Archive for February 2012

Who Cleans Your Teeth?

Non-anesthetic dental scalings (NADS) or “anesthesia free pet dentals” involve removing tartar from an animal’s teeth by simply holding the pet and not using any sort of sedation or anesthetic.  Many of the websites promoting this service tout their “proprietary restraint techniques” as the reason they are able to work in your pet’s mouth while he or she is awake.

Videos advocating this practice show well-behaved pets sitting quietly on the floor or on laps while individuals scrape their teeth with sharp dental instruments.  Is this how it happens or is this simply marketing hype?

Businesses that encourage these types of procedures claim that their methods are safer, healthier for the pet and less costly for the owner.  However, understanding the risks of these supposedly safer options might offer an opposing view.

First, these methods should not be called “pet dentistry”.  Dentistry involves much more than a simple scaling of the teeth.  In fact, the term dentistry is defined as the branch of medical science concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the teeth and gums.  The American Veterinary Dental College prefers the term “non-anesthetic dental scalings”, or NADS, as this more accurately describes these procedures.  Individuals doing these scalings are rarely trained in dentistry.

Next, the marketing of these services focuses on the fact that the providers don’t use any sort of anesthetic or sedation.  Several sites quote a single scientific article and claim that one out of every 253 pets dies from an anesthetic procedure.  For people who have lost pets under anesthesia, these services seem heavenly and for others, it simply scares them.

What they DON’T tell you is that particular study was done at a veterinary teaching hospital where the vast majority of their surgical patients were severely ill or injured.  Other studies show a much lower risk of anesthetic related deaths.

To be fair, anesthesia, like any medical practice, has risks.  But, your veterinarian has the appropriate knowledge, skills, equipment and trained staff to help minimize adverse reactions.

Proponents of NADS also claim that it is healthier for the pet since the pet doesn’t need to undergo multiple anesthetic events.  Again, this fiction is not borne out in reality as the vast majority of pets only need professional teeth cleanings once or twice annually.

Perhaps the biggest myth perpetrated by these unlicensed people is that a dental scaling will promote long term oral health for your pet.  Dr. Brett Beckman, a veterinary dentist, has seen the effects of NADS on pets over time.  He says, “these ‘cleanings’ actually do much more harm than good.  The pitting of the enamel by the scalers allows for more hiding places for the plaque causing bacteria.”  The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) agrees.  In a statement on their website, AAHA says that these scalings “make the teeth whiter, but not healthier!”

Even the aspect of saving money that is highly publicized may not be accurate.  A search of pricing showed a range between $125 and a $165 for these procedures.  While this might be less expensive than the veterinarian, these companies and individuals are recommending that their clients return, on average, once every three months.  That’s $500 to more than $650 per year!  Dr. Beckman elaborates that “the damage done by the scaling encourages plaque growth and then, of course, return visits.  This might be good for business, but it’s certainly not good for the pet.”

Remember, many of the people who encourage and provide these sorts of services are unlicensed, often unsupervised and unregulated.  This means that you have no official recourse if your pet is injured during the scaling.  Cuts of the gums, neck strains and even long term anxiety have been reported.

If you are concerned about your pet’s dental health, the best resource for you is your veterinarian.  He or she will have the right equipment to fully assess the whole mouth, not just the outer surfaces of the teeth.  With dental x-rays and effective dental probing done on an anesthetized pet, your veterinarian can get the entire picture of the health of your pet’s mouth.

Ask questions if you are concerned about anesthetic safety.  Other options for sedation may exist, based on the overall health of your animal.  You should also proactively brush your pet’s teeth or ask about home care products that help minimize plaque accumulation.

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Consider A Trust Fund for your Pet

Pets have become integral and beloved members of millions of families across North America.  We provide them with special diets, unique toys and even grieve heavily when they pass away.  Unfortunately, many dedicated owners fail to consider what might happen to their pets if they are suddenly unable to care for them.

Historically, this was never much of a concern.  Pets have always been considered “property” by state and national governments and so when a person died, their possessions, along with the animals they owned, were disposed of as directed by the person’s will or by the probate court handling the estate.

In today’s society though, pets are thought of as much more than property.  Although they still don’t have a different legal standing, most people will agree that their pets should be handled differently than their car, furniture or other material items.  It’s a sad fact that many senior citizens who might benefit from the companionship of a pet actually avoid bringing an animal home over concerns of care should the pet survive them.

Over the ages, many people have tried to incorporate special provisions into their wills for their pets.  English Common Law actually began to recognize pet trusts as far back as 1842.  But it’s only been in recent years that true strides have been accomplished.

The first problem to overcome was that of the legal hurdle that “property cannot legally own property”.  This means that the animal (property) cannot receive money (more property) in a will for its continued care.  In a similar manner, a pet cannot be named a beneficiary of a trust.  But, in the 1990s, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws saw the need and changed the Uniform Probate Code to actually permit pet trusts.  To date, 45 of the 50 U.S. states allow an owner to create a trust for their animals.

Dog in shelterThe next, and probably bigger issue, is to educate pet owners about their options.  Failing to consider what to do with your pet in the event you are unable to care for him or her could lead to your dog, cat or other pet ending up in a shelter or with a new pet owner.  While these situations could work out just fine, some relatives or individuals may not be willing or able to provide proper care.  In addition, the pet itself may not adjust well to the new environment, leading to behavior issues or even early euthanasia.

Pet trusts actually provide many benefits.  First, since trusts are valid even while the owner is still alive, even if he or she is disabled or incapacitated.  This simple fact allows the pet’s care to continue without the necessity of going through probate.  Leaving money to your pet in a will might provide some resources, but the amount is subject to interpretation by the courts.

In addition, if the owner needs to move to an assisted care facility or nursing home, a pet trust is valuable in helping to keep the pet and owner together.  This alone is a powerful reason to consider setting up a trust for your beloved animal.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a pet trust is administered by a trustee (separate from the pet’s carVeterinarian and client with poodleetaker) who has a legal obligation to follow the guidelines set forth by the owner.  This helps insure that your wishes for your pet are carried out and helps minimize the potential for fraud.  You will want to make sure you have selected a willing and trusted person as the caretaker before the time for one is needed.

As with any legal matter, you should discuss the potential for creating a pet trust with your attorney.  He or she can guide you through the legal ramifications and tax situations and help you draft a document that is enforceable and allows your pet to receive the right type of care in a safe environment.  Your veterinarian may know of attorneys who specialize in these sorts of trusts or even resources that will help you provide for your pet after you are gone.

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