Basset hounds are very distinctive dogs due to their unusual conformation – those short, stumpy legs and large, long bodies. This trait is caused by a form of canine dwarfism, and the Basset’s unique looks don’t stop there – they also have large, drooping eyes, very long ears, and long, strong jaws.
Like most pedigree dog breeds, the conformation and genetic makeup of the Basset breed can lead to certain congenital defects and health problems arising within individual dogs of the breed, although these are relatively rare across the breed as a whole.
One such problem is called temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ, and this condition affects the joints of the jaws themselves, either on just one side of the face or on both. As you might expect, these temporomandibular joints are important – they enable the dog to chew, swallow, bark, yawn, and perform every other physical action that involves opening, closing or moving the jaw too.
In this article we will look at temporomandibular joint disorder in the Basset hound in more detail, examining the breed’s risk factors, and the symptoms and treatment options for the condition itself. Read on to learn more.
To understand the impact of temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ, first of all you need to develop a basic understanding of the conformation of the dog’s face and jaw.
The temporomandibular joints are a pair of joints (one on either side of the jaw) that connect the dog’s upper and lower jaws, called the maxilla and mandible respectively. These joints are really important, as they are required for every movement that involves opening or closing the mouth, and other jaw movements too.
Each of the dog’s two temporomandibular joints contain a disc that allows the jaws to rotate and move freely within their normal range, but these discs can become dislocated or moved out of place, as can other parts of the temporomandibular joints too, all of which need to work together to enable normal movement.
Problems with the temporomandibular joints can cause a range of problems in your Basset hound, including pain when opening and closing the mouth and moving the jaw, and difficulty biting, chewing and eating normally.
We don’t really know for sure why the Basset hound breed as a whole gets more than its fair share of TMJ disorders, and it is also worth noting that disorders of this type are not prevalent or hugely common even within dogs of the breed.
Generally, temporomandibular joint disorders in dogs of all types are caused by damage or strain to one or both of the jaws, which can cause progressive damage to the jaw’s hinges and cause or contribute to the dislocation of the discs required to enable normal movement.
Even in dogs with large heads and strong jaws like the Basset hound, the temporomandibular joints themselves are actually quite delicate and easy to damage, and even a little strain or damage can be enough to push the joint’s discs out of alignment and lead to a progressive worsening over time.
The size and conformation of the large Basset jaw itself may cause or contribute to the risk factors for this breed in particular, as can many of the breed’s core behaviour traits – Basset hounds tend to like to mouth things, carry things around and pick things up in their mouths, which are of course all normal canine behaviours. However, wear and tear over time, particularly if your dog gets a facial injury (even if mild) or if they are never seen without a toy in their mouths, this can increase the risk factors, particularly if your dog’s toys of choice are very large or heavy.
There are a wide range of potential symptoms of TMJ in the Basset hound, and not all dogs will display all of them. The range of symptoms and their severity in any given dog will also vary depending on the extent of the damage too.
Some of the most common symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders in Basset hounds include obvious problems opening and closing the mouth, signs of pain when chewing or taking treats, and difficulty eating, such as dropping food or appearing to try to eat very delicately and carefully. Pain is a common symptom of TMJ, so look for signs of pain when eating or vocalising too.
Your dog might even go off their food if eating proves very painful for them, and they may cry or whine when eating, or act as if they are hungry but then be reluctant to eat. In severe cases of TMJ in Basset hounds, you may even be able to see that the jaw bones are misaligned or don’t look the same as normal.
When you take your dog along to the vet to investigate the symptoms you have noticed, they will examine your dog and may also need to investigate further, which may involve x-rays of the jaws and even an MRI scan in some cases.
Treating TMJ in dogs can be quite challenging, and may require surgery to realign the jaws, reposition dislocated discs, and secure the jaw back in place.
Alternatively, for some milder cases of TMJ in Basset hounds, physical manipulation and therapies may be tried instead, to encourage the disc to realign and to get the jaw moving normally again. Your vet will also advise you on what to feed your dog to reduce pain and further damage, and provide information and advice on lifestyle changes to help to support recovery and prevent a recurrence of the condition.