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.

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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.

Fight Back Against Internal Parasites Too: Easy Ways to Protect Your Dog This Summer

Dr. Melissa Beall, DVM and PhD

Most pet owners know to look out for fleas and ticks. But as warmer weather arrives, a less obvious yet equally-damaging pet health hazard lurks: intestinal parasites. About 34 percent of shelter dogs and 12 percent of pet dogs in the United States have some form of intestinal parasite, with hookworms, roundworms and whipworms being some of the most frequent offenders. Not only are these parasites harmful to pets, but some are also zoonotic, meaning they can be passed from pets to their owners.

How and Where Parasites Strike

Parasites like hookworms, whipworms and roundworms infect the dog’s intestinal tract. Pets and people can become infected by swallowing parasite eggs or spores, which are be left behind in soil, sand, feces, food or any other surfaces where an infected pet has been. Because infected hookworm larvae living on contaminated surfaces can penetrate human and animal skin simply by touching it, people and pets can place themselves at risk simply by walking barefoot where infected pets have been.

The summer months tend to be the most severe since pets (and their owners) spend more time outdoors in yards, at parks and at the beach. Although intestinal parasites are found in all 50 states, hookworm is especially prevalent in the south and southeastern United States while roundworm is most frequently found in the Northeast and Midwest. Whipworm is most common in the Midwest and West.

Get Vigilant about Preventive Care

Taking preventive action to protect pets against these parasites is key to their longevity. Below are a few steps every pet owner can take to keep their pets and families healthy and parasite-free this summer and beyond.

  • Get your pet screened for intestinal parasites at least annually.

Since pets that contract parasites may be asymptomatic, bringing a fecal sample to the vet at least annually is the single-most important action a pet owner can take to get ahead of and treat the problem. The CDC, Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend fecal screenings two to four times a year during the first year of a dog’s life and one to two times per year in adult dogs.

  • Keep your pets’ environment clear of pet waste.

Since parasites eggs are found in pet stool and can infect pets and humans who come into contact with it, frequent cleaning decreases the possibilities for disease transmission. It takes a few days before the eggs in the stool become infective larvae so cleaning up after pets right away avoids the danger of infective larvae being left behind.

  • Deworm your pets according to your veterinarians’ recommendations.

The CDC, Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend at least annual fecal screening for pets. However, your vet knows best what the unique threats are in your area. His or her recommendation–often given during the annual check up—is likely more relevant for your community and best for your pet.

  • Keep your pets on monthly year-round parasite preventatives.

Dogs begin their lives with worms, which is why puppies require more frequent parasite screening and deworming. Your veterinarian will likely recommend monthly preventative heartworm medication for your puppy, which provides additional intestinal parasite protection though it doesn’t replace the need for at least annual fecal screening.

  • Wash your hands after any exposure to soil, sand and raw meat.

Washing your hands—and encouraging small children to do the same—is a critical best practice for protecting your family from any risk of cross-transmission.

  • Don’t let children eat dirt or food that has fallen on the ground.

The “three-second rule” doesn’t apply when you your children or pets visit public areas. You can’t see internal parasites, and you have no dependable way of knowing what happened in a particular location before you arrived. No one, especially children, should eat food that has fallen on the ground.

Pet Talk: Pets and Allergies

Many of us look forward to the warm spring weather after enduring the harsh winter months. The spring season brings peaceful fields of blooming flowers and a warm, inviting sun. Unfortunately, spring is also a time when many people suffer from allergies that can make daily life almost intolerable. Just like people, pets can suffer from pesky allergies too. It is important to know the signs of pet allergies so you can alleviate any irritation your pet may be experiencing.

Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and chief of dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), defines an allergic reaction as the body overreacting to allergens in the environment that are normally harmless. This hypersensitivity to allergens can exist seasonally or year-round in both people and animals.

While humans suffer through allergy season coughing and sneezing into a handful of tissues, pets deal with allergies differently. An animal’s common reaction to an allergy is itching and scratching in specific areas, which can result in skin irritations.

“An itch may be manifested as licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, scratching, head shaking, and/or scooting,” Patterson said. “Common itchy body areas include the face, ears, paws, armpits, groin, rump, and anal region. Horses may present with an itchy skin disease and/or hives.”

Patterson further explains that every animal has a different reaction to allergies, just like people do.

“Every pet has its own itch tolerance, which means the intensity and reason(s) for your pet’s itch may not be the same as another animal,” he said. “Regardless of the animal, allergic patients are prone to secondary infections that can cause skin discoloration, hair loss, pimples, or scabs.”

According to Patterson, all cats and horses can be affected by allergens. He says that any dog breed can be affected as well, but certain breeds—including terriers, retrievers, Dalmatians, Shar Peis, and bulldogs—are more susceptible.

If your pet shows any sign of an allergy, it is best to contact your veterinarian so they can properly diagnose what allergen is affecting your pet. Your veterinarian can also perform tests to determine the most effective treatment plan to alleviate your pet’s discomfort. Allergens that most commonly irritate pets include fleas, food, pollen, molds, mites, insects, and dander.

“Treatments are tailored to the individual based on the extent, severity, and seasonality of signs,” Patterson said. “The ‘absolutes’ of therapy include routine bathing to remove pollen accumulation, infection control (topical and/or systemic), and flea prevention.”

Patterson also emphasizes to pet owners that allergies can be managed but rarely cured. For pets that suffer from chronic allergies, a steroid may be used to alleviate the animal’s discomfort. However, Patterson reminds pet owners that long-term use of steroids can cause health issues.

However, if a pet’s allergies are left untreated, there can be other harmful effects. Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the CVM, explains how your pet may suffer detrimental health problems without treatment.

“Allergies if left untreated/unmanaged can cause continued discomfort in your pets,” Diesel said. “Self-trauma to the skin can create wounds that can become secondarily infected. We occasionally see pets that have spent so much time itching and scratching that they are not sleeping well and may even lose weight…In more severe cases, a visit to a veterinary dermatologist may be quite helpful.”

Although many people suffer from allergies, many of us do not recognize that allergies are just as common in animals. If you think your pet may be suffering from an allergy, your veterinarian can begin the process of helping your pet enjoy the outdoors again.