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ASK YOUR SCIENCE TEACHER

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QUESTION: We got a new big dog on our farm by West Salem and he drools a lot. Why?

ANSWER: Some dogs are natural droolers. The Bloodhound, Basset Hound, Bullmastiff and St. Bernard are classic examples of dog breeds that regularly drool and slobber. These dogs have big heavy lips. The skin around their mouths and jaws is very loose and floppy and allows saliva to collect in the folds. The drool seeps out, especially when they eat and exercise. Often the excess is flung into the air when the dog shakes its head. Water also gets trapped in the loose skin after the dog takes a drink. Evaporation of saliva aids in cooling the big canine.

In the medical field it is known as ptyalism, the excess flow of saliva that has accumulated in the mouth. If the dog is kept indoors, owners have learned to keep a rag or cloth handy to regularly wipe the dog’s muzzle before drool hits the floor or furniture. Some tie a handkerchief around the dog’s neck to help absorb the drool.

Dogs that don’t slobber a lot can produce a bit of drool if they’re anticipating delicious morsels. Saliva plays an important role in digestion, so the idea of exciting food can get a dog’s mouth watering. Dogs may drool when they are nervous or excited or nauseated.

Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) conditioned his dogs to associate the sound of a bell with food. Eventually, the dogs would drool in response to a ringing bell, even when no reward was available. It is an example of classical conditioning.

Drooling in a pet that doesn’t usually drool or slobber indicates a problem that can range from a chipped or cracked tooth or gum infection (the more common reasons), to poisoning or a foreign object lodged in the throat. Try checking your dog’s mouth and look to see if you can spot the problem. Maybe there is a splinter or foreign object you can see and easily remove without hurting the animal. If not, then it’s time to visit the vet to diagnose the severity of the condition.

There have been some great “dog-drooling” movies over the past years. Beethoven, with Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt, came out in 1992. They’re the parents of three kids that adopt a big slobbering St. Bernard. The evil vet was played by Dean Jones who starred in a lot of old Disney films.

Who can forget the 1996 film, Turner and Hootch, with Tom Hanks and Craig T. Nelson? Hanks plays officer Scott Turner who must take care of Hootch, a slobbery Dog de Bordeaux, a relative of the Bullmastiff or Alpine Mastiff, who witnessed a drug-related murder.

Some people consider Homeward Bound-The Incredible Journey the best animal movie ever made. This 1993 movie is based on the 1963 Shelia Burnford animal adventure novel The Incredible Journey. Shadow, the golden retriever (voice by Don Ameche), Chance, the bulldog (voice by Michael J. Fox), and Sassy, the cat (voice by Sally Field) struggle to find their way home. You won’t see more beautiful wildlife and location scenery.

Sources: akc.com, Dr. Pam Prochaska, DVM.

Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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