The jaw is one of the most common bone breakages to occur in cats. Most broken jaws occur as a result of a serious trauma such as a car accident, gunshot wound, kick or a fall from a height, resulting in the cat smashing his jaw on the ground. Bone cancer, bone infection, hyperparathyroidism and gum disease can all weaken the bones, leading to a broken jaw.
The jaw comes together in two parts, the upper jaw (maxilla) and the lower jaw (mandible). The mandible is made up of two bones which are joined along the "midline", these bones run from front to back. Both the upper and the lower jaw can break and a fracture can occur anywhere along the jaw, often the lower jaw will split along the midline. Breaks can be classified as "open" or "closed", open breaks are where the bone protrudes through the skin and closed are where the skin remains intact over the break. Open breaks are common with jaw fractures as there is not much tissue surrounding the jaw bones.
As has already been mentioned, broken jaws are commonly caused by traumatic accidents/falls, and other injuries are common.
What are the symptoms of a broken jaw in cats?
- Reluctance to eat.
- Unable to open or close the mouth.
- Bruising, swelling and tenderness of the affected area.
- Facial deformity.
- Bleeding from the mouth.
- Broken or lost teeth.
If the jaw is broken due to a nontraumatic injury, other symptoms may be present such as bad breath and drooling.
How is a broken jaw diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat, carefully assessing the mouth and jaw. Many broken jaws can be diagnosed based on presenting symptoms, however, facial x-rays may need to be performed if the fracture is closed, or assess the extent of the break.
Other diagnostic tests may also be performed to check for other injuries and assess the overall health of your cat. These may include complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis along with ultrasound or x-ray of the chest and abdomen.
How is a broken jaw treated?
- Surgery is required to repair and realign a broken jaw. If a midline fracture has occurred, your veterinarian will wire the two sides back together. A front to back break will require wiring or plating to hold the pieces together.
- Treating other injuries. Damage to the soft tissues surrounding the jaw is common, these will need to be cleaned and have any debris removed.
- Addressing and treating the underlying cause, such as gum disease or hyperparathyroidism. Oral cancer is a particularly invasive cancer, which can quickly spread to local tissues, including the jawbones. If the cancer is in the front portion of the lower jaw, surgical removal may be attempted. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may also be recommended.
Your cat will be sent home with painkillers and antibiotics. Recovery will take several weeks and your cat should be kept confined during this period.
Eating will be difficult and your cat will need to be put on a soft food diet while the jaw heals.
Repeat x-rays will be required after several weeks to check your cat's progress.