What is Paralysis of the Jaw?
Paralysis of the jaw in cats is a serious condition that can be caused by a number of underlying conditions. Cats suffering from this condition will have difficulty (partial paralysis of the jaw) or complete incapability (total paralysis of the jaw) to use their jaw or mandible. While the condition itself is alarming and dangerous due to the effect it may have on your cat’s ability to eat, drink or swallow, it could also be a sign of even more serious conditions. Any indication of paralysis warrants immediate veterinary attention.
Symptoms of Paralysis of the Jaw in Cats
Paralysis of the jaw may be difficult to observe in minor or initial stages. However, as the condition progresses, symptoms will become more pronounced. Signs to watch for may include:
- Dropped jaw or hanging jaw in which mouth hangs open
- Inability to close the mouth
- Difficulty drinking or eating
- Messy eating with many food particles left behind or spread around
- Distorted vocal sounds
Causes of Paralysis of the Jaw in Cats
The trigeminal nerve is a nerve responsible for sensation and movement in the face. The nerve is split into three branches which control three separate locations of the face. These are the ophthalmic, the maxillary, and the mandibular. Conditions affecting the mandibular branch will cause paralysis of the jaw in cats. Causes of the paralysis include:
- Lesions or tumors indicative of cancer
- Trauma from rough handling or an accident
- Possible immune response
- Unknown causes (idiopathic)
Diagnosis of Paralysis of the Jaw in Cats
As with any serious condition, diagnosis of paralysis of the jaw in your cat will begin with a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian. You should arrive to your appointment with as much documentation regarding the onset as symptoms as possible. A complete timeline of the various symptoms, including any worsening or other progression, will help your veterinarian determine an appropriate course of treatment.
Your vet will order a complete blood panel and urinalysis to screen for infection. He or she will also examine the eyes, ears, and mouth. Sometimes, simple conditions such as a severe inner ear infection or abscess may cause similar symptoms. These conditions have a greater level of treatability. Examining the mouth will also allow your vet to determine whether there is any ability to open and close the jaw as well as whether there is a buildup of food particles in the teeth. Both of these are indicative of paralysis of the jaw.
Your vet may also order x-rays or MRI imaging in order to identify any potential trauma to the jaw or the area surrounding the trigeminal nerve. This will also allow your veterinarian to rule out a broken jaw or identify the presence of any obstructions or abscess.
Treatment of Paralysis of the Jaw in Cats
Treatment of paralysis of the jaw in your cat will depend on whether any underlying condition is discovered. In the case of infection, antibiotics will be prescribed. Your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or steroids to help reduce any swelling and encourage healing to any damaged area. Before, during, and after prescribing these types of medications, your vet will want to monitor your cat’s general health as well as blood panels as they can be taxing on other vital organs if given long term.
In all cases, treatment of paralysis of the jaw will focus on giving your cat enough supportive care to allow it to properly recover. This may involve spoon or tube feeding a liquid diet. Owners should exercise caution when tube feeding, as there is a great risk of aspiration pneumonia when the treatment is not administered correctly.
If you are unable to provide continuous care for the cat while it recovers, your cat may need to be hospitalized as it regains strength. This can have many benefits. Your cat will be confined to a smaller area where they are forced to rest. Your cat will also have access to IV fluids, which are rarely administered at home.
Recovery of Paralysis of the Jaw in Cats
The good news is that paralysis of the jaw in cats is not typically life threatening. Most cats will recover from the condition over a period of weeks. Management of the condition will involve regular veterinarian follow-ups to assess your cat’s overall health, and to continue to monitor for the presence of an underlying condition.
While recovering, the muscles in your cat’s jaw may atrophy, or become weak. It may be necessary to feed a modified softened or wet food diet to allow your cat to take in adequate amounts of nutrition.
When veterinarian’s instructions are followed and treatment is sought in a timely manner, prognosis for your cat’s full recovery from paralysis of the jaw is very good.