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Back to work for collie Shep

Name: john douglas, from co wicklow

Animal: shep, his 12-year-old collie

Problem: shep had bad breath and a swollen jaw

Shep is a working collie who was born on John's farm, and he had never left the farm, even for a few hours. John describes Shep as his "right hand working man".

When John put his hand on Shep's lower jaw, he could feel a firm swelling protruding from the bone. There was something serious going on. When Shep was brought up to see me, I admitted him for the day to carry out a detailed investigation of the problem.

Firstly, one of the cheek teeth had an abscess around its roots. This would rarely cause signs as dramatic as Shep was showing, but it meant that I had to extract the tooth, because it was likely to be causing him pain. The second finding from the x-rays was a dramatic profusion of new bone around his lower jaw.

The bone was almost twice as thick as the bone of his lower jaw on the opposite side.

Due to Shep's advanced age, cancer was a serious possibility. If this was the case, the prognosis was very poor, and there would be little that could be done to cure him or to extend his life.

An accurate diagnosis was important to determine the best course of action. I took a series of samples to send to the laboratory, including biopsies of his gums and his jaw bone, and some bacterial swabs to be cultured. While we were waiting for results, Shep was sent home on antibiotics.

Shep seemed to improve immediately. He began to chew normally, suggesting that the tooth that had been extracted must have been bothering him.

The foul smell from his breath was less severe, too. Despite this, I was still worried. If he had cancer of the jaw, this could just be a temporary remission before a final deterioration.

Instead, he had a rare bacterial infection of the jaw, called Actinomyces. This is a bacteria that's found in meadows and pastures, and it gets into the mouth when animals chew grass. It commonly causes a condition known as "lumpy jaw" in cattle, and Shep was unlucky enough to be one of the few dogs in Ireland that picks it up every year.

The good news is that it's a condition that's easily cured. Simple antibiotics are highly effective against the bacteria, but they need to be given for a long time Shep has been given a six-week course of penicillin.

He has improved every day since the treatment started. By the time the first lamb arrives before Easter, he's likely to be completely cured. Just in time for a busy spring on the farm.

Visit Pete's website at www.petethevet.com