Difficulty Chewing and Eating in Dogs

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Difficulty chewing and eating in dogs describes having a visibly hard time picking up, holding, and chewing food.

  • Difficulty chewing and eating is uncommon, as most dogs continue eating even when experiencing oral pain
  • Specific characterizations include appetite but difficulty opening the mouth, trying to pick up food and dropping it, chewing on only one side of the mouth, abnormal facial muscle tension or movements, crying when eating, pawing at the face, and bloody discharge from the mouth
  • There are numerous possible causes of difficulty chewing and eating in dogs, including masticatory myositis, oral pain, neuromuscular dysfunction to the chewing or facial muscles, foreign material in the mouth, severe dental disease, tumors, and more
  • Diagnosis involves physical examination, medical history, thorough examination of the oral cavity and facial musculature, and sometimes blood work, advanced imaging, and muscle biopsy
  • Treatment and prognosis vary widely depending on the underlying cause
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A closer look: Difficulty Chewing and Eating in Dogs

Difficulty chewing and eating in dogs is uncommon, but often has a serious underlying cause. Dogs often continue eating with broken teeth and severe dental disease, so a dog having trouble picking up or chewing food often is expected to be related to a condition causing extreme pain, or something physically disrupting their ability to pick up food and chew.

Dogs with known trauma to the face and mouth, active bleeding from the mouth, swelling of the face and mouth, and dogs that have not eaten in over 24 hours require emergency veterinary attention.

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Possible causes

There are numerous potential causes of difficulty chewing and eating in dogs. This symptom is most commonly caused by conditions that disrupt the musculature of the face and mouth, the nerve supply of that musculature, severe oral pain, or physical obstruction of the oral cavity. It is important to note that this symptom is not caused by decreased appetite but rather a desire to eat, but physical inability to.

Risk factors

This symptom can vary widely in severity. A dog with oral pain on one side of their mouth may drop food when attempting to chew on that side, but be able to chew on the other side. In contrast, a dog with advanced masticatory myositis is physically unable to open their mouth enough to pick up food. Some causes may be temporary, such as a minor oral injury, whereas others may be severe and progressive, such as oral cancer or myasthenia gravis.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of the underlying condition causing difficulty chewing and eating includes physical examination, thorough oral examination (often under sedation), skull X-rays, dental X-rays, and in some cases may include blood work, muscle biopsy, infectious disease testing, CT and MRI.

Treatment varies widely depending on the underlying cause and may include:

  • Oral injury management,
  • Surgical correction of fractures or congenital defects
  • Surgical tumor or foreign body removal
  • Immune suppressant medication
  • Nutritional support
  • Pain management
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Dental extractions
  • Hospitalization and fluid therapy
  • Radiation and chemotherapy

Similar symptoms

Difficulty chewing and eating could be confused with decreased appetite (hyporexia or anorexia). Dogs with decreased appetite are often nauseous and do not want to eat much or at all. Dogs with difficulty chewing and eating show a desire to eat food, but physically struggle to do so.

Associated symptoms


No Author - Writing for FirstVet
Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!

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