A Dog With an Overshot Jaw–How Diagnosing and Treating?

Pet Care


June 26, 2020

Overshot refers to an upper jaw that is longer than the lower jaw, and protrudes over it. Undershot, conversely, is when the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw. Both are a type of malocclusion that can cause trauma, discomfort, and even eating problems in affected dogs.

Luckily, if the misalignment is caught in your puppy’s early stages, it may only be a temporary condition that will correct itself over time. 

Sometimes treatment is needed to treat this condition, and sometimes it isn’t. If your vet confirms that your dog has malocclusion, but they are not in any discomfort or pain, or that the condition is generally not causing them any problems, then they will not offer any treatment. Whether or not your pet receives treatment depends on the severity of the overshot jaw. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis of an Overshot Jaw  

There are numerous signs that your pet may have an overshot jaw. Typically, your dog will have difficulty closing their mouth if they suffer from malocclusion of this type. Other common symptoms include:  

  • Excess salivation   
  • Redness of the mouth and appearance of oral ulcers        
  • Itching of the face (displayed by scratching and rubbing)   
  • Difficulty chewing food and struggling to keep food in their mouth while chewing   
  • Lip and soft tissue trauma      
  • Worn teeth  
  • Pain        

If you have noticed that your dog’s jaw is unusually shaped (upper jaw protruding over the lower jaw or vice versa) or they are having difficulty when eating, you should arrange an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.

During this appointment, your dog will undergo a physical exam to ensure that no other problems are causing the mentioned symptoms. Your vet should also be able to see your dog’s jaw misalignment from the outside. 

After this first review, your vet is likely to sedate your fur baby to perform a thorough oral exam. This will help them conduct an in-depth analysis of your dog’s skull and malocclusion, such as the teeth location in relation to the teeth on the opposite jaw. The focal point of these examinations tends to be the positioning of the upper and lower incisors to each other, as this can help to determine what type of malocclusion your dog has.

There also may be indications of complications associated with the overshot jaw, such as areas of trauma due to teeth striking those areas, cysts or abscesses. Your vet may also perform a dental X-ray to aid their diagnosis of an overshot jaw, and thus help them decide on the best course of treatment. 

Possible Causes of an Overshot Jaw  

Overshot jaws are often hereditary, as these types of malocclusions are passed on from the parents to their offspring, and the cycle could easily continue for generations. This aspect can also explain why dolichocephalic breeds are predisposed to the condition.

Dolichocephalic dogs are breeds with long skulls and slim faces such as Border collies, German shepherds, the Afghan hound, Great Danes, among others.

Other possible causes of an overshot jaw include abscesses, cysts, and tumors. These growths can appear in your dog’s upper jaw and easily make this area look more substantial and protrude over the lower jaw. Your vet should detect these abnormalities during the physical and oral examination.

Generally, you will be able to notice these lumps and bumps for yourself. If your dog’s condition is due to these conditions, they will likely have other accompanying symptoms. 

Treating an Overshot Jaw  

Treatment of an overshot jaw depends mostly on the diagnosis given by your veterinarian. For example, if your vet finds that the overshot jaw is a result of mild malocclusion, they will declare it a cosmetic issue and, therefore, avoid surgery.

However, if your vet finds the condition severe, they will recommend surgical intervention to rectify the problem. 

If your puppy’s teeth are stopping the expected growth of their jaw, then the extraction of their puppy teeth is a viable route to go down to correct the issue. Removing these teeth will allow the jaw to continue to grow normally.

But, it is vital to note that this course of treatment does not necessarily guarantee the expected recovery. Your puppy’s jaw might stay the same, especially if they are older than ten months as their jaw is permanently set at this time. 

If your dog is advanced in age and suffers from trauma symptoms associated with their overshot jaws, such as pain, difficulty eating, and mouth cuts, oral surgery is the preferred method of treatment. The surgery might involve the removal of the stubborn teeth, moving teeth so that they fit correctly, or creating space for your pup’s misaligned teeth to occupy. 

Other treatment methods include dental braces, tooth spacers, and crown reductions as orthodontic alternatives to surgical procedures. The decision between the two, once again, largely depends on the severity of the issue.

As for cysts and abscesses, these will be removed. Your vet will take samples of the growths that he thinks are suspicious for laboratory testing to rule out potentially cancerous tumors. If your dog is found to have cancer, further testing and treatment may be needed to ensure they heal quickly and safely after surgery. 

Recovery of dogs with overshot jaws  

Recovery will depend on how early the condition was diagnosed and treated and how mild or severe it was. The sooner you identify an overshot or undershot jaw, the better chances your furry companion will have to make a quick recovery. In many cases, orthodontic intervention to correct the issue can help your dog live a happy and healthy normal life with the condition, so recovery is generally fair. 

Final Thoughts  

As most cases of overshot and undershot malocclusions are the result of genetic predispositions, you can avoid such situations altogether by choosing breeds that aren’t already predisposed. Make sure to do all your background research and homework before buying or adopting a puppy.

You should ensure to ask the breeder to show you the breed parents’ health certificates of the puppies you are interested in. You should be able to see the mother, of course, but the father is often a stud dog that may not be present. Nonetheless, a good breeder will have his pictures. 

Avoid buying puppies from bloodlines with predisposed genetic conditions as it is unfair not only to the dog and their quality of life but also to you as it may cause lots of unnecessary vet bills. If you find that your dog is suffering from an overshot jaw, you should consult your veterinarian and reconsider breeding your dog to avoid passing down this defect to their offspring. 

If you are lucky to notice a malocclusion on your puppy when they are as young as 8 to 12 weeks old, the issue will likely rectify itself naturally as your puppy grows. In other cases, tooth extraction can be performed to loosen the jaw and provide room for proper growth.

However, if you notice an overshot jaw later on in your dog’s life, it is still possible to get them proper surgical treatment or other orthodontic measures, which will allow your dog to live a happy, healthy life with the condition. Basically, the take-home message is that the more attentive you are to your furry companion, the better their quality of life.