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Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Licking Problem

When I first posted about things stuck in a dog's throat back in March, 2009, I never knew that particular topic would be so popular. Even over two years later I'm getting comments on it and questions from it. Here's the latest one, sent in from Frankie.

Thumbelina the pit bull loves to eat grass. Occasionally, she will eat some grass, and it will either 'get stuck', or something that was in the grass will get stuck in there, and she will go insane trying to eat anything on the ground, trying to push it down. She snatches sticks, rocks, twigs, in a frantic effort to remove the feeling of something being stuck in her throat (and I know it's probably a blade of grass that's tickling her in there and feeling bad). And she licks and flicks her tongue incessantly in a weird way and gulps (flick flick flick, gulp). I usually help her by giving her water or a piece of bread or something that will sweep her throat and push it down. It always works.

Until now.

Something got in there. She did her frantic thing of trying to eat more grass, dirt, rocks, whatever might push the thing down. I quickly got her home and fed her bread, watermelon, soft rice, soy milk, anything to flush her throat. Nothing works. She is not trying to frantically eat everything in sight anymore (I have seen her even try to eat her blanket in the past when this happens!), but she keeps doing the incessant flicking of the tongue/licking her chops thing. She's looking at me with worried eyes. I gave her benadryl in case there was any inflammation. I was thinking that either a) she swallowed something harsh and it scratched her throat and she THINKS there is something in there, or b) she ate a bee or a hornet (they are all over the grass here in Los Angeles, hovering around), and it stung her as she swallowed it and the stinger is stuck in there.

I took her to the vet. He felt around. Nothing. Did a quick check. Nothing. Evidently. He never took a flashlight or looked inside her throat. He said there was a very slight swelling in her throat and gave her a shot but felt no obstruction, something to keep the swelling down (Dexameth 2mg/ml/ml). But he basically looked unworried. But I am. She is not coughing. Just doing the weird licky thing.

Have you seen this? Any suggestions?

Frankie, I would agree that it sound like something may be stuck, but not just in the throat.  Certainly something abrasive in the throat or even a stinger would cause irritation to the esophagus, but this would result more in difficulty swallowing than the repeated licking you've noticed.  A steroid injection (dexamethasone) would help with this, so hopefully it's not a problem anymore.  I would actually be more concerned about something in the back of the mouth or behind the soft palate.

When we as doctors talk about "throat", we are more specifically talking about the area of the neck past the back of the mouth.  However, objects can also lodge in what we call the pharynx, which is the back part of the mouth past the tongue.  Something lodged on the roof of the mouth or pharynx could cause this kind of licking.  The soft palate covers the back part of the nasal passage, which opens into the pharynx.  If something was trapped behind the soft palate, it could tickle the pharynx and cause the licking and irritation.  An object such as a blade of grass could be inhaled and migrate through the nose and towards the pharnyx, projecting past the soft palate (see a similar case on my blog here).  Alternately, something in the pharynx could possibly work its way up and get stuck around the soft palate.

In these cases, a thorough throat and soft palate exam would be necessary, and this can't be easily done with an awake pet.  If this is persisting I would recommend having the pet sedated to allow a more thorough exam of the throat, pharynx, and soft palate.

Good luck!