A dog’s tongue helps in feeding, heat regulation, and showing affection. However, a larger tongue does not equate to feeding or regulating heat much better; instead, it is a problem that can lead to severe health problems if not corrected. While there have been studies showing causes of large tongues in canines, a new surgery saved a dog with an oversized tongue, and it is groundbreaking progress in veterinary medicine. The one-of-a-kind surgery gave a dog named Bentley a new lease of life, and here is all you need to know about it.
When Stars Align
Raymond Kudej, a veterinarian at Cumming’s School of Veterinary Medicine, where he also is a professor, had read an interesting article in the Veterinary Surgery Journal. The study was about the impact of tongue dimension on the volume of air on brachycephalic dogs. It was first published in 2019, and the subjects were 16 brachycephalic dogs and 12 mesaticephalic dogs. Brachycephalic dogs refer to those with a shortened head and are characterized by flat faces and short noses like in Pugs and Chihuahuas. Mesaticephalic dogs, on the other hand, are dogs with medium heads. The study concludes that brachycephalic dogs have ten times denser tongues coupled with 60% reduced air volume in the upper airways. When Kudej read the study, he realized that it did not offer solutions, although the conclusion showed the problem.
Therefore, he thought about tongue reduction as a way to eliminate tongue obstruction. He got the idea of tongue reduction by studying sleep apnea in humans in which fat cells on the tongue’s base results in that part of the tongue being bigger. Since tongue reduction is usually cited as a treatment method for sleep apnea, Kudej reasoned that if it could work in humans, it might as well help canines too. The professor immediately began researching what kind of tongue reduction surgeries on human beings could be most effective for brachycephalic dogs. According to Tufts, he used animal cadavers that Henry & Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals had received through donations. As he continued his research, he received a call about Bentley, a brachycephalic dog whose large tongue was hampering his feeding.
Research Goes into Practice
Maureen Salzillo, Operation Pawsibility Project’s director, had rescued Bentley when his owner gave up hope of finding any help for him. Bentley’s tongue was the problem; it was so big it hung out of his mouth all the time, resulting in excessive drooling that took loads of towels to clean. Eating also was a challenge, and the one-year-old pit bull spent at least 30 minutes finishing a bowl of food because even swallowing was an issue. Determined to get him some help, Salzillo took him to different veterinarians hoping to find a solution to his problem. Some vets thought he was tongue-tied and a surgical procedure would correct it; others wanted a biopsy done, but even that did not reveal an issue. While Salzillo was sure mobility was not the problem, she was still concerned his muzzle was swollen.
Consequently, Bentley’s diet was changed, and he was put on allergy medication. However, while the muzzle inflammation reduced, the tongue remained big. The call to the hospital where Kudej works was a miracle because what are the chances that a dog suffering from the same condition the vet was researching would cross his path? Yet it happened, and Kudej was eager to meet the dog. According to WCBV, Kudej met with Bentley and was surprised to discover that the dog’s tongue was as thick as steak, a condition he had never seen before. Kudej confirmed to Salzillo that, indeed, Bentley was not tongue-tied during their appointment in November 2020. Instead, his huge tongue was heavy, causing other issues for the dog ̶ the teeth were growing sideways at 90 degrees angles, and the mandible was flat while it should be curved. As if that was not enough, Bentley already had ulcers, and Kudej was ready to help put the agony to a stop.
As published by Petpack, Kudej had never seen a case of macroglossia as severe as Bentley’s. He added that he probably never will again and that although he did not believe in fate, the stars lined up, enabling him to be one to carry out the surgery. Despite his willingness to help, he was open about his lack of experience, telling Salzillo that the only surgeries he had performed were on cadavers. Still, for the director, Kudej was her last hope of helping the dog, so she allowed him to operate on the dog. Unfortunately, even with the go-ahead, they lacked the funds required, so Salzillo took it upon herself to fundraise for the surgery. T-shirts with Bentley’s face, asking people to save his smile, were printed and sold through social media to cater for both the expensive surgery and food to control the dog’s allergies. The fundraising efforts were fruitful, and by February 2021, they had enough money to go ahead with the never-before performed procedure. Kudej took a CT scan of the area, which helped guide him to not severe the arteries when conducting the midline glossectomy.
The procedure involved taking out tissues from the middle of the tongue instead of the sides where arteries are located. Kudej was doubtful that he had operated successfully, seeing the inflammation that took a few days to subside. Even after swelling decreased, feeding Bentley was challenging, and Salzillo had to toss balls of food to the back of his mouth because the dog could not move the tongue in and out. After making a full recovery, Bentley was taken back to his original owner in Rhode Island, where the family is overjoyed to see him living life to its fullest. Given the success, Kudej will share his research into the tongue-reduction surgeries on brachycephalic dogs at the American College of Veterinary Surgeons conference in October 2021, where Bentley’s successful surgery will act as the clinical case. The surgery intern, Valeria Colberg, who was with Kudej as he performed the procedure on Bentley, will be the lead author in an abstract to be published in Veterinary Surgery, facilitating the documentation in the veterinary literature.