The previous blog entry was specifically about teeth and how to care for them but this one is going to be about their 'jaws' in general. Please note you can only examine a dog or cat's mouth by this method. Rabbits and small furries have a much narrower opening at the front of their lips, and while they may tolerate their front teeth being examined, you will not be able to get them to 'open wide' as you may be able to with a dog or cat.
Have look at the outside of your pets lips and face before you go to open their mouth; look for sores, redness or swelling. Have a sniff of their breath. It's normal for it to smell like the food they eat, but it shouldn't smell like something crawled in and died there. Next, pull their lips back and look at their teeth and gums. Gums should be pink if your pet have a light coloured face, and black or brown if it is dark. If they have markings that extend onto their lips, then their gums will have corresponding patches of pigmentation.
If the gums are red, swollen or bleeding then they may need antibiotics. Check the outside of the teeth for tartar or cracks and if your pet lets you open their mouth right up, then have a quick look at the inside of the teeth, top of the tongue and roof of the mouth. Chances are you'll only get a glimpse of each area, so you may have to do this several times over the course of a day or two to be certain of what each area looks like.
Only look at your pet's mouth if they are calm and relaxed. If it becomes a struggle or your pet shows signs of fear or aggression then stop immediately and let them calm down. There will be some dogs and cats that will not tolerate their mouth being looked at while conscious, there is often a good reason for this such as pain.
I advise all of my clients to make a habit of looking at their pet's mouth at least weekly. If you know what 'normal' looks like, then you'll be more likely to recognise when something is wrong. If you get your pet used to having their mouth opened when they are young, then it's a lot easier to do when they are full grown and have a stick or bone stuck in their mouth. And your vet will certainly appreciate that the patient is co operative for this part of a general examination.