Atrophy of the Frontalis and Temporalis Muscle

Full Title: Atrophy of the Frontalis and Temporalis Muscle

Author: Karen Finlay

Date of Publication: July 26, 2017


Research Paper Text:

By: Karen Finlay
July 26, 2017

The facial muscles of mammals are very complex and variable. Even though a dog does not have the same range of facial expression as humans do, the muscles of the dog’s face are well developed. They consist of several layers and differ in size and insertion points from one breed to another, but the innervation of the facial muscles by the facial nerve is constant.

Distinguishing one facial muscle from another is difficult and results from a lack of distinct connective tissue sheaths (fascia) between the layers. Adjacent layers of muscle often join together in various ways, or they may become independent and create separate muscles, each with their own name. Dissimilarities of this sort make neat classifications and actions difficult to describe.

The frontalis muscle is a thin, superficial facial muscle that lays across the top of the head, roughly from ear to ear, spanning the midline. Miller’s Anatomy of the dog categorizes the frontalis muscle as one of the “rostral extrinsic” ear muscles. It attaches at the rostral edge of the scutiform cartilage (part of the external ear), extends to the forehead and attaches to the nasofrontal fascia and into the zygomatic process (the bony protuberance at the side of the cheek forming the base of the eye socket). The frontal muscle fixes and pulls the scutiform cartilage rostrally, helping to move the ear forward.

The frontalis muscle lays directly atop the temporalis muscle, the largest muscle in the head, which raises the mandible and contributes to the action of closing the mouth and chewing. Since it is difficult to isolate the frontalis from the temporalis muscle, it is not possible to palpate it independently from the underlying temporalis. The two muscles combined give the top of the head behind the eyes it’s shape and fullness. Although the frontal muscle is not one of the muscles directly involved in mastication, due to its location relative to the temporal muscle, it will be affected by movement of or damage to of the temporal muscle.


Atrophy of the muscles involved in jaw movement (including the temporalis) would be more notable than observing the healthy muscles. If these muscles atrophy, the result would be a very distinctly evident “hollow” on either side of the midline of the frontal bone and giving the eyes a sunken look. Although atrophy of these muscles can simply be symptomatic of aging (as with all muscles), an immune mediated disease called Masticatory Muscle Myositis (MMM) is often to blame. This disease causes inflammation of the muscles of the jaw and temples, causing pain and dysfunction. The disease normally starts with swollen muscles on the top of the head, quickly followed by progressive muscle atrophy making opening and closing its’ mouth difficult and painful, and eventually causing the dog to be unable to move its jaw.


Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog, 4th edition

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  1. June Lingle-Haas on October 30, 2021 at 5:04 PM

    I’m so glad I found this article. We found a stray that is between 9-11 that has this. One vet just thought he had a funny head. Another vet said he must have been abused. He had one ear up and one down. He has no problems with eating, drinking, playing snd being so loving! But we always wondered why he had a funny head!

  2. Cathy Harper on January 16, 2022 at 6:20 AM

    I believe my 12 yr. old American bulldog has MMM , it came on fast. . I took her to the Vet 1/14/22. I asked the Vet if it was MMM. He didn’t think so because of no swelling. He had another Vet look at her and neither one had never seen this. I had them take blood. Waiting on blood results. The sides of her head are so sunken in.

    • Pebbles on July 7, 2022 at 12:34 PM

      My 14 yr old Maltese is going through the same condition, she can eat fine but our Vet said it could have been caused by weakening of the muscle. or it could be a tumor. I read it could also be caused by nerves stress. We are thinking on what to do since she’s going to be 15 and don’t want to put her through any more stress. Definitely and absolutely not put her down until and if necessary.

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