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

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: 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.

Pet Talk: Pets like Camping, too!

For those who enjoy the great outdoors, camping during the springtime can be a perfect weekend getaway.  However, if you don’t want to leave your four-legged friends behind while setting out on your adventure, try bringing them along.

“Many campgrounds allow pets, with certain rules and regulations,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Often, the rules regarding pets can be seen posted on their website, and if not, questions can be easily answered over the phone. However, it is not advised that you show up with your pet without prior research and consent.

“Most rules will include things such as having your pet on a leash, making sure they are supervised at all times, and requiring proof of vaccinations,” Stickney said. “Even if they don’t require health records or vaccination certificates, it’s a good idea to bring them along just in case.”

Just as you need to pack food and other essentials for yourself, don’t forget to pack necessities for your pets as well. Some items you’ll need to bring are plenty of food, a pet first-aid kit, a harness, and a leash. Even if the campsite has natural water resources, such as streams or lakes, you must still bring plenty of water for your pet to drink throughout your stay.

“Your pets will want to drink out of any pond and lake in sight, but there are many different diseases they can catch by doing that,” Stickney said. “So you don’t want that to be their primary source of water.”

Coming into contact with wild animals is a definite risk when you are out in a national forest or grassland. Although most of the wildlife you run into wants to keep away from you as well, you should have a way of containing your pet just in case.

“If your pet does get into a tussle with a wild animal, you do not want to get into the middle of it,” Stickney said. “There is a very good chance you will be bitten or harmed.” Your best method of action is calling off your pet or to try scaring away the wild animal.

In order to prevent such situations in the first place, it is a good idea to keep your pets close to you throughout your camping expedition and to have a leash or harness available at all times.

Before setting off on your camping adventure, make sure your pets are up-to-date on all of their vaccinations, especially rabies. Depending on the campsite’s location, you may consult with your veterinarian about any other vaccinations that your pet may need, as well as discuss appropriate flea and tick control.

To make camping with your pet an exciting experience for the both of you, be sure to research the campsite ahead of time, take note of any restrictions or regulations, and bring the essentials along with you. Following these guidelines will guarantee a good time for everyone.

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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.

Pet Talk: Traveling With Four-Legged Baggage

With spring break upon us, and summer vacations right around the corner, it’s time to start planning your much-needed getaways. Whichever destination you choose, having your pet by your side makes it even more enjoyable. However, there are some important things to consider before letting your furry family member tag along.

“The first thing you want to do before you go on a big trip with your pet is to go on a short trip with your pet,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Drive around and make sure that they don’t get too nervous or car sick while they’re in the vehicle.”

If you notice that Fido is an anxious traveler but still need to bring him along, consult your veterinarian about motion sickness medication or tranquilizers to help make the ride more comfortable.

“Anytime that you travel with your pets, make sure that they are up to date on their vaccinations and that you have proof of the vaccination when you travel,” said Stickney, “especially for rabies vaccinations.” This is very important to have in case they get sick, lost, or accidentally bite someone out of fear. Since your pet must be fully vaccinated before traveling to an unknown area, they should be around five months of age or older in order to tag along.

If you’re planning on taking a road trip, remember that you will have to stop frequently and take your pet out for a walk and to use the bathroom. This means you should have a leash and doggy doo bags handy. You’ll also want to bring along a container of water and a bowl for food when they get hungry.

If traveling by air, it is important that you contact the airline ahead of time to see what exactly they require for that pet to fly. “Some require that they be in certain size carriers or that they need to be at the airport for a certain amount of time,” Stickney said. “You need to make sure that you know the details of where they will be traveling inside of the plane and where you will need to pick them up when you land.”

Before traveling anywhere, consult your veterinarian if your pet has any health problems or other special concerns. For instance, dogs that are brachycephalic, or that have “pushed in” faces such as pugs or bulldogs, are extremely sensitive to the heat. You want to be very cautious of this when traveling in the summertime, as they are prone to having heat strokes.

“This is especially true if they are traveling by air, because you don’t know exactly where they will end up,” Stickney said. “You don’t want them to have to be on a hot tarmac for hours, because they can certainly suffer very serious effects from that; these types of pets will want to travel in air-conditioned comfort.”

Keeping these considerations in mind before embarking on your journey, your vacation can be an enjoyable getaway for the whole family, the four-legged members included.

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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.