Pet Talk: Pet Dental Health Month

While any pet owner knows the importance of a regular grooming and exercise routine for their pet, proper dental care is often overlooked. With February being National Pet Dental Health Month, there is no better time to develop a maintenance plan for your pet’s oral hygiene.

“How goes the mouth, so goes the health,” said Dr. Bert Dodd, clinical professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.  “Overall health can be affected by oral disease, which can get into the blood stream and affect the animal’s internal organs and joints.”

Dental disease affects a significant number of pets at any age during their lifetime, and just like with people, there can be serious consequences as a result of poor dental health.

Although pets aren’t typically known to have minty-fresh breath, an extremely foul odor can be the first sign of a severe dental problem. “Often, exceptionally bad breath is the first indicator of oral disease,” said Dr. Dodd. Some other indicators of oral disease may include excessive drooling, inflamed gums, and loose teeth.

More mouth problems that could arise from poor dental hygiene include periodontal disease, gingivitis, halitosis, gum disease, mouth tumors, dropping food and facial pain. It is always best to check in with your veterinarian if your pet begins to show any sign of mouth discomfort or exceptionally foul breath.

Dental care for your pet should begin as soon as possible, so it is vital that your veterinarian teach you how to properly care for their teeth and gums right from the start. They can provide demonstrations of the most effective and hassle-free way to brush your pet’s teeth, as well as which diets and toys are the safest and most effective.

“It generally is not a good idea to give your dogs any antlers or calf hooves, and don’t let them chew on rocks or bones, as these can potentially cause harm to the gums and teeth,” said Dr. Dodd.  “You should be brushing their teeth regularly, using water additives, and providing them with safe chew toys” said Dr. Dodd. To play it safe, ask your vet to recommend toxin-free rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys.

Another important step in caring for your pet’s dental health is to have your vet perform a complete cleaning and examination on an annual basis. “Oral examinations and cleaning should be performed on your pet at the very least once a year,” said Dr. Dodd. “They should be performed more frequently if home care can’t be done or if the animal has any other oral problems.”

Dental health should be a daily ritual for pet owners to follow all year round, not just during the month of February.  Keep in mind that the oral health of your furry-friend has a direct effect on their 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/pettalk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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Pet Talk: The Seeing Eye Guide Dog Birthday

The first school for Seeing Eye Dogs was opened on Jan. 29, 1929 in Nashville, Tenn.. Following a short-lived program in Germany after World War I, this guide school trained dogs to assist those in need, and since then has influenced programs all over the world, including the Texas A&M’s Aggie Guide Dogs and Service Dogs (AGS).

Today, service dogs are exposed to very thorough and extensive training, and their duties can extend much farther than assisting only the blind.

“When people see a service dog in a vest, they automatically think it’s a guide dog. When in reality, a huge percentage of service dogs assist people with all sorts of other medical, physical and emotional things,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, faculty advisor for AGS and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Some examples include mobile assistance dogs, which help people who have trouble getting around due to cerebral palsy, severe arthritis, or other conditions, and hearing dogs, which help the hearing impaired by responding to sound with a certain behavior. For instance, when they hear a knock at the front door, they might be taught to go sit in front of the person to alert them.

“Mobility assistance dogs can even be trained to do things such as push an elevator button, open and close doors, and even pick up car keys and credit cards off of the ground,” said Dr. Blue-McLendon.

Another type of service dogs that have recently become popular are PTSD dogs, or “emotional support.” These animals are taught a wide variety of skills to assist people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders, and are often aids to veterans.

As you can imagine, these service dogs must go through vigorous training in order to learn and perfect the necessary skills to help their owner. For AGS, Dr. Blue-McLendon explains that there are two stages of training the dogs must complete.

“They usually don’t start formal training, or ‘Stage 2’ training, until they’re about a year and a half years old, “ said Dr. Blue-McLendon. “During formal training, they’re matched with a partner that’s a good fit for the dog’s ability and personality. This stage can take anywhere from 3-6 months, and they will still need continual training and skill reminders for the remainder of their lives.”

Before they enter stage 2, the puppies must earn “jacket privileges,” which are achieved through the different stages in their training.  “Some of the first jacket privileges are going to classes and retail stores, and the last one they achieve is going to restaurants,” said Dr. Blue-McLendon.

As animal lovers, it is very tempting to go up and pet a service dog when they are nearby. However, it’s important to remember that service dogs are not pets, and approaching them may distract from performing their important tasks. If you want to learn more about the dog, politely approach its owner, who can then give you further direction.

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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 online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to
editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Pet Talk: Probiotics for your Pets

Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” can be defined as living microorganisms that, when administered in adequateamounts, can offer multiple health benefits to the host. Though they have been gaining popularity amongst humans in the past decade, the possibility of similar probiotic supplements for your pets’ health is on the rise.

“Essentially, we are trying to give live bacteria in supplement form that have beneficial properties to ananimal in order to improve their digestive health,” said Dr. Jan Suchodolski, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It is imperative that bacteria are alive once they reach the gut and that they are also delivered in high amounts. That’s why a high-quality product is needed.”

In order to fully understand how probiotics work, it’s important to know that the beneficial effects of probiotics are bacterial strain specific, meaning every bacterial strain has a potentially different effect. Some probiotic strains, for instance, stimulate the immune system, while other strains produce anti-inflammatory biomolecules or antimicrobial molecules to combat pathogens.

“This is an area of active ongoing research, as all probiotic strains have to be evaluated for their mechanism, and only once the mechanism is identified can we identify which probiotic strain should be given in which disease,” said Dr. Suchodolski.

There are several studies proving that specific probiotic strands are useful for specific diseases, and Dr. Suchodolski explains that the strongest of this data is available for preventing stress diarrhea in pets. However, a few selected products have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in chronic Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases.

“Dogs or cats that receive probiotics have a lower incidence of diarrhea compared to animals not receiving it,” Dr. Suchodolski said. “The best effects are observed when probiotics are given in advance in anticipation of stressful events, for example boarding flights, long car rides, etc.”

With any new supplemental discoveries come the fear of negative complications. Generally, the possible risk of side effects in probiotics is very low. “Only very few reports have been described in literature,” Dr. Suchodolski said. “However, very sick patients who are immunocompromised are at some risk, and probiotic productsshould be avoided in those situations.”

The most important thing to remember when considering the possibility of probiotics is that they are not all created equally, and results from one product cannot be extrapolated to other products.

“There is much excitement about the potential of using bacteria as therapeutics, but this area is very complex and more research is needed to understand the complexities of this combined bacterial and host ecosystem,” said Dr. Suchodolski. “There are many products on the market that were produced initially without fully understanding the mechanism behind bacterial-host interactions, and it is currently recommended to only use products that have shown results in clinical studies.”

The possibility of using probiotics as disease prevention and health aides in both humans and our pets is not far off. Though further research is still being conducted in order to reap their full benefits, having a healthier, happier pet is something to look forward to.

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