Cone of Shame

Spay Day

Last week we covered the plan for neutering Skipper… so what about your female puppy?

There are many reasons to spay your dog, including eliminating the risk for a life-threatening uterine infection (pyometra), decreasing the risk of mammary, uterine, and vaginal cancers, and preventing unwanted puppies.   Small breed female dogs can experience their first heat cycle by 6 months of age, sometimes as early as 4 months.  Large breed female dogs tend to mature later; their first heat cycle occurs between 9 months and 2 years of age.  Heat cycles occur once to twice yearly in most dogs.  During a heat cycle, your dog will exhibit physical as well as behavioral changes, including vaginal discharge, and the desire to escape/roam away from home looking for a mate.  Skipper’s housemate, Lily, went through a heat cycle between her adoption and spay date when I was in college. I have lots of stories, but can tell you that it was not a fun time for either of us and something I recommend avoiding if possible!

Historically, it’s been recommended to spay dogs between 4-6 months of age.  Your veterinarian may recommend spaying a little later for certain individuals.  Similar to the literature for male dogs, there are studies which show a decreased risk for orthopedic conditions like cranial cruciate tears (ALC tears) or hip dysplasia for dogs who are spayed later than 4-6 months of age.  However, this benefit has to be weighed more carefully for female puppies.  With each heat cycle, the risk for mammary cancer increases, to a 26% risk for mammary tumors by the second heat.  Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of spaying, and the appropriate timing for your female puppy with her veterinarian.

We are fortunate to have two spay procedure options at Aldie Veterinary Hospital. A traditional spay is completed through an abdominal incision that is a few inches long; the ovarian vessels are individually tied off with suture material, and the ovaries removed from the body. Pets typically stay in the hospital the night after this procedure to monitor for post-operative complications, such as pain or bleeding.

A minimally invasive, laparoscopic procedure affords the opportunity to utilize a much smaller (about 1-2 centimeter) abdominal incision, through which a special camera and instruments are introduced. The ovarian vessels are cauterized during this procedure. These patients are typically able to go home the evening after surgery. Laparoscopic procedures are highly recommended for large breed dogs due to the decreased risk for postoperative bleeding and the ability to make a smaller skin incision.

As with any procedure, there are risks associated with each of these options including anesthetic complications, intra or postoperative hemorrhage, pain, or in the specific case of laparoscopic procedures, the need to convert the procedure to an open-abdominal approach if there are any concerns noted through the camera. Pre-operative lab work is reviewed for each patient prior to her procedure, to ensure she is a good candidate for anesthesia/surgery, and able to process pain medications postoperatively.  A licensed veterinary technician is with your dog for the entire duration of her procedure, from sedation to recovery.  Her technician monitors her vital signs, makes sure she stays warm and comfortable, and keeps her relaxed and calm during her recovery time.

Once she goes home, your dog will need to take it easy for about 2 weeks, in order to give her body and skin incision time to heal.  She will not be able to have a bath or go swimming until she’s fully healed. She will go home with pain medications to help keep her comfortable in the first few days following the procedure. It’s critically important to keep her e-collar on at all times during the entire recovery period. Healing incision can be itchy, and she may want to lick/chew at the incision site. This can introduce bacteria to her surgery site, or cause the incision to open up.  These complications can be severe, even life-threatening in some situations, and could require hospitalization, or a second surgery to treat.  About 10-14 days following surgery, your dog will be scheduled for an incisional recheck, to ensure she is fully healed and cleared to return to normal activity.

Be sure to ask your dog’s veterinarian about the right timing and procedure for your dog at her puppy appointment! We are happy to answer any questions at any time!

 

Here’s to the cone-of-shame pictures and keeping our girls healthy!

 

-Dr. Conroy, Skipper, and Lily

#SkipperAndConroy #Vetsrus #FollowFriday #FF

Skipper's Reaction

Neutering and the Cone of Shame

Skipper is now 6 months of age, a milestone which brings up an important conversation about the future of those two things between his hind legs. Does he really have to lose them? What health benefit is there to neutering my pet? When is the best age to part ways with them? Let’s go over some of the most common questions.

Should Skipper be neutered?
Breeding dogs has its place, for responsible, thoughtful breeders, who want to contribute to an individual breed’s future. Breeding a litter of puppies sounds fun, right? Who wouldn’t want a litter of tiny wriggling puppies in their house for a few weeks? But, whelping (birthing of puppies) is a full-time job. Keeping momma and puppies safe and healthy is tough, requires hard work, conscientious, round the clock care, and should be left to the educated breeders who truly have a passion for the duties associated.

Now, obviously Skipper isn’t having puppies himself, so where does that put us? Un-neutered male dogs (we call them intact males) are more likely to go off roaming, to find a mate. This could put another dog owner at risk for having to care for an unwanted litter and put Skipper at risk for injury on his wandering adventure.

Intact males are at risk for development of testicular cancer, infection of the testicular cord and/or testicles, testicular torsion (a painful twisting of the spermatic cord which chokes off blood supply to the testicles), and prostatitis (inflammation/infection of the prostate). Without the testicles, the risk for these conditions drops impressively, to 0%.

Some intact males may also have some undesirable behaviors, like roaming, wandering, marking, and in some cases, aggression/reactivity to other dogs or humans. Some groomers, boarding facilities, and doggie daycare facilities have policies that restrict or prohibit access to their facilities.

OK, so when do we plan this?
For small to medium breed dogs, anywhere in the 4-6 months age range is appropriate for neutering. For larger breeds, like Labradors, Rottweilers, Great Danes, etc., I often discuss waiting until the dog is more skeletally mature. There are several studies documenting a beneficial, protective effect of sex hormones on joint development in these bigger dogs.

The breeds listed above are inherently at a higher risk of developing some orthopedic conditions, like a torn cruciate ligament (like an ACL tear in humans). Allowing these guys to remain intact until around 1 year of age may decrease that individual’s risk of injury. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Skipper will never have an orthopedic injury if I allow him to stay intact until he’s a year old. Likewise, it doesn’t mean that every dog neutered before a year of age will definitely have an orthopedic issue. It’s just a factor in the planning process to discuss with your dog’s veterinarian.

What should I expect before, during, and after a neuter?
Within 30 days of your dog’s procedure, a pre-operative blood test needs to be completed. The lab work will tell us if his liver and kidneys are up for the job of processing anesthesia and pain medications. It also ensures that we know his red blood cell, white blood cell, and platelet counts are normal, which is important before any surgical procedure.

The day of his neuter, withhold breakfast to ensure he doesn’t become nauseous following anesthesia. Check-in for surgery is usually between 7-8 am. The procedure itself is fairly quick, usually about 30 minutes, and once your dog is up and awake, he can go home, sporting his brand new e-collar. Sometimes this is as early as lunchtime; it all depends on where your dog’s procedure falls in that day’s surgical line-up.

Your dog may feel a bit “funny” the night following anesthesia. Some dogs whine or pace, others will just want to go home and go to bed. He will need to take it easy for the next 7-10 days and MUST wear the oh-so-glamorous lampshade, to make sure he doesn’t damage his surgery site until it has time to fully heal. For those dogs who spend more time jumping around on two legs than walking on four, we often recommend a light sedative to help encourage him to stay quiet during the healing period. He’ll also have some pain medications for the first few days after surgery to keep him comfortable.

Since Skipper is a large breed puppy, and so far very well behaved, we’re planning his neuter for around 10-12 months of age. Discuss the best plan for your puppy at his puppy examination; we can help create a plan that fits each individual, and answer any questions you may have.

-Skipper & Dr. Conroy

#Vetsrus #SkipperAndConroy #FollowFriday #FF

Skipper Flies

Preventatives Part II: Stopping the Creepy Crawlies

So last week we covered heartworm disease and its prevention. Skipper and Lily line up on the first of the month, all year round, even if there are 4 inches of snow on the ground, to get not one but TWO very special treats. The first is a heartworm/intestinal parasite preventive, and the second is a flea/tick preventive.  Whisper, the feline housemate, aka Boss of the House, is not so excited for her topical heartworm/flea/intestinal parasite treatment each month, but a little tuna makes everything better in her world.

 

FLEAS

Everyone’s familiar with these little jumpy, black bugs. Flea infestations can be quite nasty to control once they’ve taken hold.  And this isn’t just a warm weather issue: a flea that hitch-hikes into your warm house with carpet, blankets, baseboards, or rugs to ride out the winter has hit the jackpot and will have no intention of vacating.  They can live on wild animals (rodents, squirrels, deer, etc.) and jump on your pet from a shared yard/outside space.  Fleas feed off the animal host and lay eggs which fall into the environment (most worrisome, the carpet/floor in your house).  Fortunately, they won’t “infest” a human, but they may incidentally bite humans if they jump off their nearby animal host.

 

If you have seen live fleas on your pet, take care to thoroughly wash any bedding and vacuum carpets/furniture they frequent to remove all flea eggs.  Talk to your veterinarian immediately about treatments to kill the adult fleas present on your pet quickly, and preventives to address future generations. A single female flea will start laying eggs within 24 hours of feeding on a pet and can lay 40-50 eggs per day.  Eek!

 

A flea infestation can take months to get under control once it occurs.  As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” Better to never see these guys than have to try to get rid of them later. Flea bites are exceptionally itchy to dogs, to the point that some quite literally pull their hair out and/or develop skin infections.  Very small/young animals can suffer from anemia in severe cases. Fleas also happen to transmit tapeworms, among other diseases, which can rob an adult or juvenile animal of nutrients.

 

TICKS

Ticks are nasty little creatures which can carry several different diseases, including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Ideally, we prevent the ticks from attaching at all or kill them as quickly as possible once they do attach. Unfortunately, ticks are also fastidious bugs that can survive the winter, even under snow and during frigid temperatures. They tend to bed in leaf debris to survive these cold spells. For this reason, we need to keep all dogs on tick prevention year round. You can also make your yard less tick friendly, by keeping the grass cut short, and remove all leaf litter/debris regularly.

 

So, how do you prevent these?

I usually recommend giving flea/tick/heartworm prevention on the 1st or 15th of the month, as these dates are the easiest to remember. You can put reminders in your phone calendar to keep on track. Or go old school and use the monthly reminder stickers on the family calendar- super fun for the kids to do!

 

There are several options for flea/tick control: topical medications, oral medications, or collars.

  • Topical Medications: These are easy to apply and fairly effective.  Just part the pet’s fur, and squeeze the contents of the tube onto the skin. There is an oily carrier (nontoxic to humans/pets) which can leave a little greasy spot for a few days.  Some of these products also have the benefit of repelling fleas/ticks, rather than just killing them after they bite. Take care to use only veterinarian approved products.  Store labeled products can be caustic and harm your pet’s skin.
  • Oral Medications: These medications are easy to administer, safe, and very effective.  These products are labeled to kill quickly (<24 hours) after a flea/tick bites. They also have the benefit of not leaving that temporary greasy residue behind on the pet’s fur!  These products are not designed with a repellant.
  • Collars: The Seresto collar is a reputable, effective product which kills and repels fleas/ticks.  These collars should be replaced every 5-8 months. Frequent swimming/bathing can decrease the duration of coverage for this product, so for those water-lovers, we recommend changing them every 5 months.

 

Your veterinarian may even recommend a combination of the treatments, such as oral product combined with a Seresto collar for additional coverage, especially in peak tick season (March-September). Keep in mind, that even if a product has been proven to be 99% effective, if a dog is exposed to 100-200 ticks in a day (shockingly not unreasonable in some parts of our state!), 1-2 could easily attach and have a chance to transmit diseases.

 

It’s recommended to purchase these products through your vet’s office, or approved pharmacy to ensure quality control and avoid counterfeit products that can filter their way onto online markets.  Please feel free to ask any of the Aldie vets about which product would best fit your pets’ lifestyle!

 

Much love from Dr. Conroy & a Bug-free Skipper

#FollowFriday #FF #SkipperAndConroy #Vetsrus

Heartworm Sample

Preventives Part I of III: Protecting Your Puppy’s Heart

Virginia is a perfect environment for many parasites of dogs and cats!  Fortunately, we have a wide variety of products that protect Skipper and other pups from these nasty pests.  It’s recommended to have puppies over 6 weeks of age started on preventive products, to make sure their little puppy bodies aren’t susceptible to diseases and complications secondary to a parasite burden.  Let’s go through a few of the parasites we protect against:

 

HEARTWORMS

Heartworm disease is transmitted through mosquito bites, meaning that every dog and cat is at risk of contracting this disease. Heartworms set up shop in a chamber of the animal’s heart and can have devastating, even deadly, consequences on cardiac and respiratory function.  There is a treatment for canine heartworm disease.  The treatment process occurs over several months, and unfortunately, some parts of the treatment can cause significant discomfort to the dog.  There are also notable risks/complications possible. It’s SO much easier for the dog, and safer, to prevent the disease rather than treat it after the fact.  Cats, on the other hand, have no approved treatment. It’s also much harder to identify this disease in cats, and often the first sign is sudden death.

 

Even though mosquitoes are much less prevalent in the winter, Virginia winters CAN be mild enough on certain days that pets are still at risk. Think back to that occasional 60-degree day this January! Skipper was so excited to get out and play fetch in the false spring, but also very exciting for mosquitoes and other bugs. For this reason, we recommend consistent, year-round heartworm prevention administration.  Many heartworm preventive products also have the benefit of helping to cover for several types of intestinal parasites. While cats less commonly contract heartworm disease, the disease is much more severe.  For this reason, it’s also recommended that all cats are on heartworm prevention, as mosquitoes can make their way into the house.

 

Dogs should be tested once a year to ensure they are negative for heartworm disease, EVEN IF they are on consistent preventive products. Preventives are extremely effective, but there are a few resistant heartworms out there, that can squeeze by monthly medication.  Annual testing ensures that we catch and treat any sneaky infections early on. If you’ve recently adopted a pet with an unknown preventive history, or if you happened to miss a few doses, additional testing may be recommended. Also, the “heartworm test” has the benefit of looking for three tick-borne diseases (ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and lyme disease) in addition to heartworms.

 

Aldie’s veterinarians recommend using a monthly oral or topical preventive:

  • Oral products: these are typically a flavored tablet or chew given by mouth once monthly. This is the easiest option and the most common choice of pet owners. Most of the products taste delicious; Skipper thinks he’s just getting another treat! I can even get some good high five’s before giving his medication. It’s really a win-win situation for us!
  • Topical: this is more commonly used to administer heartworm prevention in cats, though there are topical dog products as well.

Here’s to long lives and happy, worm-free hearts!

-Dr. Conroy & Skipper

See more information on heartworm disease

#Vetsrus #SkipperAndConroy #FF #FollowFriday

Baby Teeth Missing

Doggie Tooth Fairy

February is Dental Month at Aldie Veterinary Hospital! Did you know that our dogs and cats need dental care too?  Daily teeth-brushing is the best way to cut down on the plaque and tartar build up.  While your puppy is young, practice brushing his teeth a few times a week to get him used to the process. Start by just rubbing your finger across his teeth on each side, and then graduate to using a finger brush or toothbrush for dogs, adding flavored toothpaste makes this activity way more fun.  While it sounds absolutely repulsive to us, there are chicken, beef, and even peanut butter flavored toothpastes for dogs!

 

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Yeah right, I’m never doing that.”  I encourage you to try because some dogs LOVE this activity and it only takes 1-2 minutes of your day!  And, it can save you hundreds to thousands in dental costs later. Remember, you and I brush our teeth twice a day, and still go to the dentist twice a year. Imagine years of plaque buildup without a single brushing or dentist visit, and how gunky those teeth would feel.

 

Personally, I don’t remember canine oral health being a concern for our family dogs as a child. It just wasn’t a popular topic in veterinary medicine even 10-15 years ago. Many of those pets were silently suffering from dental disease, rotten/wiggly teeth, tooth root abscesses, broken teeth with exposed pulp cavities, or undetected oral masses.  If you’ve ever experienced tooth sensitivity, had a loose/diseased tooth, or felt the sting of an exposed dental nerve, I’m sure you can sympathize with those dogs and cats. The difference is, most of our cats and dogs continue eating without showing any signs of discomfort. They just don’t know any better, and can’t say, “Hey Mom, lately that cold water and hard food really hurts!”

 

So why is all this “old dog” information on Skipper’s puppy blog? Because oral healthcare starts now!  Work on getting your pup used to teeth brushing so that we can delay the timing of his first dental cleaning, and increase the intervals between them.  If you have a toy breed dog, like a fluffy little Maltese or sweet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, this becomes even more important; those guys LOVE to build nasty tartar on their teeth even at a young age.

 

There are also some dental concerns for young puppies. Skipper is still in the process of losing his teeth, and he’s apparently not read the book on a “typical puppy,” yet again! Most puppies will lose their baby teeth as their adult teeth come in. Well, as you read this, Skipper has 7 canine teeth. 4 adult canines (the big pointy teeth) have come in, but 3 of his baby canines refuse to be evicted.  He’s a little too young to get too worried just yet, and these teeth are wiggly, so I’m keeping an eye on them.  If these “persistent deciduous teeth,” aka stubborn baby teeth, are still around at the time we decide to neuter him (or maybe even before!), I’ll need to extract them.

 

Persistent deciduous teeth can cause numerous problems for that adult tooth which needs to last him for the next decade or so. Abnormal tartar accumulation and food bits can get stuck between the two teeth sharing the same slot, and damage that adult tooth. They can also detour the normal path for the adult tooth to come in and can change the way the upper and lower teeth meet when he takes a bite/chews.  If you notice your dog looks like they have two sets of teeth after about 5-6 months of age, ask your veterinarian if they are a concern. Often times we find extra teeth at the time of a young dog’s spay/neuter surgery and can easily remove them to prevent problems from developing later on.

 

Much love from Skipper, Dr. Conroy, and the Tooth Fairy

#SkipperAndConroy #Vetsrus

Dental Month

February is National Dental month in the Veterinary world. We wanted to take just a minute to let you know why regular dental cleanings on your fur baby are important.

Each day plaque, the soft white material, accumulates on the teeth. If this plaque is not removed, it becomes tartar. Tartar is the “cement-like” yellow material you may see on your pet’s teeth.

Plaque and tartar contain bacteria that circulates through the bloodstream, therefore going through each and every organ in the body. These bacteria can “stick” to organs, including the valves of the heart. Over time, even healthy animals can be affected. This bacteria and tartar also cause halitosis or bad breath.

When the tartar accumulates, it makes a heavy coating over the teeth. If left untreated, this tartar will push on the gingival above/below the teeth, causing gingival recession and gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is defined as inflammation of the tissue and boney structures supporting the tooth. If left untreated, the tooth will have no structure holding it in place, therefore requiring surgical extraction.

During a dental cleaning, also known as a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment, our licensed veterinary technicians clean the teeth, examine the entire oral cavity, and take radiographs. Once the cleaning and oral examination are complete, our veterinarian also does an oral exam and reviews radiographs for any signs of periodontal disease. Once they have completed their exams, a treatment plan is recommended.

What can be done to help? Starting a routine home dental program! There are multiple options available including brushing, adding a water supplement, sprinkling powder on food, or using chews impregnated with an antimicrobial enzyme. Brushing daily is the best option but we are aware not every dog or cat will tolerate this immediately! Like anything else we want our pet to do, it takes time and training!

As with anything, do not hesitate to call and speak with one of our staff members about products, cleanings, or training tips!

Puppy Vaccines

Core Vaccines: What Are They and Why Does My Puppy Need Them?

The first few months of your puppy’s life are filled with many important responsibilities. For you at home, that means lots of love, training, and teaching him to be a good pet. For us at Aldie Veterinary Hospital, that includes making sure we’re working together to make sure he’s healthy and protected against diseases and parasites.  Your first vet visit can be overwhelming, and information from Dr. Google can be confusing and scary.  Please feel free to ask any questions about diseases, vaccines, and preventive measures you may have. We are here to help and provide you with evidence-based information.

There are two main groups of vaccines for your puppy: core and non-core. Core vaccines are essential vaccines for all dogs to receive throughout their lives. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) lists the rabies vaccine and the combination distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus vaccine in this category. These are dangerous, contagious diseases which are typically preventable with appropriate immunization.

The need for a “noncore” vaccine is based on each individual dog’s lifestyle.  There are four main vaccines listed by AAHA for this category. Your veterinarian is the absolute best resource to help you determine if your dog should have these vaccines; be sure to tell them about where your dog will live, if he will travel, and if he will be around other dogs often, so that you can work together to create a tailored, individual vaccine plan to protect him.

Let’s start by discussing the core vaccines: rabies and distemper.

 

Rabies

Rabies, of important note, is 100% fatal and can be transmitted to humans via contact with saliva from infected animals. Because of this risk, all dogs over the age of 16 weeks are required by Virginia law to be up to date on their rabies vaccination. The rabies vaccine is given once as a puppy, then boostered once at 1 year of age, followed by once every 3 years from then on.  In the event of an altercation with a wild animal outside, the vaccine is often boostered again as a precaution.

Virginia State Law has very strict protocols for unvaccinated dogs who are exposed to possibly infected wildlife, or if there is a dog-human bite incident.  Depending on the scenario, these protocols range from strict quarantine to euthanasia, so it’s important for your dog to stay current on this vaccine.  In our area, raccoons are the number one source of rabies, though other animals like foxes, skunks, and bats could also be carriers. You can help decrease your pet’s risk of encountering one of these animals by securing trash cans and other food sources outside, and always being vigilant about watching your pet outside.

Check out rabiesaware.org for more information.

 

Distemper/Adenovirus/Parvovirus/Parainfluenza aka DA2PP

Veterinarians often refer to this vaccine as just the “distemper vaccine,” but, it is actually a power-packed combination vaccine that offers protection against distemper virus, parvovirus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus.  These are all viruses which are transmitted amongst dogs through sneezing, coughing, or sharing bowls. Some viruses can also be passed directly from a mom to her pups.

Distemper virus starts with respiratory/eye symptoms before progressing to neurologic disease. It can be fatal, and some pups that survive will have lifelong deficits. Parvovirus causes severe gastrointestinal disease with profuse vomiting, dehydration, and diarrhea. Affected puppies require intensive care in a hospital for many days at best, but unfortunately many do not survive. Adenovirus affects the lining of blood vessels and can damage many important organs, including the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and eyes. Infected dogs may require blood transfusions, or may not survive the disease. Parainfluenza virus is a highly contagious respiratory virus which causes signs such as nasal discharge, coughing, and fever. Young puppies are at the highest risk for contracting all four of these diseases and suffering from complications associated with them.

Fortunately, we can keep your puppy safe from these diseases with appropriate vaccination. This starts with a vaccine once around 8 weeks of age, then a repeated booster every 3-4 weeks until he/she is over 16 weeks of age. Puppies younger than 4-5 months of age are most susceptible to these diseases, so it’s important to stay on schedule with frequent boosters. He likely has some immunity to these diseases from his mom, but over the first few months of life, her immunity will wear off, and we need to be there with our vaccine to take over protection duties. Your dog will receive another booster at 1 year of age, and then every 3 years from then on, similar to the rabies vaccine.

 

Bordetella

Bordetella bronchiseptica is more commonly known as kennel cough. This is a respiratory disease that’s easily shared amongst dogs at parks, veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, doggie daycare, etc.  This vaccine is a liquid absorbed across the lining of the nose or mouth.  No shot needed, and most dogs just think we’ve given them a weird tasting bit of squeeze cheese. At Aldie Veterinary Hospital, we consider this a core vaccine for all our patients, to ensure the safety of all our patients when they come into the clinic for exams, boarding, or treatments.

 

Making It Fun

Aldie Veterinary Hospital staff members are trained in how to make the vaccination process as easy as possible for your pet.  Squeeze cheese, peanut butter, baby food, or other yummy snacks are great distractors and often the puppies don’t even notice the small needle used to give their vaccinations because they are so excited about the treats!

Stay tuned for next week’s blog which covers the three non-core, or lifestyle based, vaccines!

 

Much love from a happy, healthy, and vaccinated Skipper!

#SkipperAndConroy #Vetsrus #Puppy

Aldie Vet Dental Care Exam

Can Cheddar Cheese Reduce Tartar?

Many animal owners suffer from the problem of tartar buildup on their pet’s teeth.  Some animals of the same species develop tartar much more quickly than others. This may mean that one dog needs a professional anesthetic dental cleaning every 2-3 years and another dog may need one every 6-8 months!  Some animals develop periodontal disease at a faster rate than others as well, meaning that the gums pull away from the teeth that become loosened from their boney attachments.  This can lead to pain, tooth loss, infection or abscess.

Unfortunately, I can find no hard evidence to validate the claim that eating cheese will help reduce tartar levels in the mouth.  So my fondness for cheese has not kept the dentist at bay.  There are, however, lots of things you as a pet owner can do at home to prolong the period of time before Fluffy needs to be fully sedated for thorough teeth cleaning.

To start lets review some terms and concepts.  Plaque is a film of bacteria that accumulates on your teeth – which is the wooly feeling your teeth get after you’ve eaten a lot of sweets and haven’t brushed your teeth in a while.  Gross right?  Well if that bacteria isn’t removed it hardens (calcifies) and turns into tartar, which is the yellowish brown coating on your pet’s teeth that tips your veterinarian off that it is time for a cleaning.  If left in place over time that tartar and bacteria party leads to bad breath, gum disease (gingivitis), tooth decay, periodontal disease, tooth root abscesses and the potential for that bacteria to get into the blood stream and cause problems in other organs like the heart, kidney, and liver.  The hardened tartar is difficult to remove and often requires specialized equipment to scrape it off like dental picks and the ultrasonic scaler.  We use the same equipment as your dentist to clean your pet’s teeth.  Full anesthesia is required to complete a dental cleaning because once we clean off the tartar we polish the teeth smooth to remove tiny microscopic crevices for the plaque to grab a hold of.   Pets do not tolerate having this done awake.

At home dental care is a huge part of prolonging the period between dental cleanings at the vet’s office.  Often in older animals, we need to get the heavy tartar off to get a clean slate for you, the owner, to maintain.  Young dogs should be introduced early to home dental hygiene to keep their teeth as healthy as possible and stave off the need for the full dental cleanings as long as possible.
The plaque on teeth is very easily disrupted by mechanical action.  This is best accomplished by a soft toothbrush and daily brushing of all teeth.  Think about wooly teeth and how much fresher you feel after good teeth scrubbing.  All dogs will eventually tolerate teeth brushing, but slowly introducing it over weeks in a very positive way is key to the fastest acceptance.  Make sure to get primarily the outside of the teeth as that is where the majority of the plaque accumulates.  Get all of the teeth from the little incisors up front, the long sharp canine teeth, to the all the premolars and molars that go way back in the cheeks.  Repetition and patience, as with any training, is key to getting your pet’s acceptance.

Daily tooth brushing is the gold standard of home dental health.  However, knowing that we don’t live in an ideal world where everyone brushes their dog’s and cat’s teeth nightly.  Luckily, there are other products you can use to help.  There are antiseptic rinses and gels and water additives the goal of these products is to reduce the amount of bacteria from your pet’s mouth.  Safe chews, treats, and pet foods are available that contain both enzymes to break down bacteria and/or a mechanical action against the tooth as the pet chews to shear off plaque.  Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) seal of acceptance to find products proven to decrease plaque and tartar accumulation by going to www.VOHC.org and clicking on “Products awarded the VOHC Seal” link.  Your veterinarian will also have a lot of good advice, ideas and references.

The American Veterinary Dental Council (AVDC) does not recommend cow hooves, dried natural bones or antlers, or hard nylon products because they are too hard.  Instead of helping to shear off tartar like a wild animal would get from a fresh carcass, these products often damage the pet’s teeth.  The result is often a fractured and very painful tooth that requires surgical removal.  Rawhide and other “edible” dental product should be used with care.  Give these products when you are around to ensure that a big piece isn’t swallowed or choked on.  It may be necessary to remove a large chunk from an exuberant eater’s throat.  It is also possible for large chunks to get stuck in dog’s esophagus or intestines that may require endoscopic or surgical removal, so make sure you pick a sized product appropriate for your pet.  Reasons that you should have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian include: particularly foul breath, excessive drooling, swelling or oozing, pawing at or rubbing the face, difficulty eating, discolored, painful or broken teeth.  Your vet is your ally and a great resource for your war on plaque and tartar.  Pleasant teeth brushing!  May yours and your pet’s smile be bright!