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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
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Experience:  General practice veterinary surgeon with extensive experience in a wide range of species.
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Chihuahua not eating and holding mouth open

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My 4 year old Chihuahua wouldn't eat today and when she got up to go to bed, she was holding her mouth open partially. I noticed it first yesterday, but she closed it after a few seconds each time. She has only eaten a little food. Should I take her to a vet tonight? Or is it ok to wait until tomorrow? What might it be? I just remembered.....we also found diarrhea on the carpet this morning. I am 99% sure it was caused by our Chihuahua (who weighs 5-6 lbs rather than one of our other dogs (we have a Min Pin who weighs about 12 lbs and a very over weight Border Collie, who is definitely no the culprit). 

Hello, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with Nika today.


Can you tell me if Nika could have been chewing on anything or perhaps rough housing with the other dogs prior to this starting?


Can you examine inside her mouth (make sure to check the roof of the mouth to make sure nothing is stuck)? Anything abnormal?


Has she had any coughing, retching, vomiting or rubbing her face (on her paws or floor)?


Does she seem keen to eat (perhaps begs) then turns away?

Or does she smack her lips, swallow hard, or appear nauseous when food is offered?


Could she have eaten something she should not have (ie non-edible items, bones, trash, etc)?

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hi. Thank you so much.


She is not a chewer at all, but it is possible that she was playing with our Min Pin. I didn't notice them playing, but it could have started the day before. We tried examining her mouth (first thought was teeth....she is definitely due for a surgical cleaning) but she either couldn't or wouldn't let me open her mouth very far. When it continued tonight, I had my 16 year old try to gently open her mouth and examine it (bc her hands are much smaller, and oddly enough, she has a little experience with it.....she wants to be a vet and has shadowed our vet on many days, even into surgery). She mentioned the same thing....that her teeth look bad. But she wasn't able to open her mouth very wide. She, like most small dogs, has always had bad teeth that need attention, and she has had surgical cleaning twice in her life. She did not act this way either time.


I don't know if this counts as smacking lips, but I did notice her licking her lips (or what appeared to be licking). I believe she does have an appetite, as she came to her bowl when we fed everyone, sniffed it, and immediately turned and ran back to her kennel.


I really, really don't believe that she ate anything or swallowed anything. It's possible (perhaps something in the yard?) but since she isn't a chewer (small, bad teeth don't lend to a dog who likes to chew, those she is - normally - playful).


No coughing or retching. And actually, she normally scratches the left side of her face with her paw (she has lots of allergies and is on the best of the best dog food bc of it. She will sometimes get dry skin patches - treated with Animax, but hasn't needed for a very long time - a red, watery left eye - which we treat with Refresh Tears and if needed, Benadryl - and constant scratching of her left lip/teeth, which I have not seen her doing for at least the past few days, now that you mention it.


I cannot bear the thought of her being in pain. We have a vet appointment scheduled for Wednesday morning, but I don't want to wait another day if she is in any pain or danger.



Thank you for the additional information about Nika.

When we have dogs showing these kinds of signs there are a range of issues we have to consider. First, it is worth noting that her ability to close her mouth voluntarily does make concerns like trigeminal nerve paralysis less likely here. But if she is holding the mouth ajar at times, reluctant to eat or let you open her mouth fully, we do have to consider that this could be induced by discomfort and/or nausea. And in that case, we'd have to consider issues of the jaw, the oral cavity and potentially GI issues (if there is nausea causing her signs).

Now I am glad that neither of you have found anything stuck in the mouth. It isn't uncommon for dogs to chew on things that then get stuck either between teeth or in the roof of the mouth. (I have even seen pieces of plants manage to get lodged in the roof of the mouth). When this happens, we'd typically see more of a reaction from the dog as they try to remove the item (ie head tossing, pawing, open/closing the mouth, etc). So, with her additional history, this would be less likely here.

As well, even though dental disease doesn't often cause such dramatic signs in the dog, if on this occasion she did have a severely compromised tooth (perhaps decaying enough that there is nerve pain as well), then it is possible that this would lead her to be reluctant to open her mouth (for both food and examination). So, this would still be a consideration, especially if her teeth are very bad, even though she didn't demonstrate these types of signs prior to her previous dental cleanings.

Furthermore, we can see these types of signs arise if there has been mild muscular trauma to the jaw (ie strain/sprain from playing or if she had gotten her collar caught in her mouth, etc.), or in cases of inflammation/damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ, this is the hinge joint that allows the mouth to open/close comfortably). And while you haven't seen any scenarios that could have aggravated the jaw region, I would still consider it here since it commonly causes these signs (especially the open mouth issue you are seeing).

Finally, it is possible to see most of these signs associated with nausea (which can cause the lip licking you are seeing). This is something we do have to consider with her since she is suspected of diarrhea as well. In that case, as I am sure you can appreciate, the potential causes are numerous. But if we wanted to rule out nausea, you could trial her on an antacid (you may have to crush it and syringe it with water if she isn't keen to eat). There are a number of antacids that are available over the counter and pet friendly. I would advise only treating with one, but the two I tend to recommend are Pepcid (LINK) or Zantac (LINK) . Of course, you'd want to speak to her vet first if she has any other pre-existing issues or is on any other medications (besides those listed). Furthermore, if nausea is afoot, we often will offer a light/easily digestible diet (ie Rice with any of the following: boiled chicken, scrambled eggs (made with water and not milk), meat baby food (do avoid the ones with garlic powder in the ingredients) or there are also veterinary prescription diets that can be used like Hill’s I/D or Royal Canin’s sensitivity).

Overall, there are a number of causes that could induce these signs with wee Nika. In considering these differentials, we have to appreciate that her behavior is being driven by the underlying condition either inducing oral/jaw based discomfort (my primary concern here) or nausea. And in that case, I would say that while it isn't a 'dangerous' situation, it is not a comfortable one for her. Therefore, if your vet had an appointment space for her today, then it would be worth having her seen sooner to just get this settled for her as soon as possible (since that will likely get her back to eating and herself). But if that is not possible, then we'd want to address the nausea angle (since this can be done safely at home) and tempt her to eat with soft foods like those I've listed until she can be seen.

I hope this information is helpful.

If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!

Dr. B.


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Hi Marian,

I'm just following up on our conversation about Nika. How is everything going?

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hi. Nika ended up having dental surgery with 10 extractions. She had her last dental (surgical) cleaning less than a year ago, so I was shocked at the extent of her gum disease and infections (teeth and gums). It has been 7 days now since her surgery, and I am dumbstruck at her recovery. She is visibly 100% better. She is happy and playful. She has a veracious appetite and 0% bad breath (I don't think I've EVER encountered a dog that doesn't have even a little bit of bad breath). I appreciate your help last week, and I know what to look for in the future.



Hi Marian,

You are very welcome and thank you for letting me know how Nika is getting on. I am very glad that she is feeling so much better and back to being comfortable and eating well for you again. Poor lass with that many compromised teeth! But if she had had that many teeth in distress, that certainly explains the signs that you had being seen. Hopefully now that those rotten teeth are away, the rest of the teeth clean, and perhaps she is letting you brush her teeth (hopefully), we won't see any further issues for her and she can continue to be her normal playful and happy self.

Take care & all the best,
Dr. B.