping piglets through the metal bars of a farrowing unit onto a conveyor belt, for instance, and shut away for their whole life from grass, and rooting, which is what they do? We fuss about battery hens – quite rightly – but who hears the same pressure for changes in the conditions of these most intelligent of animals? – Make some pigs happy and insist on free range... Where are you Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall? Or have you got there before me?)

Anyway. Someone said get a turkey baster for water. (Being veggie I don't have one – didn't know what they looked like. Found a Bodum one for £10 – glass tube, brush on end; glass/brush no use, and much as I love my dog £10 for that was beyond the call of duty.) A friend suggested a sponge, to wet her lips and mouth and drip it in too. This helps a little. Ice cubes, suggested my vet. Brilliant. I use heart-shaped moulds – not because I'm sentimental about the dog! – but because there are fewer sharp edges. A piece of cheese, half an ice cube; piece of cheese, half an ice cube; bung it in, tilt head up, gently close the hatch. YES! And I can incorporate healing herbs into the cubes too; or honey, thin soup, or yoghurt to counteract the antibiotics.

And I bought some agar agar – I'm feeding her meat but can't quite bring myself to buy gelatine (cows' hooves etc) – so I can turn healthy stews into jellied cubes which, again, she can manage.

Meantime I'm soothing her eyes with a mix of cold tea, slightly salted, plus witch hazel, tincture of calendula and of eyebright. That at least is clearly helping with the soreness of her eyes and they're no longer red.

Back to literary stuff soon...

ADDENDUM for those of you searching answers in relation to a dog: Ash recovered, by the book, after a fortnight, in that she started to be able to drink and eat unaided.

However, a few months later she started to spasm - very heavy 'jumping' in the place between her eye and ear (her temple, I suppose) which is clearly excruciating - sometimes she whimpers, sometimes she howls. This has continued, though it rarely happens more than a few times in a month, and never for more than about 5 minutes, during which time she wants to hide her head in eg my armpit, so I let her, and then as the pain recedes I gently massage the area (I try and remember to do that a couple or three times in a day anyway, if I can, to help relax the muscles). This is distressing for both of us, clearly, but better than her not being able to work her jaw of course. And the area above her eye, sunken during the crisis and after with muscle atrophy, has filled out nicely again.

Don't give up!

I hardly dare think this, but Ash hasn't had a spasm in 6 weeks (it's now 17th January 2013). They may not have gone completely, but certainly this is longer than before.

She's been wearing a magnetic collar since early December. It's possible that this has helped - I'd recommend considering it once your dog has recovered from the initial acute phase – however, I'm not a vet, and this is only anecdotal evidence – but they seems to be useful for many ailments, human and animal. Worth checking out online.


  1. My Harvey was diagnosed with TN yesterday. Started a few days ago, but I did notice a few weeks ago that he wasn't chewing up his bully stick, just carried it around in his mouth. My vet has him on prednisone for 3 weeks. His jaw hangs about !/2 inch, no pain. No facial or cranial paralysis. I refuse to think the worst, but my vet said he would probably never get better, the meds would only keep it from getting any worse. I spoon feed him soft and kibble combined, placed on the back of his tongue, and gently close his jaw with my fingers. He seems to like it. He can drink on his own, but it takes longer than normal and the water is filthy.

    1. Oh I"m so sorry to hear this (and I'm sorry for the delay in responding). I really hope that by now you have found some kind of resolution. At least he can – or could – still drink and eat, but it's very hard work, and very anxiety-provoking, isn't it? Don't give up hope. Ash was worse than Harvey, I think, and did recover, though continued to have occasional intense spasms of pain. We didn't give her drugs but I did massage her jaw and temple areas a lot, and as she was a very big, and an oldish, dog (in other words the vet deemed it not dangerous) I also gave her a dose of paracetamol when she was in pain.

      I would love to know how Harvey gets on.


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