Oronasal Fistula in Dogs

As a dog owner, you probably know a bit about common oral diseases like gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth decay, but have you ever heard of canine oronasal fistula? This less commonly known condition is completely treatable, but without treatment, it can cause pain and discomfort for your pet. 

The caring vets at Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery in Bozeman would like to make you more familiar with this disease, so you spare your dog the pain. Let’s examine the causes and symptoms of oronasal fistula and the recommended treatments. 

What Causes Canine Oronasal Fistula?

A canine oronasal fistula (ONF) is an abnormal pathway between a dog’s mouth and the nasal cavity. One common cause is a missing or infected tooth that creates a tunnel of damaged bone along the root of a tooth, forming an abnormal passageway up into the nasal passages. An oronasal fistula can also occur in the roof of a dog’s mouth, usually from trauma.

Causes of oronasal fistula in dogs include: 

  • Periodontal disease
  • Trauma to the roof of the mouth
  • Oral cancer
  • Abnormally positioned lower canine teeth that protrude up into the roof of the mouth
  • Foreign materials trapped under the gumline 

While any dog could develop an oronasal fistula, we see more cases in smaller toy breeds, especially dachshunds. For some reason, Dachshunds commonly develop very narrow oro-nasal fistulas along the inside of the upper canine teeth. Because you can’t readily see these, they are referred to as “inapparent oronasal fistulas”.

What Are the Signs of Canine Oronasal Fistula?

When there is a hole between the mouth and nasal passages, materials normally in the oral cavity like saliva, water, and even food can end up inside the nose, where they are not supposed to. Because the abnormal passageway is not usually visible in conscious patients, it’s important to recognize signs of ONF in your pet. Signs of canine oronasal fistula include: 

  • Frequent sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Chronic nasal or respiratory infections

How Is Oronasal Fistula Treated? 

Because oronasal fistula can be hard to spot, we need to perform a thorough examination of your dog’s mouth and assess their overall health under anesthesia. We can’t stress the importance of a good dental hygiene regimen and an annual pet oral health exam enough—exams are usually the only way to detect problems like canine oronasal fistula.

If your dog has an oronasal fistula, they will need corrective surgery. The veterinary dentist will place your dog under general anesthesia and repair the hole by preparing the site, removing any foreign material, and suturing a flap of healthy tissue over the opening.  It is critically important that this technique-sensitive procedure be done correctly. If there is a problematic tooth causing the oronasal fistula, that tooth may need to be removed as well. 

Following surgery, your dog will need about two to three weeks to heal. During that time, we recommend switching your dog to soft foods instead of hard kibble. You will also need to keep your pooch from chewing on any hard objects or engaging in any rough play like tug of war.

Once the surgical site heals, the oronasal fistula should no longer be an issue. If the flap reopens, your dog will need additional surgery, so it’s very important to protect their oral health until the surgical site has completely healed. 

Canine Oronasal Fistula Treatment in Montana

Do you have a small breed dog with symptoms of canine oronasal fistula? The knowledgeable staff at Montana Pet Dentistry & Oral Surgery can answer all your questions and provide the treatment your dog needs. Call 406-599-4789 or book an appointment online today. We will give your pet a thorough dental examination and offer treatment to improve their oral health and quality of life.