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Fracture of the Mandible in Cats

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Fractures of the mandible (lower jaw) are usually the result of major trauma, especially to the head, but can be caused by disease of the bone itself, dental disease, or sometimes by the veterinarian during extraction of diseased teeth. These fractures can occur at any location along the length of the bone from the midpoint where the two halves of the mandible meet in the front, back to the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ). The fractures can occur on both sides of the jaw at the same time. Many of these fractures are "open" but occasionally "closed" fractures do occur. Mandibular fractures can also be categorized as "simple" or "comminuted."

Depending on the nature of the fracture and the age of the animal, different methods of repair may be indicated for each situation. Mandibular fractures can have serious complications if not repaired or if the repair fails.

What to Watch For

  • Drooling
  • Inability to close the mouth
  • Pain when the cat attempts to eat

    Diagnosis

    A thorough physical examination including examination of the oral cavity can often determine if a mandibular fracture is present. Additional tests may include:

  • Chest radiographs (X-rays)
  • Complete orthopedic examination
  • Complete neurological examination
  • Radiographs of the mandible

    No laboratory tests are required to make the diagnosis.

    Treatment

    Treatment for a fractured mandible varies depending on the area of the fracture and the severity. Since most mandibular fractures are trauma related, emergency care for concurrent problems caused by the trauma is often performed before mandibular fracture repair.

    Some fractures of the mandible can be managed without surgery by placing a muzzle on the cat's snout, while some require anesthesia and surgical stabilization of the bone fragments for the best results.

    If dental disease is suspected as the cause for the fracture, a full dental cleaning with extractions of some teeth may be required.

    Injectable analgesics (pain medications) are given to the animal while being treated in the hospital and may be continued orally once discharged. Antibiotics are commonly given to minimize the chance for systemic infection from bacteria in the mouth.

    Home Care and Prevention

    With conservative management in a muzzle, or after surgical repair of the fracture, the cat should be kept restricted from activity for several weeks and fed only a soft gruel that does not require chewing.

    A recheck appointment with the veterinarian will occur in several weeks to evaluate how the bone is healing (possibly with new radiographs), to monitor the cat's progress, and to make sure it is safe to return to a regular diet.

    Many traumatic events are true accidents and thus unavoidable. Dental hygiene and routine cleaning by the veterinarian may prevent severe dental disease that could lead to mandibular fractures.

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