Pet Talk: Dental Hygiene In Dogs And Cats

Most of us know oral hygiene can play a critical role in a person’s overall health, but did you know the same applies for your furry friends? Humans schedule regular dental cleanings to keep their gums and teeth healthy, but dental health in dogs and cats may be overlooked by pet owners.

Dr. J.R. “Bert” Dodd, clinical professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained some common dental hygiene issues in dogs and cats. “Poor oral hygiene in dogs and cats can lead to excess tartar, swellings in the mouth, and severe wear of the teeth (or broken teeth), from chewing on inappropriate objects,” he said. “In addition, periodontal—or gum—disease can arise from neglected oral health. If preventative dental health is not practiced and periodontal therapy—which includes the scaling, root planning, curettage, and extraction of teeth—is ignored, your pet may become more susceptible to other health complications.”

In fact, an animal’s teeth may be more important to its overall health than most pet owners realize. For example, bacteria in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body and cause infections, so keeping the mouth healthy can help keep your pet’s body healthier. Dodd also explained that good dental hygiene can lead to a longer, healthier life for your pet. “Taking care of your pet’s mouth and keeping it nice and healthy can help the animal live longer,” Dodd explained. “Good oral hygiene can help prevent diseases or secondary infections, such as liver, heart, kidney, and joint disease from bacteria originating in the mouth and spreading through the body via the bloodstream. A dog or cat’s teeth need to be well taken care of and treated with respect.”

Although your veterinarian can help in routine dental check-ups and treatments, dog and cat owners can reduce the risk of dental hygiene issues at home. “It is best to begin home care when your puppy or kitten is between eight and 12 weeks old; however, it is never too late to start,” Dodd noted. “The first step is to train your pet to accept the brushing of their teeth. The best approach is to establish a routine of brushing your pet’s teeth with gauze around your finger. It may be helpful to use beef or chicken broth with dogs or tuna water with cats to get them accustomed to the routine instead of using cleaning agents. Once your pet is familiar with the daily routine, you can switch out the gauze for a finger brush or a very soft toothbrush. Then you can incorporate using veterinarian-approved pet toothpaste.”

In addition to homecare, pet owners can arrange for their pet to have an annual teeth cleaning under anesthesia at their local veterinary clinic. Veterinarian prescribed dental diets, proper dental chew toys, and drinking water additives—products that can be mixed into pet drinking water to help control bacteria level and plaque in the mouth—may also assist in preventing dental hygiene issues. However, if your pet has persistent bad breath, experiences bleeding from the mouth or tooth, a change in eating behavior, and sensitivity to touch around the mouth, it may be a sign of a more serious dental health condition.

Dental therapy for more serious health conditions include many of the same procedures that help humans maintain healthy teeth, gums, and mouths. Available treatments include oral surgery, periodontics, endodontics, restorations, and even orthodontics. Some of these procedures may be offered by your family veterinarian or you may be referred to a board certified veterinary dentist.

It is important for pet owners to recognize the connection between healthy teeth and their animal’s overall health. When you make a dental appointment for yourself, it might be a good idea to make a veterinary appointment to have your pet’s teeth cleaned as well. Proper dental hygiene help promote a longer, healthier life for your pet.

SLIPS OF THE LIP STAY ALL IN THE FAMILY

DURHAM, N.C. — It’s happened to many of us: While looking right at someone you know very well, you open your mouth and blurt out the wrong name. The name you blurt is not just any old name, though, says new research from Duke University that finds “misnaming” follows predictable patterns.

Among people who know each other well, the wrong name is usually plucked from the same relationship category, the study finds. Friends call each other by other friends’ names, and family members by other family members’ names. And that includes the family dog.

“It’s a cognitive mistake we make, which reveals something about who we consider to be in our group,” said Duke psychology and neuroscience professor David Rubin, one of the study authors. “It’s not just random.”

The new paper, based on five separate surveys of more than 1,700 respondents, appears online this week in the journal Memory and Cognition.

Many of the patterns didn’t surprise lead author Samantha Deffler, a Ph.D. student at Duke. One did, though.

In addition to mixing up sibling for sibling and daughter for son, study participants frequently called other family members by the name of the family pet — but only when the pet was a dog. Owners of cats or other pets didn’t commit such slips of the tongue.

Deffler says she was surprised how consistent that finding was, and how often it happened.

“I’ll preface this by saying I have cats and I love them,” Deffler says. “But our study does seem to add to evidence about the special relationship between people and dogs.

“Also, dogs will respond to their names much more than cats, so those names are used more often. Perhaps because of that, the dog’s name seems to become more integrated with people’s conceptions of their families.”

Phonetic similarity between names helps fuel mix-ups too, the authors found. Names with the same beginning or ending sounds, such as Michael and Mitchell or Joey and Mikey, were more likely to be swapped. So were names that shared phonemes, or sounds, such as John and Bob, which share the same vowel sound.

Physical similarities between people, on the other hand, played little to no role. For instance, parents were inclined to swap their children’s names even when the children looked nothing alike and were different genders. It’s not a question of aging, either: The authors found plenty of instances of misnaming among college undergraduates.

Although misnaming is a common theme in popular culture, Deffler said the new study is one of few describing how the phenomenon works.

Deffler is no stranger to the experience in her own life. Her graduate supervisor frequently swaps the names of his two graduate assistants. And growing up, she said, her mom often called her Rebecca, Jesse or Molly — the names of her sister, brother and the family pit bull.

“I’m graduating in two weeks and my siblings will all be there,” Deffler said. “I know my mom will make mistakes.”

Now she knows why.

In addition to Deffler and Rubin, the authors included Duke postdoctoral researcher Christin Ogle and Cassidy Fox, a 2013 Duke graduate. Fox helped lead the research project while studying at Duke as an undergraduate and devoted her senior thesis to the topic.

Pet Talk: Caring For Older Pets

Pets are more than just our companions — they are a part of the family. As your pet ages, it is important to consult your veterinarian for help providing the proper care for your senior pet’s changing needs.

Every animal is different, so the senior life stage occurs at different ages in different pets. For instance, dogs are typically considered seniors at seven years old, but older dogs age more quickly than smaller dogs. Cats can be considered mature at 7 years and seniors at 11 years old. Breed and species aside, your pet’s genetics, nutrition, health and environment will ultimately determine when your pet is considered a senior.

One of the telltale signs of increasing age in pets is a decline in physical activity. For instance, previously active pets may not play as much, and both dogs and cats may need assistance climbing on and off the bed or couch. Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explained when pet owners can expect this transition into senior pet behavior. “A decrease in physical activity depends on the breed, size and genetics of the pet,” she said. “However, some older pets are still quite active in their senior years.”

In addition to a decrease in physical activity, older cats and dogs tend to develop more degenerative health problems. “Chronic degenerative disorders like heart and kidney disease are common in older pets, and so is cancer,” Eckman said. “In cats, kidney, heart and thyroid disease are the most common aging conditions. In dogs, different breeds are more prone to certain conditions. For example, some breeds are more likely to see a dramatic increase in cancers as they age.” A visit to the veterinarian every six months can help determine what is normal for your pet so that any changes in behavior or health can be detected early.

Aging cats and dogs are also prone to arthritis, dental disease, loss of sight and hearing, and a decrease in mobility. Just like humans, pets may need more assistance getting around and taking care of themselves. Despite this change in mobility and physical activity, it is important to keep your dog and cat active to slow the progression of joint pain and arthritis. In addition, a healthy diet that adequately nourishes your pet is also key in reducing your pet’s risk for obesity, which can also contribute to joint pain. “The single most important aspect in helping your pet stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible is maintaining a healthy weight throughout their lifetime,” Eckman said. “A healthy weight should be coupled with regular exercise and activity.”

Perhaps the hardest part about having an aging furry best friend is accepting when they are no longer happy in everyday life. It is never easy to let go of a pet, but in some cases, euthanasia is the most humane option. “Making the decision to euthanatize a pet is a personal and difficult decision,” Eckman said. “The decision is dependent on what signs and symptoms the pet is showing or what disorder the pet is experiencing. When owners are questioning if they should euthanize their pet, they should discuss it with their veterinarian to help guide the decision-making process. At the CVM, we typically have owners think of three-to-five specific characteristics of their pet, and when the pet stops doing these things, then it may be time to consider euthanasia. For example, my dog loves to play ball. When he stops playing or does not get joy out of this any longer, that would raise concerns for me.”

As much as we would love our pets to live forever, they grow old and need special care. To ensure your pet lives a long, healthy life, be sure to visit your veterinarian regularly to discuss your pet’s diet, exercise habits and overall health.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu

National Pet Month: The Power of Pets and Comfort Animals

By JoAnn Bacon

Our family has always had pets and each is a valued member of the family. Our painted turtle, Myrtle, is over 30 years old. She was my husband, Joel’s, birthday gift when he was 15 years old and has made multiple moves over state lines with him, and eventually with both of us and our twochildren. We also have given a home to three gerbils, a dozen Koi fish, and two dogs.

But it wasn’t until after our daughter, Charlotte, died at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, that we realized the full impact dogs can have on our well being.

Charlotte & LilyCharlotte was an avid dog lover. When we rescued our yellow Labrador, Lily, Charlotte was three years old. Charlotte accompanied Lily on her first veterinary visit, and quickly decided that she would be a doggy doctor when she grew up. Charlotte spent her playtime with Lily or playing with her stuffed dogs. Loving dogs was one of her defining characteristics.

In the months following her death, Joel and I searched for the perfect way to honor Charlotte. We settled on focusing on the thing she loved second to only her family, dogs. With the help of award-winning author Renata Bowers, we wrote the children’s book Good Dogs, Great Listeners: The Story of Charlotte, Lily and the Litter. The book focuses on Charlotte’s relationship with her constant companions, Lily and her litter of stuffed dogs. The details and adventures are authentically Charlotte and beautifully illustrate the strong bond between Charlotte and Lily. As we were working on publishing Charlotte’s story, another story was beginning to write itself and it involved our son, Guy. This story also included dogs.

Guy attended the Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, and in the winter and spring of 2013 the school administration brought in dozens of therapy dogs to comfort Newtown students. Initially, Guy was anxious about returning to school, but the therapy dogs were highly effective in helping Guy acclimate. They provided a sense of calm, eased anxiety, and provided a perceived layer of security that had been stripped away on December 14th. During many school days, Guy interviewed the therapy dogs and took notes that he kept in a notebook. Months later, he decided he wanted to write a book just as Joel and I were working on Good Dogs, Great Listeners. Guy thought everyone should learn about the therapy dogs that visited his school. He wanted his book to be a tribute to the dogs and to highlight their different personalities. Guy worked on this project for two and half years, and in September 2015, The Dogs of Newtown was released. For Guy, it was his way of saying “thank you.”

After watching the powerful impact these dogs had on Guy and to honor Charlotte’s biggest passion, Joel and I decided to advocate for the use of therapy dogs in all schools. We founded the Charlotte’s Litter program to bring awareness to benefits of therapy dogs in schools with the hopes that more schools and districts will adopt a therapy dog program of their own. We have seen steady interest from schools that would like to introduce therapy dogs, and our next concern is advocating for and supporting the training of more therapy dogs teams to meet the demand.

Our family has suffered a tremendous loss and we continue to grieve each day. We were fully aware of the joy and comfort a family dog brings to a home, but had never considered the impact that working therapy dogs would have on our family. Most of these therapy dogs are just regular pets who like to sleep, cuddle, play catch, and perform tricks for treats in their leisure time, but when it is time to work they commit to giving fully to the human they are helping. It is a demanding job, but these dogs demand nothing in return. That is dedication to the highest degree.

To learn more about Charlotte, therapy dogs, and our books, visit our websites:

www.gooddogsgreatlisteners.com and http://charlotteslitter.org

Pet Talk: Preventing Obesity In Pets

Like humans, pets can become obese and develop excess body fat, which can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes or degenerative joint disease. In order to provide your furry best friend with the highest quality of life and increase their life span, be sure to follow these simple steps to prevent your pet from becoming obese.

Weight gain in pets is often a result of overfeeding and lack of exercise. To keep your pet at a healthy weight, be sure to provide a healthy balance between food intake and physical activity. For example, give your dog or cat two to three meals a day instead of providing food at all times, and make sure to include at least one daily walk or some playtime.

Maintaining a healthy weight for dogs and cats also depends on the type of food they eat on a daily basis. Owners should choose an appropriate pet food according to the animal’s age, weight, and activity level. Generally, younger dogs and cats need to consume more calories per pound of body weight than older dogs and cats. Animals with active lifestyles and pregnant or nursing females require more protein, minerals, and calories in their diet.

Dr. Audrey Cook, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained the best way to choose the healthiest option for your pet. “Your regular veterinarian is the best person to give advice on what to feed your pet,” she said. “They will be able to provide an optimal diet type based on the animal’s age and body condition. In general, feeding guides on food products tend to overestimate the amount of food needed, so these guides can be misleading.”

In addition to diet and exercise, pet owners can regularly monitor their pet’s weight by routinely weighing them around the same time of the day. This can be effective in catching your pet’s weight increase before it becomes a more serious problem.

Obesity can also be caused by some serious health problems rather than simply reflecting poor diet and lack of exercise. Weight gain can be related to hormone problems, such as hypothyroidism in dogs and acromegaly in cats, which is defined as excess growth hormone production. Dogs with hypothyroidism gain weight without eating more food than usual, while cats with acromegaly will experience an increase in appetite. Dogs and cats with Cushing’s syndrome will appear as if they’ve gained weight with their pot-bellied appearance, but these patients rarely experience a weight increase.

No matter the cause of obesity in dogs and cats, severe secondary diseases and health problems can develop if the obese patient is left untreated. There is good evidence that obesity impacts quality of life as well as life span. “In dogs, obesity is often associated with joint problems, such as arthritis and loss of mobility,” Cook said. “Obesity in cats is strongly associated with diabetes mellitus.” In addition to these health conditions, an obese pet may also have difficulty breathing, become fatigued with routine exercise, and be unable to groom itself effectively.

Though it may be tempting to spoil your pet with table scraps and extra servings of food, consider thinking twice about the consequences your pet may face as a result. To provide your pet with a healthy and happy life, consult your veterinarian in keeping a balanced lifestyle and choosing the right food for your pet’s needs.

Pet Talk: Protecting Your Dog’s Paws

As humans, we know the important role our hands and feet play in completing normal, daily activities. When any kind of injury affects the use of our hands and feet, we may find it very difficult to go about our regular routine. Just as humans depend on their limbs to complete daily activities, Fido’s paws are just as important to him. Running in the backyard, digging a hole for his bone and going for a walk in the park are all endeavors Fido would struggle with if he did not have healthy paws. To promote a healthy and active lifestyle, all dog owners should learn how to keep their pet’s paws free of injury.

One of the most common ways to injure your dog’s paws is by allowing them to step on an extremely hot or cold surface. In the Texas summer heat, concrete and wood pavements can become especially hot. If your dog is exposed to a hot surface for too long, it can potentially cause sores or blisters to develop on your dog’s paw pads. In extreme winter conditions, doggie booties might be necessary to avoid chapped pads or an infection from chemical ice melters.

Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the most common summer and winter paw injuries. “The worst problems are that the pavement or other hard surfaces are extremely hot or cold.  If the pet does not have a lot of protection on the feet or has a gait abnormality that causes it to walk strangely, then the unprotected areas can be hurt by the extreme temperatures,” he said. “Most of the damage is rubbing the surface off or actually burning the footpads. This can be very painful.”

Trimming the hair in between the paw pads can also reduce the risk of injury. Excess hair is more prone to painful matting and can also attract stickers or thorns. Sometimes foreign objects like pebbles can become lodged between a dog’s pads, so it is important to check and clean this area regularly with a pair of tweezers to avoid pain and infection. Owners should also keep their yard free of sharp or pointy objects to further reduce the risk of a paw injury. If the area doesn’t seem safe to walk in barefoot, then pets should be protected from the area until it is properly cleaned of debris. Should your dog’s paw become injured, Barr recommends obtaining a towel to wrap around the paw and to apply pressure until veterinary care arrives.

One of the most important parts of maintaining healthy paws is to regularly trim your dog’s nails. Nail trimmers are available at pet stores, but sometimes it may be easier and safer to have a professional grind down and round off the nail. If the nails are left to grow excessively, there can be serious consequences that can harm your dog. “The quick of the nail will grow as the nails get longer. This means that when the nails are cut, they can be damaged,” explained Barr. “The longer the nails are, the harder it is for your pet to walk on hard surfaces. Also, they are more likely to be caught on something and be torn off.”

While observing your dog’s nails you might also notice a dew claw, which grows higher up on the leg. A dew claw is similar to a thumb and can appear on both the front and back legs. Sometimes it is recommended to remove dew claws if they are deformed or get in the way of the dog’s daily activities. “Dew claws are analogous to our thumbs. They are a normal part of dogs’ feet, but they are not needed anymore in the normal walking of a dog,” explained Barr. “They are often recommended to be removed if they are misshapen or for cosmetic reasons. They can also be caught on things in the environment and can cause a painful injury.” If your veterinarian does not recommend removing Fido’s dew claws, it is still important to keep the nail properly trimmed to avoid the consequences of excessive nail growth.

Everybody loves a little extra TLC, including your pooch. Try going the extra mile and give Fido a relaxing paw massage by gently rubbing between the pads of his feet in a circular motion. You can even purchase a special pet-friendly moisturizer from your veterinarian to help relax your dog and prevent dry and chapped paw pads.

When you’re not pampering your pooch with special treatment, remember the essentials of maintaining healthy paws. Avoid surfaces that may expose your dog’s paws to extreme temperatures and keep your yard free of hazardous items. Trim Fido’s nails regularly as well as the hair between his paws. By keeping your dog’s paws healthy, your dog will be on the right track to living a happy and active lifestyle.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed toeditor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Pet Talk: 4th of July Safety for Your Pets

Many of us celebrate our nation’s Independence Day barbequing and relaxing with loved ones. When the sun goes down, it is a tradition to gather together to admire and enjoy the bright-colored flashes of fireworks that light up our night sky. You might not think twice about taking the necessary precautions to have a safe and fun-filled holiday with your family and friends, but have you ever thought about the proper safety measures to ensure your pet has a safe holiday, too?

The 4th of July might be a day of celebration for people, but for pets it is a day of potentially hazardous situations. Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained that pets are at an increased risk for several dangerous scenarios during our holiday celebration.

“Most of the injuries or sicknesses that happen around the 4th of July in dogs have to do with an increased amount of outdoor activity,” Barr said. “There are more dogfights, car accidents involving dogs and heat- related illnesses than any other time of the year.”

Barr also discourages owners from feeding table scraps to their pets. “Because dogs and cats have exposure to a lot more food from barbecues and parties, they tend to get upset stomachs from eating things they shouldn’t,” he said. Sometimes it is seen as humorous for owners to share an alcoholic beverage with their pet, but Barr includes alcohol on his list of dangers for pets on Independence Day. “Pets have much smaller bodies than we do and it can be quite dangerous to have them drink alcohol. It can even be fatal in severe circumstances,” he said.

If you plan on bringing Fido to an outdoor party, be cautious of the dangers of mosquitos, fleas and ticks. Spraying your pet with insect repellant may seem like a reasonable solution to the bug problem, but some sprays are not safe for animals. Instead, Barr recommends using an effective flea and tick repellant prescribed by your veterinarian. Since heartworms are transmitted to pets through mosquitos, a common summer nuisance, Barr also reminds owners to make sure their pet is taking heartworm preventative before they enjoy the holiday outdoors.

One of the most exciting traditions of the 4th of July holiday is fireworks. Although we might fall into a trance of admiration at the loud popping noises and flashing of colors in the sky, our pets might not enjoy the show so much. If your dog typically becomes frightened during thunderstorms, chances are it will react the same way to fireworks. “If your dog is frightened by the fireworks, you need to minimize the exposure that they have to the loud noise of the fireworks,” Barr said. This can be done by finding a safe and quiet room in your home where your dog can stay relaxed. If Fido is in attendance at your outdoor firework show, keep him or her on a leash to prevent it from running away or jumping a fence in an attempt to find safety. Remember, it is always important to properly identify your pet just in case it becomes lost.

Although Independence Day is a fun-filled holiday for people, it might not be the same case for our pets. As a pet owner, it is important to consider all dangerous situations your pet may experience during the holiday. If you are concerned about the dangers your pet may face and want to fully protect them, the simple solution is for Fido to sit this party out in the safety of your home.

Pet Talk: How To Prepare For Your Pet’s Death

For many of us, the connection we share with companion animals extends beyond just friendly company; our pets are considered a part of the family. The truly unique love between an owner and their pet is something one has to experience to understand. Although a pet may be a very loved and important family member, it is important to be sensitive and aware of your pet’s needs as they age.

Sometimes owners are faced with difficult decisions when their pet reaches an age or health condition that no longer allows them to enjoy daily activities. Dr. Sarah Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explains that euthanization is never an easy choice, but in some cases, it may be the best option for your pet.

“One of my professors in veterinary school told us that she tells clients to pick the pet’s three favorite things,” Griffin said. “When two out of three of those things are gone, it’s time to let them go. Many pets will continue to eat and drink even when they are in pain. Keeping a daily record of good vs. bad days sometimes helps you see the quality of life they are living.”

Some of the emotional struggles owners face when dealing with their pet’s death may be guilt and loneliness. An owner may have made the mistake of letting their pet outdoors to play with other animals, resulting in a fight or attack. Getting hit by a car is another danger owners face when letting their pets play outside. Some owners may even feel guilt for their pet’s death because they did not take them to the veterinarian after discovering symptoms of a potential disease or sickness. Whatever the case may be, many owners also suffer from loneliness after the loss of their pet.

“Pets are a part of our families. Recognizing the way you handle grief is important,” Griffin explained. “The first step in working through a pet’s death is acknowledging the way you feel. Share your feelings with close friends and family so they can support and encourage you.”

Griffin reminds pet owners who are suffering from a loss to remember their pet in a positive light. Keeping pictures on the shelves and other memorabilia of the pet can also help owners manage their emotions.

Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the CVM, reveals other ways that people cope with the loss of a pet. “Many people will rush to fill the void with another pet, while some people need more time to open their heart to another pet,” she said. “Volunteering at shelters or animal organizations can help people cope as well.”

Children can be especially affected by the loss of a pet. Sometimes parents struggle with giving their children an explanation of why Fido is no longer around to play. After recently experiencing the loss of Scooter, the family dachshund, Griffin recommends being patient with young children and encouraging them to express their feelings.

“We had a memorial service, shared memories about Scooter, and placed flowers over his grave,” she said. “We bought a book called I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm to help our daughter cope with the loss of Scooter.”

Eckman adds that communication is very important in helping children understand the loss of a pet.

“Be honest with your children—they may understand more than you think,” she said. “Explain in very broad terms, ‘Fido was very sick and could not do the things he really loved with you any longer.’ Give them space to grieve and an ear/shoulder to grieve on.”

Companion animals have a special talent for capturing our hearts and allowing us to experience a truly unique and unconditional love. No matter the circumstances, losing a pet is never easy. As an owner it is important to keep the health and well-being of your pet in mind when making decisions for the future.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed toeditor@cvm.tamu.edu.