Drooling dogs

March 29th, 2008

We all love our pooches, but there are some parts of doggy parenting we’d probably all love a Super Nanny for scooping up poo, holding your dog steady for its annual jab and wiping icky, drippy drool from around its mouth. Katie Cincotta reports on the irksome subject of saliva, of our beloved drooling dogs.

If you’ve just settled in with a cup of coffee and a biscuit to flick through your favourite monthly dose of Dogs Life magazine, my apologies in advance. This story is on the sloppy side and not in a tear-jerking romantic-film kind of way.

Sloppy as in slobbery, slippery, sticky dribble that loathsome substance that just seems to ooze from your dogs chops as soon as it sets their eyes on tucker, sees the leash come out or when its battling to keep cool on a scorching hot day.

Yes, best to pack the afternoon tea away for at least another five minutes, because this is a very frank story about saliva. Ill be covering why our dogs drool, which breeds are prone to it and how we can stop it, especially if your frothing canine is causing you a hefty cleaning bill, loss of appetite and embarrassment when it shake mouth juices all over your guests at the Sunday barbecue!

Worse still, if your mutt sleeps on the bed and you’re waking up to a wet pillow, this is an opportunity to find an explanation, and perhaps a solution, to your soggy situation.

Why dogs drool

Sydney veterinary dentist Christine Hawke explains that drool is actually saliva, which is being constantly produced by several salivary glands in a dogs mouth. That bodily fluid is necessary to help a dog eat, digest and cool down.

Saliva serves an important role to lubricate food as it goes through the mouth and oesophagus. It aids digestion, as it contains enzymes, and also protects oral tissues and teeth by its flushing effect, she tells Dogs Life. Dogs also use the evaporation of saliva as a way to cool themselves when hot, which is why we see them panting.

Hawke says saliva production increases when the nervous system is triggered, which can be both physiological, such as a normal response to eating, or psychological, which is a conditioned response, as seen in the Pavlov experiment. Pavlovs dogs were trained to salivate purely at the sound of a bell, as they associated the bell with feeding, Hawke says.

The vet dentist says some dogs will also drool when they are stressed, anxious or even happy, like cats do when you pat them. But drooling can also be medical, such as a pathological response to pain, nausea, gastrointestinal or nervous system disease.

Pain can increase salivation, for example if a dog has dental problems or a foreign body like a stick gets stuck, or if there is an inflammatory disease of the mouth, Hawke explains. Other medical causes of excessive salivation include salivary gland disease, liver disease, a side-effect to certain drugs and anything that causes nausea. There is even a form of epilepsy called limbic lobe epilepsy, which has drooling as a major sign.

But in many cases, drooling is not about too much saliva being produced, but simply an inability to either contain it in the mouth or to swallow it properly. And while this can sometimes be caused by nerve-supply problems or a neurotoxin, like that produced by the paralysis tick, its more commonly related to the design of a dogs mouth and lips.

Which breeds drool

Most of us will remember the French Mastiff Hooch (whose real name is Beasley) from the Tom Hanks comedy Turner and Hooch. The dog actor with the huge floppy jowls slobbers his way through the movie to the town detectives disgust. The most revolting scene, which would have endlessly amused eight-year-olds, was when Turner puts on a shoe after Hooch has filled it with a puddle of drool in yuck! And who could forget the camera following flying spit around the room when the great big Mastiff shakes his head. Luckily, Hooch turns out to be a hero, because all that drool would have been hard to stomach without a happy ending.

Mastiffs, like St Bernards, Bloodhounds, Bulldogs and Great Danes, are renowned for drooling, and its all because of their facial structure.

The breeds typically seen as droolers have loose lower lips they have been bred for this appearance which are not as effective at containing the saliva in the mouth and directing it to the throat to be swallowed, Hawke says.

Great Dane breeder Gayle Revill, who began breeding Blue Great Danes almost 20 years ago, agrees the gentle giant of the dog world can be prone to drool because of its pendulous lips although she believes only 20 per cent of the breed drool excessively.

The ‘drool shoot’ part of the lip where it folds can be a factor. If this is more pronounced, it can lead to excessive drool, as it has more angle to let it escape, Revill says.

For a dog that can weigh around 50kg and grow to as high as 80cm, that’s a lot of excess liquid that could be floating around, which makes for some very entertaining stories.

Your dog did what?

Imagine the scene: you’re enjoying an intimate dinner party with friends and the first course has just been served by the proud hostess, owner of a beloved Great Dane. Everything is going swimmingly until she notices something dangling precariously above everybodys’ head. Its a moment of sheer panic.

She looked up, and suspended on the light fitting was drool hanging over the table. It didn’t fall, but she spent the whole dinner hoping it wasn’t going to drop in the souffl that’s a classic story among the dog community, Revill says.

The Blue Great Dane breeder says one of her Danes, who was a drooler, had a habit of collecting things along the way. He had chewing gum-style, long strings of drool, like stalactites, and he would collect things on it and walk off with my shopping list stuck to his face, she laughs.

Revill, who is also the vice president of the Great Dane Club of Victoria, reports that drool can often be invincible. Drool is the beast that you can’t wash off. You’re sitting in the restaurant and you realise that its still there and it has that glittery look to it. Argh! she moans.

President of Victorias St Bernard Club, Gwenda Carr, says St Bernard owners use bibs at shows to keep the dogs in pristine condition for the show ring. Yes, baby bibs for those big burly rescue dogs to keep them clean before they parade before the judges.

Quite often, well go into the showroom with white drool hanging off our hair. Its a hazard of the breed. We usually say look out for the chandeliers. When that St Bernard shakes its head, we all go running, Carr laughs.

The breeding dilemma

Great Dane breeder Revill, who also runs a pet boarding kennel, has no intention to breed the drooling aspect out of her dogs by changing the shape of their face and lips.

If we breed lips out of Great Danes, we don’t have a breed standard anymore. Danes must have a square amount of lip; they are not meant to look like Whippets, they’re not meant to look pointy in the face, she tells Dogs Life.

But St Bernard breeders are on the case for drooling, having taken steps to create a tighter profile in their breed, helping to alleviate droopy eyes and jaws.

You go back 10 years and we had a tall, leggy and loose St Bernard with a great big sloppy face. These days, you don’t see so much of that. We’ve got a more compact look, Carr says.

But as breeders and vets will both attest to, sometimes breeding one problem out of a standard can lead to another, which produces and endless cycle of hereditary issues. And because drooling is environmental, rather than medical, many breeders are happy to leave well enough alone.

Surgical solutions

Specialist surgeon Dr Andrew Marchevsky of North Ryde, NSW, has performed three cheiloplasty operations in his career essentially a jowl tuck one on a Boxer, another on a St Bernard and the most recently on a guide-dog Labrador.

Cheiloplasty is where you suture the bottom lip up to a little pocket that you create in the top lip, and it basically hitches everything up so they’ve got a permanent smile on their face, Marchevsky tells Dogs Life.

The surgeons most recent case was a Labrador guide dog that had a congenitally abnormal face. Her lips were very lax and she was constantly drooling. She was already in training and had been assigned to someone, but because she was so messy, she couldn’t be used, and they didn’t want to waste $30,000 worth of training, he says.

Excessive salivation, known as ptyalism, can also be corrected surgically with one or more of the dogs saliva glands tied off or removed. Its an option for dogs that drool enough to cause dermatitis or ongoing infections.

Dogs have several saliva glands, so they’re expendable. You can quite happily take some out and there’s still plenty of saliva produced, says the surgeon.

At the end of the day, dogs need saliva, and all of its oozy mess is just a side effect of that lovely mournful appearance among the drooling brigade. Perhaps Best Drooler could be introduced as an official new classification at the dog comps then those championship slobberers can at least celebrate their natural-born talent.

Top Droolers

  •          Bloodhound
  •          Boxer
  •          Bullmastiff
  •          English Bulldog
  •          Great Dane
  •          Great Pyrenees
  •          Irish Water Spaniel
  •          St Bernard
  •          Shar Pei
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