Did you know that the facial nerve is responsible for the lovely expressions our pets make? It controls the muscles that allow them to close their eyelids, move their ears, retract their lips, and even open their nostrils. However, just like us, dogs and cats can experience facial paralysis, especially as they age. Let’s delve into this condition and learn more about its causes, symptoms, and possible treatments.
Recognizing Facial Paralysis in Pets
If your pet has facial paralysis, you’ll notice a drooping appearance on one side of their face, similar to what happens to humans after a stroke. However, the underlying cause of facial paralysis in animals is different. You may observe that one ear is held lower than the other, and their lip hangs down on the affected side. Additionally, affected dogs may have difficulty blinking, leading to saliva dribbling and food dropping from the side of their mouth. Sometimes, the signs can be present on both sides of the face, making it tricky to detect the changes.
Unveiling the Causes
While sudden facial paralysis is often indicative of a stroke in humans, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same for our furry companions. In most cases, facial paralysis in dogs and cats is not associated with brain disease but is instead caused by damage to the facial nerve itself. This nerve emerges from the back of the brain, controlling the muscles responsible for facial expressions such as ears, lips, eyelids, and nostrils.
The primary cause of facial nerve paralysis in dogs is idiopathic facial nerve paralysis, a term that means no known cause has been identified. On the other hand, in cats, the most common culprits are ear or throat polyps (abnormal tissue growths) or deep-seated ear infections. It’s essential to note that idiopathic diseases yield normal test results. Interestingly, a similar condition known as Bell’s Palsy exists in human medicine.
Another common cause of facial nerve paralysis in dogs is deep-seated ear infections. Alongside facial paralysis, affected dogs may also exhibit signs of Horner’s syndrome (decreased pupil size and third eyelid coming across the eye) and/or vestibular syndrome (head tilt and loss of balance).
Diagnosis: Unraveling the Mystery
While idiopathic facial nerve paralysis remains the most common form of this condition in dogs, further investigations may be necessary to eliminate other possible causes. These investigations often involve a thorough examination of the ears, which may require sedation or anesthesia using a scope to detect signs of ear infection or inflammation. If this examination yields no abnormal findings, more in-depth examinations using CT or MRI scans may be necessary to explore the deeper parts of the ear and brain. X-rays, unfortunately, tend to be inconclusive in cases of deep ear infection. In severe instances, fluid samples may need to be collected from around the brain to check for signs of inflammation or the spread of infection.
The Road to Recovery: Treatment and Prognosis
Although facial paralysis signs are often permanent, they usually don’t have a significant impact on an animal’s quality of life, even when an underlying cause is identified and treated. If no cause for the nerve damage is found, the prognosis is generally favorable. After a couple of weeks, the initial signs, such as drooling saliva, dropping food, and a floppy lip, will be replaced by more chronic symptoms. The droopy lip may begin to contract, gradually regaining its normal size and shape. However, the animal will still be unable to move their lip. In rare cases, the other side of the face may start drooping at a later stage. It’s worth mentioning that dogs with deep ear infections face a more guarded outlook as the infection can cause irreversible nerve damage and permanent paralysis.
To learn more about facial paralysis in pets, you can download our comprehensive Facial Paralysis Factsheet (PDF 100KB).
Caring for our furry friends extends to understanding the challenges they might face. By recognizing and seeking appropriate treatment for facial paralysis, we can ensure a comfortable and happy life for our beloved companions.