Meet Niko, our June patient of the month! Back in April, Niko’s Mom and Dad noticed him yelp while he was chewing on a toy, he also seemed lethargic. The next day he could not pick up a tennis ball and was having trouble eating, but he could still drink okay.
They brought him to All West Veterinary Hospital and saw Dr. Shari Bearrow. She recognized that his symptoms were consistent with a disorder called masticatory muscle myositis (MMM). Masticatory refers to chewing, so this means that the muscles involved in chewing were affected. Myositis means inflammation of the muscle. So Niko’s muscles that control chewing were inflamed and painful.
The cause of this disorder is not well understood. It is an immune-mediated condition, meaning the body in a way attacks itself. In this case, the body is attacking a specific muscle fiber found in the muscles involved in chewing. Dr. Bearrow recommended a test to confirm the diagnosis, and sure enough this was Niko’s problem.
Some dogs with MMM develop symptoms so severe that they cannot even open their mouths. Many will have significant muscle atrophy over their cheeks and foreheads, and sometimes the muscles are actually destroyed and replaced with fibrous tissue. It is important to make a quick diagnosis so treatment can be started before muscle damage becomes too advanced.
The main treatment goal for MMM is to stop the inflammatory cycle. This was accomplished by putting Niko on a steroid as soon as MMM was suspected, and over the last month and a half his dose has been gradually decreased. The other component of his treatment is acupuncture, which he receives weekly. The goal is to be able to wean him off of steroids sooner than if he was just being treated with the medication alone.
At Niko’s acupuncture appointments, he lays down on a doggy bed and gets a massage while several needles are placed at specific points on his face, head and neck to help relax muscles, improve blood flow and relieve any pain he may be having.
Niko’s treatment could last a couple of more months, but he is doing very well and we are so happy to see him improving.