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Doc Sara
Doc Sara, Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 952
Experience:  I am a dog and cat veterinarian with a lifetime of experience in our family veterinary hospital.
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I have a 13 year old sheltie mix that is pawing at the side

Customer Question

I have a 13 year old sheltie mix that is pawing at the side of her head. She has a history of seizures, unknown cause. We never did MRI or CT but all other tests and diet changes were inconclusive and diet changes did nothing. We also never treated her with any medications as these were typically monthly seizures and really seemed mild. However, she has started pawing more at her ear and face recently. Single sided. Her ears seem fine.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  Doc Sara replied 2 years ago.

Hi there - I'm Dr. Sara - thank you so much for all of the great history on your girl - it's very helpful for me when I'm considering her problems and potential answers.

When I see older pets doing any sort of pawing at the face, my first suspicion is that they may have a painful tooth. The vast majority of dogs with bad teeth continue to eat - they just push through the pain because the alternative is to go hungry. Dental disease is very very common in dogs and sometimes a tooth root abscess can pop up seemingly overnight and cause severe pain. The tooth roots are very long and they extend up almost into the sinuses and nasal cavity. The teeth in the back of the mouth are near the deep ear canal, so it's not unusual for a pet to paw at the whole side of their face when a tooth it bothering them. The best way to fully assess oral health in dogs is an anesthetized oral exam - we just can't get a full view or X-rays of teeth when pets are awake, ESPECIALLY if they are painful. Having said that, I often have a very good idea of what tooth or teeth are involved based on the awake physical examination. In some cases, only X-rays can diagnose a deep tooth root infection which could cause significant discomfort.

I have also seen plenty of dogs who are shaking their heads or scratching at their ears who still have ear infections deeper in the canals than I can see with my eyes. I always check by looking into the deeper canal with an otoscope because I've definitely been fooled before thinking the ear looked totally normal until I looked with the otoscope.

Very rarely, neurologic disease can cause "phantom" itching or scratching, but this would only be considered after we made sure the teeth and ear are normal.

I think that a quick exam by your vet will give you a lot of information on what is going on with her and how to treat it. Please let me know if I can help by answering any more questions.

~Dr. Sara