Dental disease is the most common diagnosis veterinarians will make on any dog or cat over the age of one year. Despite a Pet Dental Health Month each February and constant reminders from veterinarians, some owners simply overlook or are unaware of what’s happening inside their pet’s mouth. But it is a real problem. Left untreated dental disease can lead to serious problems like heart or kidney disease, not to mention the horrible bad breath!
Even pet owners who do routinely try to brush their pets’ teeth or look at the mouth can be fooled. A study in the American Journal of Veterinary Research found that almost 30% of dogs and more than 40% of cats whose mouths were clinically normal actually had significant problems under the gumline. In addition, if the pet had visible dental problems, veterinary dentists found additional pathology more than 50% of the time using dental X-rays.
Some very serious problems can be found under the gumline. Root abscesses, fractures, jaw bone loss and even cancer often aren’t apparent with a visual examination. Dental x-rays (radiographs) are needed to find and successfully treat these painful and significant issues.
The use of radiology for veterinary patients is not new. Just like human dentists, veterinary dentists have long had the ability to use x-ray film and dental radiographic machines. However, long delays in getting the right shot and developing the film meant that dogs and cats were under anesthesia for long periods of time.
Fast forward to today and we see a great leap in technology. New digital sensors are replacing dental x-ray film and hand-held dental x-ray units are being used instead of large, wall mounted or floor units. Images are captured by computer using very special software instead of saving and filing lots of film.
The benefit to all of this is that skilled veterinary dentists and technicians are now able to get a set of full mouth radiographs in less than 15 minutes. That means less time under anesthesia for your pet and better imaging for diagnosis and treatment of problems in the mouth or around the teeth and roots. It also means that problems in your pet’s mouth can be found more easily and treatment started sooner.
Using sophisticated software, veterinarians can manipulate these images to look at a tooth or root in great detail or magnify a suspected lesion. If your veterinarian is using digital dental x-rays, areas of concern can be saved and even sent via email to a board certified veterinary dentist for review.
For some pet owners, the thought of having their four legged companion anesthetized for this is troublesome. But, it is important to remember that our pets will NOT hold still while someone tries to place a sensor in their mouth or position their head in exactly the correct position. Further, if a diseased tooth is found that needs extraction or a root canal, the pet is already for the procedure.
It is important to remember that most of the pet’s teeth and the problems they have are under the gumline where it can’t be seen in an awake animal. Mis-leading marketing campaigns try to tell you that non-anesthetic pet dental scaling is best. But experts and veterinary dentists highly discourage all pet owners from falling for these scams. Anesthesia is entirely necessary for proper evaluation of the pet’s mouth and for a a complete cleaning or even looking deeper should a serious problem be hidden.
Your veterinarian can help you understand that good oral care for your pets is more than scraping off tarter. Proper dental care is good imaging, complete cleanings and then treatment and correction of the underlying problems. And don’t forget, your help is then needed to provide the right type of at-home care, such as daily brushing. More
Using treats as a means of reward or distraction for our pets is not unusual. “Roxie”, a Yorkie, was owned by a wonderful lady who had long suffered from severe hip arthritis and therefore could not get to the store very often. She relied on friends to buy her groceries and even food and treats for her beloved canine companion.
Happily her veterinarian agreed to make house calls for her special situation. During a call for an exam and vaccinations, she returned from her kitchen with a bag of treats for reward. Unfortunately, she held in her hand a newly opened bag of dog treats of a brand that has been associated with numerous complaints to the FDA. Thankfully, the veterinarian stopped her from giving the treats and explained this serious situation.
Jerky treats have been an extremely popular treat for pets because of their high protein, low fat composition and dogs love them. Also, the fact that the ingredient list is generally very short (chicken and some flavorings) allows people to feel good about giving their dogs something “natural”.
But somewhere along the way, something has gone terribly wrong. Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued numerous warning about pet illnesses and even deaths associated with these jerky treats. The most recent figures show more than 2,200 reports on file and these include more than 360 deaths thought to be linked to these treats! In many cases, kidney failure was the primary reason for the sickness, death or euthanasia of the pet. What is even more disturbing to most people is that almost without exception, the country of origin of the product is China. The memory of the nationwide pet food recall caused by tainted ingredients from China is still fresh. Thousands of pets became very sick and even died in 2007 from this serious problem.
Unfortunately, despite rigorous and continued testing and FDA inspections of manufacturers in China, the source of the problem is still unidentified. Without knowing what the exact problem is, the FDA is powerless to compel any sort of recall. Manufacturers of the treats are all reluctant to pull their products from shelves and this has led to a strong backlash from consumers and has social media buzzing. Even now, several law suits are in progress.
According to Laura Alvey from the FDA, there are productive discussions happening with pet food firms at this time in the hopes of finding a cause for this on-going issue. The latest testing of the treats is focused on problems stemming from irradiation of the ingredients.
So, what can you do to make sure your pet is not adversely affected?
First, and very simply, avoid buying any sort of jerky treat that is made in China. Although that sounds easy, it is often difficult to determine exactly where a product is made. Even products that are “Made in the USA” may source ingredients from China. If you are not sure, call the manufacturer and ask them if the treats are wholly made in the US from US sourced ingredients. If you don’t get a definitive answer, don’t buy the product!
Next, consider alternatives for the jerky treats. Many dogs will happily accept baby carrots or green beans as a snack or reward. Reputable companies, like Hill’s, Iams and others, also offer a variety of safe treats we can trust. Other pet owners have found homemade recipes like the ones at DogTreatKitchen.com for making their own special home cooked goodies.
Remember, treats should only make up a small portion of the calories your pet receives each day. While this sounds like common sense, in many of the complaints on file with the FDA, owners were feeding too many jerky snacks far too often.
Finally, it’s important to see a veterinarian if you’re pet shows any odd symptoms or has persistent vomiting and diarrhea. In a review of the complaints to the FDA, a fair percentage of pet owners never saw a veterinarian or had any blood analysis done. Without that information, it is almost impossible to say that the treats are the definitive cause of the illness or death. Your pets rely on you to make sure their food and treats are safe and they need your help.
If you believe your pets have been affected by these products, please tell your veterinarian and file a report with the FDA online. More