Parrot mouth in dogs is a condition that results in an overbite, whereby the upper jaw protrudes above the lower jaw, resembling a parrot’s beak. Medically this condition is referred to as mandibular brachygnathism and is also known as malocclusion.
Occlusion is a term that describes how the teeth align when the lower jaw meets with the upper jaw. Normal occlusion occurs when the upper incisor teeth overlap in front of the lower incisors and the lower canines are at an equal distance between the top third incisors and the upper canine teeth. Malocclusions, on the other hand, occur when there are variations from the classic scissor bite such that the dog’s mouth resembles a parrot’s beak.
Overshot and undershot jaws are types of teeth misalignments of the mandible (lower jaw) and the maxilla (upper jaw). An overshot jaw refers to a situation where the lower jaw is shorter while the upper jaw is more extended, resulting in the lower canine teeth hitting the upper canines. Although it may come as a surprise to some dog owners, all dogs are born with an overshot jaw.
This “abnormality” allows them to comfortably nurse as puppies. As the puppies grow, the lower jaw begins to grow to catch up to the upper jaw. If the jaw, for whatever reason, does not adopt the typical changes, it could cause displacement of the canines resulting in an inhibition of the mandible growth.
An overbite is usually hereditary and is dependent on the genetic growth rates of the jaws. Some breeds like the Boston terrier, boxer, and Shih Tzu, usually have abnormal occlusion. Affected dogs with teeth misalignments can end up experiencing trauma, discomfort, and problems with eating.
What Are the Symptoms of Parrot Mouth in Dogs?
You can detect whether your puppy has the parrot mouth condition as early as three weeks old, even though the full extent will not be evident at this point. Typically, slight malocclusion presents no significant risk to the puppy. However, it is a dental abnormality that will continue until your dog’s jaw stops growing. This form of canine malocclusion can lead to other serious health issues. Your dog’s intake of food and chewing will be greatly hindered, resulting in digestion difficulties.
Parrot mouth can also cause severe tooth erosion, contributing to gum disease and dental decay. Mouth sores and drooling are symptoms of parrot mouth malocclusion. Most dogs will still chew quite well with this condition.
However, excessive tartar and plaque buildup provides a good indication of the location of abnormal teeth wearing. Signs of excessive tooth wear can also be an indicator of malocclusion if two teeth always grind against each other. Pups with severe parrot mouth may have difficulty picking up food; therefore, don’t be surprised to find your dog swallowing large chunks of food rather than smaller ones.
If you notice that your furry friend is excessively drooling, this could be another sign that they have an overshot jaw. Affected dogs are often mouth shy, which is usually one of the warning signs. Other symptoms indicating that your dog may have a misaligned upper or lower jaw include:
- Incisors that meet edge to edge
- Salmon jaw, which refers to your dog’s inability to close their mouth hence resembling the open mouth of a fish
- Difficulty chewing food
- Defects in the hard palate
- Spillage of food from mouth while chewing
- Constant rubbing of face
- Oral pain
- Lip or soft tissue trauma
- Tooth loss
- Oral ulcers
How Does a Normal Puppy Dental Formula Look Like?
To start us off, dogs develop 28 baby teeth during the first six months of life. After that, they fall off and get replaced by 42 permanent teeth. Similar to humans, dogs have four types of teeth:
- Incisors – Located between the canines on the upper and lower jaws, their purpose is grasping food. Together with the lower canines, they help keep the tongue within the mouth.
- Canines – These are located on the incisors’ sides and are used to grasp food and other objects.
- Premolars – Positioned behind the canines in both the upper and lower jaws, premolars work together to cut or tear food.
- Molars – Found behind the premolars, at the back of the mouth. They are used for grinding food, as opposed to crushing, on its way down the gullet.
What Are the Causes of Overshot and Undershot Jaws in Dogs?
So what makes dogs develop overshot and undershot jaws? The cause of these conditions is related to the increased or decreased growth rate of the mandible and maxilla to each other. Overbites frequently occur in dogs with long, narrow heads and pointed noses. Such dogs are scientifically referred to as dolichocephalic dog breeds. These breeds include Afghan hounds, collies, Great Danes, bull terriers, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, among many others.
Some of the common causes of overbite in dogs include:
- Genetic disorders
- Trauma systemic infection
- Nutritional disorders
- Endocrine disorder: a condition that affects the endocrine glands that produce hormones that regulate your dog’s organs
- The abnormal setting of puppy teeth
- Early or late loss of puppy teeth
Diagnosis & Treatment of Overshot and Undershot Jaw in Dogs
In the case that your beloved pet shows any of the mentioned symptoms, you should immediately seek your veterinarian’s advice. During the physical exam, your vet may need to sedate your dog to perform a thorough oral exam, which will evaluate your pup’s skull type and general teeth alignment. The type of malocclusion that your dog has can be determined when the vet observes the position of the upper and lower incisors in relation to each other. Your vet will check if there are any areas of trauma due to teeth striking those areas. A dental X-ray will also help to assess the overall health of the jaws and teeth.
To effectively treat malocclusion, your vet will first assess whether the bite needs to be realigned. Typically, some slight malocclusions present no high risk to dogs. Your veterinarian can monitor and manage all progressive malocclusions, teeth crowding, and loss of deciduous teeth. Parrot mouth, even in severe cases, is not usually life-threatening since our modern-day pets do not have to hunt and scavenge for food.
Depending on the extent of the dental condition, your vet can perform corrective procedures to improve your pup’s life. They will also discuss with you a detailed plan of what is you should expect after the surgery. It is important to note that if your furry baby is a show dog, it is considered unethical and illegal to correct physical defects cosmetically.
Unfortunately, overshot and undershot jaw conditions are often genetic defects that you cannot control. As a result, you should treat these conditions as soon as the symptoms appear. Even in cases where your dog’s condition is severe and makes feeding difficult, orthodontic interventions can significantly reduce the pain and trauma.
Your furry companion’s recovery will depend on how early you managed to treat the condition and how mild or severe it was before the treatment. If you’re looking to become a dog owner, you should check on the parents’ health history to avoid any health problems later on.