Facial Paralysis in Dogs: Don’t Worry, Your Pup Can Still Smile!

Has your furry friend suddenly developed a lopsided smile? Facial paralysis in dogs is a condition that affects their expression and facial control. But fret not, most cases have a positive outcome, although some dogs may require extra care. Let’s delve deeper into the causes and management of this condition.

Shephered mutt, one ear up and one ear down.

Causes of Facial Paralysis

Facial paralysis in dogs is a result of damage to a facial nerve called cranial nerve VII. This nerve is responsible for controlling the muscles that manage eyelids, lips, nose, ears, and cheeks. When this nerve is damaged, a portion of the dog’s face may appear frozen or droopy. The effects of nerve damage may last for an extended or indefinite period.

Certain breeds like cocker spaniels, beagles, corgis, and boxers are more susceptible to facial paralysis as they age. Temporary facial paralysis can last for several weeks, depending on the underlying cause. Some possible causes include middle and inner ear infections, head trauma, endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus, toxins such as botulism, and tumors that invade or compress cranial nerve VII or the brainstem. Surprisingly, most cases of facial paralysis in dogs are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.


The signs of facial paralysis in dogs may manifest on one or both sides of the face, depending on the underlying cause. Just like in Bell’s Palsy in humans, you may notice a change in your dog’s facial appearance. Common signs of damage to cranial nerve VII include drooling, drooping of the lip and ear, deviation of the nose toward the unaffected side, inability to blink and close the affected eye, sloppy eating, and eye discharge.

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If you suspect that your dog has facial nerve paralysis, it’s essential to contact your veterinarian. They will conduct a comprehensive physical exam, checking your dog’s eyes, ears, motor coordination, and other cranial nerve and neurological functions.

Looking Out for Dry Eye

During the examination, your vet will test your dog’s ability to blink with the affected eye. Facial nerve paralysis in dogs can lead to keratoconjunctivitis sicca, commonly known as dry eye. This condition occurs when a dog can’t produce enough tears or close their affected eye properly.

Your vet may perform a Schirmer tear test to assess tear production. They may also prescribe artificial tears to ensure the affected eye stays lubricated. It’s important to prevent dry eye as it can lead to corneal ulcers.

Other Assessments

Apart from examining the eyes, your vet will closely evaluate your dog’s ear canals. Cranial nerve VII fibers connect to the middle ear before reaching the face. Checking the ears helps rule out external ear infections. However, CT or MRI scans may be necessary to definitively diagnose middle or inner ear or brain diseases.

In some cases, cranial nerve VIII, which is responsible for transmitting sound and balance information, can also be affected. Disruption of cranial nerve VIII leads to vestibular disease, resulting in an unsteady gait, weakness, head tilt, and abnormal eye movement.

To rule out other conditions, your dog’s vet might recommend additional tests such as blood work, a complete blood count, a chemistry profile, and a thyroid function profile. These tests help evaluate hormonal disorders associated with facial paralysis.

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Albino dog with pink nose and tilted head.


Idiopathic facial paralysis in dogs typically does not have a specific treatment. Supportive care is crucial in managing the condition. To prevent complications like dry eye, it’s important to ensure the affected cornea remains lubricated. Your vet may prescribe artificial tears, and it’s essential to administer them several times a day. Pay close attention to any redness around the eye, as untreated corneal ulcers can be serious.

If an ear infection is present, antibiotics and sometimes surgical intervention may be necessary. If underlying diseases or tumors are discovered, you and your vet can discuss appropriate management strategies.

Facial paralysis in dogs is rarely life-threatening, and dogs often make a full recovery. While it may be aesthetically disconcerting for pet parents, rest assured that it is not a painful condition for your dog. Remember to contact your vet if you notice any problems. Immediate attention will provide peace of mind and ensure the best care for your furry companion.

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