February is Dental Health Month by Sue Jex, CVT

       Taking care of your pet(s) teeth is just as important as taking care of your own.   Preventative care helps maintain healthy teeth & gums. 

There are several things you can do to help your pet(s) at home.  If you have or planning on having a puppy or kitten, start handling the head so it can get used to being handled – just like playing with their feet so they get used to being handled for nail trims.  Once it is comfortable with what you are doing, gradually introduce a soft bristled toothbrush.  Gently massage the gums & teeth.  After this step, introduce a pet based toothpaste (there are several flavors to experiment with).  This technique is the most effective in taking care of the teeth & gums.  Once the puppy or kitten accepts having their teeth brushed, she or he will be set for life.

However, if the above is not tolerated at all, you can consider some other options (i.e. water additives, chews, gels, whipes or treats).  While water additives can be helpful the flavor may put off the pet(s) from drinking water.  This option would be another technique that would need to be introduced early so the pet(s) would get used to it.  Chews (DentaStix), chews, gels, whipes and treats help “scrub” the teeth.

Even with which ever option you choose to help keep your pet(s) teeth clean, she or he would still need to have a dental cleaning performed.   Complete dentals for dogs & cats are very similar to what we have done for ourselves on a routine basis.  During your pet(s) annual exam, her or his teeth are looked at and the veterinarian will determine if a cleaning needs to be done.  Dentals usually start around 4-5 years old and can be done yearly if warranted.  This service includes:  a complete cleaning/scaling & full mouth x-rays.  Dental disease is grated by 5 different levels. 

  • Grade 0—No plaque or gingivitis present. Young, healthy dogs and cats between 6 and 12 months of age are often grade 0.
  • Grade 1—Mild gingivitis and plaque are present. A grade 1 condition is often reversible with brushing and appropriate chewing.
  • Grade 2—Mild to moderate tartar (mineralized plaque and bacteria) and gingivitis are present on multiple teeth. Gingivitis is usually reversible after professional scaling and polishing.
  • Grade 3—Heavy tartar and periodontal disease with bone loss are present. With grade 3 patients, oral pain is likely. Tooth lesions and fractures may be present under tartar.
  • Grade 4—Severe tartar, periodontal disease, and oral pain are present.  Tooth loss is imminent.

There are many benefits of dental cleanings for the dog and cat. 

  • Helps keep that “doggie” breath at bay.  Cats can have that odor too!
  • Helps keep plaque, tartar build up at a minimum.  By removing them, bacteria will not have a place to grow.  The build up of bacteria can get into the blood stream and affect major organs.
  • Helps keep inflammation of the gums down.
  • Allows an accurate assessment of how the roots look.  Radiographs can indicate any tissue loss, fractures, and reabsorption.  Any of these can explain pain or eating on one side.

Dental health is important for so many reasons and by keeping up on maintenance of your pet(s) teeth in between dentals and annual exams will help keep her/him on the right path for a long and healthy life.

February is American Heart Month (for pets too!)

Hearts are seen everywhere in the month of February.  Both in honor of Valentine’s Day and also as a reminder of American Heart Month which raises awareness about heart disease n people.  February is also known as American Heart Month for pets.  It is estimated that 10% of dogs and cats suffer from heart disease and its related symptoms.

            The heart is a pump that circulates blood throughout the body.  If a pet develops heart disease the pump is no longer able to do its job properly.  This decrease in function leads to increased pressure and congestion.  If the heart is not able to pump the blood properly fluid can leak out into the lungs or abdomen.  If the fluid is leaking into the lungs this can lead to trouble breathing and sometimes a cough.

            Sometimes no sign of a heart problem is noted, or you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Changes in breathing
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Labored breathing
    • Rapid or fast breathing
  • Changes in behavior (more noticeable in dogs)
    • Tiring easily
    • Reluctance to exercise or not wanting to go for walks
    • Less playfulness
    • Slowing down or lack of energy
    • Depression or a withdrawn demeanor
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fainting or collapsing (less common)
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness, especially at nigh
  • Swollen abdomen

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the above signs.

            One of the most sensitive early indicators of progression of heart disease or heart failure is the resting or sleeping respiratory rate.  This is something that is easy to measure at home, it doesn’t cost anything and the pet isn’t bothered since it is asleep.  The normal resting respiratory rate (RRR) is less than 30 breaths per minute.  To determine the RRR you need to count the breaths—each rise of the chest—over 15 seconds and multiple that number by four to get breaths per minute (60 seconds).  There are even apps for smartphones to help count and keep track of your pets RRR.  A RRR of over 40 breaths per minute is a reason for concern and warrants veterinary attention.

            Heart disease is diagnosed initially with a stethoscope.  The veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart rate, rhythm, and for signs of a heart murmur.  Additional tests may be necessary including: blood test, radiographs, blood pressure tests, an electrocardiograph (ECG) and an echocardiogram (using cardiac ultrasound to view the heart and blood flow).  There are veterinarians that specialize in veterinary cardiology.  Your family veterinarian may refer you to a specialist to help determine the best treatment for your pet.

            Treating your pet’s heart condition will depend on the type of disease diagnosed and its progression.  There are several medications available to help improve and lengthen the lives of dogs and cats with heart disease.  Regular veterinary check-ups and diet and lifestyle changes can also help prolong your pet’s life. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your pets health don’t hesitate to reach out and make time to have your furry friend checked out.