Paralysis of a Dog’s Face

Idiopathic Facial Paralysis is a Lifelong Condition

One of my tenants has a heartbreaking situation with her precious 8 year old golden retriever mix. Half of the dog’s face has become paralyzed. His left eye will not close and neither does the left side of his mouth. He has been in this state for 4 weeks. Otherwise he seems pretty healthy.

Dr. Nichol:
I’m sorry about what’s happened to this dog’s face. It must be really unsettling for his owner. A nerve disorder called idiopathic facial paralysis is a strong possibility. Degeneration of the seventh cranial nerve leads to a sudden onset of drooping of the skin and muscles of one side of the face. It’s seen most commonly in cocker spaniels, golden retrievers, and beagles over age 5 years and occasionally in domestic long haired cats

Dogs like this drool from their sagging lips. Eyelids that can’t close lead to drying of the cornea-the normally clear outer surface of the eye. In some cases the other side of the face also becomes affected. The name idiopathic sounds impressive but it really isn’t. Translated into plain English, it means that we have no idea of the underlying cause.

For your tenant’s dog there are other considerations that should be ruled out. Low thyroid disease, especially common in golden retrievers, could be responsible. Middle ear infections and polyps can also mimic the same symptoms. A thorough neurologic exam will be essential.  An MRI would help eliminate other possibilities. Board certified veterinary neurologist Dr. Scott Schatzberg (505-431-0557) can make a definitive diagnosis.

It’s important to nail this problem down and not to assume anything. While some of the possible causes of this special dog’s symptoms are treatable, idiopathic facial paralysis is not. Eye lubricants to prevent corneal damage are the only remedy for this lifelong nerve disorder.