All posts in Canine

Pets Need Dental Care Too!

Did you know that pets suffer from dental disease just like people do?  One of the worst things about dental disease is the pain.  Dogs and cats don’t always show how uncomfortable they are. Pets can have very serious dental problems, such as infected teeth, jawbone abscesses or fractured teeth and never say, “ouch” or hold their paw to their jaw, but they do hurt!  Many times, when these problems are corrected, a pet’s entire personality can change.  They often become more social, interactive and playful because they are no longer in pain.

So, how do you check for dental disease in your pet?  First, look for yellow or brown color of the teeth, not just in the front teeth, but also the back part of the mouth.  While this sounds very simple, most pet owners never lift their pet’s lip and look inside the mouth, so… Lift The Lip!  Next, just smell the breath.  It may not be minty fresh but it should not be foul smelling.  If it is, bad bacteria have already set up and are working on infecting the gum and even loosening the attachment of the teeth to the jawbone.  This means that dental disease has been progressing for months or years without you knowing.

A complete veterinary dental exam is necessary to discover hidden dental disease.  Most veterinarians today use a 12-step process for this procedure.  This assures that nothing is missed and all problems are properly treated.

The steps include:  a history and physical exam, an oral survey checking for such things as cancer and missing teeth, ultrasonic scaling of the teeth and subgingival scaling.  Subgingival scaling is critically important.  This involves removing tartar and debris from the part of the tooth you can’t see – the part under the gum.  This is where infection sets up.

Following the exam and cleaning, a complete polishing is done to remove irregularities in the enamel in order to slow future accumulation of tartar.  Next, the gum pockets are flushed and treated with antiseptic.  At this point, many veterinarians will apply a fluoride or enamel sealant treatment.

The next step includes compete charting of every tooth and the surrounding gum and bone tissue.  Using a dental probe, the gum line around each tooth is probed for pockets where infection may exist.  The location and depth of each pocket is recorded in the medical record, just as you have seen done at your own dentist’s office.

Next, a complete set of dental x-rays is taken.  Dental x-rays have become the standard of care in veterinary practice.  Without them, it is impossible to find many of the most serious dental problems such as fractured teeth, abscesses and developmental problems.  Only by taking x-rays can you know the complete health status of your pet’s mouth.

Finally, a treatment plan is developed for the problems found, all necessary treatments are done and instructions are given for home care and any follow-up care that is needed.  Pet owners are also taught ways to provide at home dental care to help keep their pet’s mouth and teeth healthy.

In order to perform a proper dental exam and treatment, it is essential that the pet be under anesthesia.  Anesthesia today is very safe, using the most modern medications, anesthetic gases and monitoring by skilled technicians.  Care for a veterinary patient under anesthesia is very similar to that of a human patient.

While the so called “no-anesthesia pet dentals” may sound appealing, the process has many risks and leaves most pets to suffer in silence simply because no actual treatment is done.  This is often performed by unlicensed and untrained trained individuals who only scrape tartar from the outside of the few visible teeth while your pet is awake (assuming your pet will hold still). The process has no medical benefit whatsoever.

They cannot remove tartar from the inside surfaces of the pet’s teeth, and more importantly, they cannot remove tartar below the gum line.  Often charging hundreds of dollars, these people prey on a pet owner’s fear of anesthesia. Worst of all, pet owners believe their pet’s teeth are healthy but underlying disease goes undetected and untreated, resulting in tremendous pain, tooth loss and systemic bacterial infections. In some states this practice has been outlawed.

So, to ensure your pet’s health and comfort, lift your pet’s lip and look at the teeth.  Then call your veterinarian for a complete dental exam and treatment.  This care is not expensive when you consider the complications and pain associated with untreated dental disease.

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Healing Canine Arthritis with…Platelets?

Pet owners don’t want to see their beloved animals in any sort of discomfort, especially if the pain is something the owner can relate to.  Degenerative joint disease, better known as arthritis, affects more than 50 million people in the United States and veterinarians estimate that about 15 million dogs also suffer from this disease.

In an attempt to provide relief for their four legged friends, owners will turn to a variety of treatment options.  Non-steroidal drugs, acupuncture, stem cell therapy or even different types of lasers are all current alternatives in a veterinarian’s arsenal to help these pets.

In recent years, a new type of treatment that has been borrowed from human sports medicine has increased in popularity.  Several high profile athletes, like Tiger Woods and Troy Polamalu, have received remedies consisting of blood concentrates with high levels of platelets.  Also seen in equine athletes, the use of platelet rich plasma could show promise for treating injuries and arthritis in dogs.   Proponents quickly point out that this type of therapy is completely natural, since the only “treatment” comes from the animal’s own body (also known as autologous).  Critics of this type of treatment say that the theory is certainly sound, but good scientific evidence is not here yet.

So, how can “Platelet Therapy” possibly help an arthritic pet?

Most people understand platelets are cells that help blood clot after injury.  However, platelets are also important in injury repair, providing a wide variety of growth factors that attract specialized cells to help fix the problem.  The theory behind platelet rich plasma is that the increased concentration of these essential growth factors helps speed the healing process.

For both dogs and horses, a small sample of blood is taken from the animal and then placed into a specialized filter that helps concentrate the number of platelets.  Once the filtration is complete, this new platelet enriched plasma can be injected back into the affected joint of the pet.  It’s really that simple!

New, “point of care” devices are now available, meaning veterinarians do not need any specialized equipment for this therapy.  In fact, the whole procedure can be completed in about 15 minutes in the veterinary hospital, in the pet’s home or even at the horse’s barn.

Testimonials from pet owners seem to substantiate the success of these treatments.  Many people describe how their pets have demonstrable beneficial changes in range of motion and overall movement and even an improved quality of life.  Other owners express happiness with the “natural” quality of the treatment and the lack of known side effects.

Veterinarians are providing positive feedback as well.  Using highly sophisticated scales to rate lameness, veterinarians report better mobility and even less pain in their patients receiving platelet rich plasma.

But not everyone is convinced that this treatment will be the answer to arthritis or other musculo-skeletal injuries.  Reviews of the literature detailing studies in human medicine have all stated that the evidence for the success of these therapies is not conclusive and large scale studies are needed for more substantial proof.

Additionally, the effective dosage of the concentrated platelets, the appropriate timing and number of applications for effective therapy is not known.  There is even a question as to which types of tissue responds best to platelet rich plasma.

Thankfully, your veterinarian does have a wide range of treatment modalities that can help provide relief for your pet.  Owners can help evaluate the effectiveness of any therapy by keeping a log of the pet’s activity and communicating movement changes, pain or even different attitudes from their pet.  Working together, you and your veterinarian could find the best ways to keep your pets and horses as pain free as possible!

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Pet Food Marketing Is Confusing and Misleading

We all want to find the freshest ingredients and highest quality foods when preparing meals for our families.  It’s also likely that we want the best food for our pets too.

You’ve probably heard the terms “natural”, “organic” or even “human-grade” when referring to pet food.  But what do they actually mean?

The pet food market has become extremely competitive and very confusing.  More than 3,000 different brands of food sit on store shelves and highly paid, successful ad agencies are often recruited to find ways to convince pet owners that their particular brand is the very best.

Much of this marketing uses the term “natural” and other key words that are really designed just to motivate you.  Much of it has little to do with the quality of the food.  In fact, according to PetfoodIndustry.com, the “natural” pet products market in the US is expected to double to more than $9 billion by 2017.

So, do any of these marketing buzz-words have actual significance?

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the term “natural” does have legal meaning. The FDA, who actually has authority over pet food manufacturing and label claims, does not give a definition to “natural” but has not objected to its use as long as the foods do not contain artificial flavors, added colors or synthetic substances.

Organic signLike “natural”, the word “organic” also has been legally defined.  Pet foods and treats that wish to be labeled as organic must meet standards set forth by the National Organic Program.  These requirements include both how the food is grown as well as how it is handled.  Additionally, organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and no antibiotics or growth hormones can be given.

But, please remember this, despite modern folklore and Internet rumors, organically grown foods have not been shown to be superior in either nutrition or health. It has become one of those huge marketing gimmicks used to motivate you to buy something that may or may not be good for your pet family members.

The use of the term “natural” also does not always mean healthy or even safe.  A prime case in point is a naturally occurring mycotoxin known as Aflatoxin that can cause serious liver disease in dogs and occasionally sparks pet food recalls, many of these brands are labeled “natural”.

Unfortunately, many pet owners are swayed by other labels and none of them has a legally defined meaning.  One of the worst offenders is the use of the term “human grade” or “human quality”.  A pet food company that markets this way is implying that their pet food is edible for people.  AAFCO has stated that using these terms without meeting all federal regulations is a misbranding of the product. This is government-speak for mis-leading, some would call it fraud.

When you see the term “human-grade” in marketing or on bags of foods, remember that this term has no significant meaning for pet diets.

So, what about all these marketing gimmicks?  Can you always trust foods sold as “premium”, “holistic” or even “gourmet”?  It’s important to remember that all of this promotion is designed for your benefit, not your pets.  How do we choose correctly, safely and also economically?

First, find a food that has undergone AAFCO feeding trials.   This statement can be found on the bag’s label and assures you that  the food is digestible, palatable and that your pets can successfully use the nutrients in the food.  Next, look at the price.  If you are paying less than a dollar per pound of food, that diet won’t work.  You will end up feeding more just to meet your pet’s energy and nutritional requirements.  Look for a food that costs around $1-2 per pound.

Grain free dog food labelFinally, ask your veterinary team about the reputations of pet food companies and for their recommendations.  After all, who knows your pet and their needs better?

As you can see, it’s easy to become confused when the Madison Avenue ad agencies start working their magic.  Your veterinarian and their staff will often have some sound advice concerning pet nutrition.  Better yet, it will often come without all the marketing hype!  The relationship between you and your pets is personal, and the relationship you have with your veterinarian is personal.  Rely on that, not on the impersonal decisions made in a board room.

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Dont Let Pets Suffer From Pancreatitis

During the holidays you can ask any veterinarian in general practice or in the emergency room and they will tell you they see lots of vomiting dogs!  From Thanksgiving through the New Year, veterinary practices are busy treating pets with a potentially fatal disease called pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that provides digestive enzymes and insulin.  Under typical circumstances, the digestive enzymes are kept safely inactive inside the pancreatic cells until they are normally released into the intestines and activated.  These powerful chemicals help breakdown proteins, fats and carbohydrates so that the body can make use of the food.

However, for some reason, these enzymes are occasionally triggered early and actually start damaging the pancreas itself causing severe inflammation of the organ and surrounding tissues.  This serious condition can appear suddenly (acute) or it may develop slowly over time (chronic).

This is a very painful condition and is more common in dogs than cats.  It is seen around the holidays because pet lovers just can’t resist and give their pets too much of the fatty foods left over from holiday meals.  This fat is thought to trigger the disease.  Pet owners first notice their pets are just not normal, then they may seem to have a painful abdomen that gets worse, they can develop diarrhea, then the hallmark symptom is vomiting.

Chronic cases of pancreatitis are more commonly seen in cats and result from long standing inflammation.  This often leads to irreversible damage and could even develop into diabetes.

Although the exact mechanism of pancreatitis is not known, there are risk factors and some things we do know.  The biggest of these are pets who’ve recently had a high fat meal.  During the holiday season this usually means the greasy turkey, ham trimmings and gravy that we don’t want and feed to our pets.  Certain breeds, some small dogs and obese pets are very prone to quick onsets of this disease.   Veterinarians also report that pancreatitis can develop alongside other diseases, like Cushing’s disease or diabetes and even occur due to some drugs, toxins or bacterial/viral infections.

Even though symptoms range from mild to life-threatening, acute pancreatitis is a very painful condition.  These pets will whine or cry, and often walk with a “hunched up” appearance; a sure sign of pain and that veterinary care is needed immediately!  Dehydration, heart arrhythmias or blood clotting issues may occur without quick medical attention.

Veterinarians will often do blood work or even take x-rays in order to rule out other causes of abdominal pain, such as an obstruction in the intestines,  kidney or liver disease.

If all of this is not bad enough, there is no direct treatment for this problem.  By controlling the pain and the main symptoms, it is likely the pancreas will heal itself, but this needs to happen under direct medical supervision.  Affected pets cannot have any food or water by mouth for several days, so  IV fluids and other medications are essential.  And because of a severely painful abdomen, proper pain control measures are a vital part of the treatment.

Many pets who suffer a bout of pancreatitis seem to be prone to develop the disease again.  Whether this is due to eating inappropriate things, genetic predisposition or some concurrent disease is not known.

One of the simplest things you can do to avoid this serious disease and a holiday trip to the animal ER is to not feed of any pet from the table.  The skin of the holiday turkey, fatty parts of the ham or even leftovers tossed in the trash can all trigger an episode of pancreatitis.  If you notice a change in your pets eating behavior or stance or any signs of abdominal pain, especially with vomiting, call your veterinarian immediately and get early treatment.  This could save your pet’s life.

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High Tech Vision Looks Deep Into Your Pets Mouth!

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.

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