Q: Over the past few days, my eight-year-old Westie seems to be hurting near her mouth. When I tried to feed her supplements and clean her teeth, she let out a loud yelp. She also screamed when I towel-dried her muzzle after bathing. I’ve noticed she has difficulty chewing hard treats and kibble. What could be wrong?

A: Your pet may have oral discomfort and it should be examined by a veterinarian. There are many possible causes, but most commonly, it may be caused by loose teeth and/or tooth decay and gingivitis due to tartar build-up. Other possible causes include a broken tooth with pulp exposure, possibly a foreign body such as a piece of bone or object lodged in the gum (especially if she may have chewed on a hard object recently), and other lumps or injuries.

If the pain is severe and she gets too stressed during normal examination, she may require sedation to allow for a proper examination of her mouth and to localise the source of the pain. X-rays of her oral cavity may be taken to help the veterinarian assess her condition. Though uncommon, sometimes the underlying cause may not be detected on X-rays and oral examination. More advanced diagnostics such as a CT scan, specific dental X-rays, or other tests may be required to get a diagnosis.

Ultimately, the treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the problem. She may require some dental work to be done, which will be done under general anaesthesia. For example, dental scaling to clean the teeth, extractions of any decaying and  rotting teeth, and removal of any obvious foreign object if applicable. The veterinarian will also be able to administer appropriate pain relief medications and antibiotics for any infections present.

Contact your veterinarian to do a check-up as soon as possible to find out the underlying cause of your pet’s discomfort and to seek the best course of treatment for your Westie. In the meantime, do observe if there are any abnormal swellings, bleeding, excessive salivation, or discharge around her mouth. Avoid any hard foods and chews to reduce chances of causing more pain. This may involve soaking her normal dry food in water to soften it before feeding. Although we want to avoid aggravating the site, I would advise that you contact your veterinarian before stopping any supplements or medications.

 I hope you are able to get to the root of the problem, and your pet gets well soon!