Brushing -- it's not just for humans anymore
Posted: October 11, 2007
October 5, 2007
It's not like they have to floss, but keeping a pet's teeth clean is essential to their good health and happiness.
Recent reports by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Veterinary Dental Society suggest that many pet parents don't understand what is required to maintain an animal's teeth and gums.
According to the AVDS, oral disease is one of the most frequently diagnosed pet health problems. If left untreated, it can lead to more severe woes, yet much of it can be prevented, said the nonprofit.
One of the most commonly ignored symptoms of oral disease is constant bad breath, said veterinarian Stephanie Hazen of The Pet Clinic in Salem.
True, pets lick themselves and eat objects humans wouldn't even pick up, let alone chew, but those scenarios are cause and effect, said Hazen.
"If a dog or cat has bad breath that won't go away after brushing, then that pet needs to be seen and assessed by a vet," Hazen said.
Chronic bad breath, in some cases, she said, can be indicative of fairly serious problems such as liver or renal disease.
Hazen said pet parents brush their own teeth daily, but often leave their animals' teeth unwashed for years or only brush them on occasion.
She recommends brushing a pet's teeth every other day because plaque mineralizes to calculus in about two days.
Calculus is the bacterial toxin that can enter the bloodstream and infect vital organs, including the heart lining and its valves.
Another symptom of gum disease is a pink or red line along the gums. That usually indicates more advanced gum disease, but "it's still treatable," said Mechelle Gilbert, a certified veterinary technician at The Pet Clinic, who is licensed to anesthetize and clean pets' teeth.
Other symptoms include animals who go to eat and then back away from their food because of mouth pain and yellow or brown crust near the gum line.
Sitting in front of a table with a drain built into it and observing X-rays taken of a dog's teeth, Gilbert works to remove mineralized calculus from the mouth of a dog named Sam.
After inserting a catheter in the dog to carry intravenous drugs to the animal, Gilbert uses an ultrasonic cleaner to chisel away at the deposits. She uses a polishing tool to smooth any marks left by the first tool.
She then measures the gum line. If an infection is detected, Gilbert and Hazen will determine its depth, then opt to treat with oral antibiotics or inject an antibiotic gel directly into the gums.
If they find any broken teeth after completing the cleaning, they will advise the owner and discuss extractions.
The X-rays, extractions and antibiotic treatments add to the cost of cleaning, said Hazen. A routine cleaning starts at about $200 depending on whether it's a cat or dog and its size. But it can rise to $1,000 or more if additional work is required.
That is why Hazen's office takes an aggressive approach to animal dental care.
She makes it part of the annual checkup, and depending on the breed, reminds pet parents that they need to make regular teeth cleaning a part of animal's routine.
There are some long-faced breeds such as German shepherds whose short coats don't accumulate food around the face "who can go forever without having their teeth cleaned by a vet provided their pet parents brush regularly at home and their gums don't become inflamed," said Hazen. "With other dogs and cats, if owners start cleaning when they're puppies and kittens, they can reduce the buildup, but not always prevent it."
Veterinarian Michael Stewart of Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton said his clients look to him for good advice in pet rearing, so he too advocates brushing a pet's teeth.
"Dogs and cats have good enamel, and cavities are rare," Stewart said. "So we mainly fight dirty teeth and gum recession. If we can get our clients to brush their pets' teeth, then that preventative dental care will have a great effect on their pet's health."
Stewart said his approach is one of balanced practicality. He encourages pet owners to brush their pet's teeth so they can avoid more serious problems such as heart disease. He also warns against raising an obese pet.
"We would like pets not to become unaffordable to the masses. We know that items like dental radiographs every year are not practical for every family, so it's important to offer information and options, too."
Hazen also advocates a new tool in the fight against canine plaque -- a vaccine.
Having learned about the Porphyromonas vaccine at an AVDS national convention last year, Hazen started offering the shot in November.
She said it has been very successful in her patients, and it has few side effects.
Most of the initial problems were pain at the injection site, so she started offering an anti-inflammatory medication called Rimadyl along with the shot to counter the discomfort.
"It's been amazing," she said. "I've seen much improvement in the animals I'm seeing back in six months."
The vaccine has a conditional license while awaiting permanent drug administration approval. But Hazen said if it continues to succeed in animals, it may progress to a vaccine for humans.
She reports results regularly to the vaccine's manufacturer Pfizer Animal Health.
Hazen said the vaccine is one of the many tools available to pet owners to help their pets lead long and healthy lives.
"We just want to teach them that a pet's teeth are an important part of their overall health and shouldn't be ignored. We can't say it enough," Hazen said.