Facial Nerve Paralysis in Dogs

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Facial nerve paralysis describes the inability of a dog to move the muscles in its face because of a dysfunction in the nerves.

  • This appears as ‘droopiness’ or sagging of the facial muscles, lips, ears, and eyelids
  • Affected eyelids may be unable to blink, and affected dogs may have difficulty eating or drinking
  • This condition usually has no known cause, similar to Bell’s Palsy in humans
  • Treatment in these cases is supportive, and the condition may recover naturally on its own
  • Sometimes the paralysis can be traced to an underlying cause, such as inner or middle ear infections, tumors, or hypothyroidism
  • In these cases, treatment targets the underlying cause, and prognosis for recovery is more varied
  • A dog can still have a good quality of life with partial face paralysis, although symptomatic treatments such as eye drops may be lifelong
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A closer look: Facial Nerve Paralysis in Dogs

Facial nerve paralysis usually affects only one side of the face. In most cases it has no known cause, but it is sometimes associated with an underlying condition.

Facial nerve paralysis is not an emergency, however a dog presenting with symptoms does require veterinary attention.

Facial nerve paralysis can result in other secondary conditions, such as dermatitis and eye ulcers, which can lead to vision loss when left untreated.

Underlying conditions resulting in facial nerve paralysis also have their own symptoms. A dog with a middle or inner ear infection, for example, may present with head tilt or a loss of balance. Hypothyroidism usually presents along with fur and skin changes, excessive thirst, and lethargy.

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Risk factors

Facial nerve paralysis can result in complications, which have their own symptoms.

The severity of facial nerve paralysis is dependent on the underlying cause. Some, such as tumors of the brain stem, may lead to severe complications like limb paralysis or death.

Older corgis, beagles, boxers, and cocker spaniels are more commonly affected by this condition than other breeds.

Possible causes

The most common cause of facial nerve paralysis is idiopathic, meaning the condition has no known origin.

Main symptoms

Facial nerve paralysis affects the muscles of facial expression. It is easiest to recognize by a ‘drooping,’ or sagging, along one side of the face. The eye on that side may be partially covered by a droopy lid and the lips hang down flaccidly.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics include

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork, including thyroid testing
  • Diagnostic imaging

Steps to Recovery

There is no cure for idiopathic facial nerve paralysis, and in these cases treatment is supportive. Regular application of eye drops are used to avoid complications pertaining to ocular health, such as dry eye or ocular ulcers. Acupuncture, massage, and laser therapy are also common treatments in these cases.

Otherwise, treatment is targeted at the underlying condition, such as thyroid supplementation in cases of hypothyroidism

Facial nerve paralysis isn’t fatal, and doesn’t usually have a big impact on quality of life as long as the condition is properly managed. The prognosis for recovering facial mobility is somewhat varied, depending on the underlying cause.

In idiopathic cases recovery can occur over a period of weeks to months, and may be only partial. The facial nerves can recover on their own, although if there are no signs of improvement within 6 months then recovery is unlikely. In these cases, lifelong application of eye drops may be required.

The prognosis varies more when the condition can be linked to an underlying cause.

Relapse of facial paralysis often occurs.


Facial nerve paralysis is most commonly idiopathic, and thus difficult to prevent. It is not contagious.

Is Facial Nerve Paralysis in Dogs common?

Facial nerve paralysis is common, especially in older dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • No specific therapy
  • Eye drops
  • Eyelid or lip surgery
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Treatment for the underlying condition in non-idiopathic cases

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