You take Fido in for his yearly exam, expecting an exceptional bill of health. After all, you have been working so well on keeping him fit and trim! Then it happens. Your vet drops the dental bomb on you. She tells you Fido has early periodontal disease, a painful infection of the teeth, gums, and jaw bone. In order to treat this condition, she explains that she will need to put Fido under anesthesia to deep clean his teeth, and maybe even remove some of them. She tells you there is no cure for periodontal disease, but she is committed to partnering with you to give Fido the best dental health possible throughout the rest of his life. You trust her judgement, but Fido is like a child to you, and you have so many questions!
Why do I need to have Fido’s teeth cleaned?
A healthy, pain-free mouth is an essential factor in your pet’s quality of life. When there is disease in the mouth due to infection, such as gingivitis and bone loss, Fido feels pain every time he eats. Furthermore, the dental disease is harboring LOADS of bacteria in the mouth that can get into the bloodstream and infect the liver, kidneys and heart, shortening Fido’s life.
But if Fido is feeling pain when he eats, why does he continue to eat?
Dogs (and cats) have evolved to continue sustaining their lives, even in the face of severe pain. Think about all the animals in the wild that continue eating and drinking despite severe injuries like broken legs. You would never assume a stray dog you found with a broken leg wasn’t feeling pain just because he was still willing to eat and drink and fight to live. But since dental disease is less obvious than a broken leg, we tend to underestimate the pain it causes.
So what exactly do you have to do make his teeth healthy again?
In our comprehensive oral assessment and treatment, we do the exact same procedures you experience at the dentist, but we have to put Fido under anesthesia in order to get them done. One of our Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) will work as a team with the Veterinarian to anesthetize Fido. Then our RVT will take digital dental x-rays to look for disease under the gumline and inside the bone, where it oftentimes starts. The doctor will assess the x-rays while the technician scales, polishes, and seals the teeth to remove all tartar and plaque, and create a barrier to slow new tartar formation. When the teeth are clean, the team will examine the teeth together to assess visible signs of disease, and make a final decision on what (if any) problems need to be addressed immediately. Depending upon the severity of infection or trauma to each tooth, we may use an antibiotic gel or remove the affected teeth. Scroll through our pictures at the end of this post for more details.
If you remove Fido’s teeth, how is he going to eat? Will he need to be on soft food forever?
Most of a dog’s teeth are fairly non-essential to chewing the kibble they are accustomed to eating in modern times. For instance, the incisors were designed to pick meat off bones. Canines are used to kill prey and fight off other animals. Premolars are meant to tear muscle and other tissue from live prey. And finally, molars are used to further crush and crunch everything before it is swallowed. The only teeth your dog uses to chew kibble are the molars.
But isn’t anesthesia dangerous? Fido is getting up there in age. I’m worried he can’t handle it.
It is completely normal to be nervous about your beloved pet going under anesthesia! However, we hope you will take comfort in the fact that anesthetic risk is largely overestimated by pet owners. The most important factors in determining how risky an anesthetic procedure will be for your pet is the function of their heart, lungs, and kidneys. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and blood work to assess the function of these organs prior to the procedure. If a significant abnormality is found, appropriate accommodations will be made or the procedure will be cancelled, depending upon the character of the abnormality. If you are apprehensive to address dental issues due to this fear of anesthesia, have a frank conversation with a veterinarian you trust to help you weigh the risks against the benefits.
You said we would partner in keeping Fido’s teeth as healthy as possible. What do I have to do from home?
Fido would benefit tremendously from having his teeth brushed every day with a toothpaste designed specifically for dogs. I would not recommend starting this habit until we have addressed the current infection in his mouth with an anesthetic dental procedure, as brushing infected teeth will cause him pain. We will teach you how to brush his teeth with a complimentary follow up exam with one of our technicians 2 weeks after his dental procedure.
A Day in the Life…
The following photos chronicle a typical dental procedure at Picture Hills Pet Hospital. Noodle is young, so she has tartar and only mild gingivitis. Since we are cleaning her teeth before significant inflammation and infection develops, we are able to get her mouth back to being 100% healthy!
Nearly every dog gets a little lumpier as he gets older. Most of these masses are just a benign part of the skin’s aging process, but among the fatty tumors and cysts lurk some dangerous cancers.
So how do we find the wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing, so to speak?
You are the first line of defense against cancerous tumors on your dog. Give full-body massages as often as you can, to familiarize yourself with the topography of your dog’s skin. If you want to be an A+ student, measure lumps and keep a monthly journal of them. When you go to the veterinarian for your annual exams, be sure to point out all of the irregularities you have noticed. Between visits, if you notice new or growing masses, make an appointment to have it looked at sooner rather than later.
What kinds of tests will my vet want to run?
If it is bigger than the size of a pea, it can usually be sampled simply by extracting cells with a needle and syringe (the same one used for vaccines). Your veterinarian will look at these cells to determine whether or not they look cancerous. This is called a fine needle aspirate and cytology. If this procedure does not give us enough information, we may take a slightly larger piece of tissue called a biopsy. This can often be done under light sedation or by just numbing up the area.
Why not just take the tumor off?
Without knowing what we are removing, there is the chance we could miss microscopic pieces of it in the surrounding skin, which will require an additional surgery. Furthermore, in some cases, leaving these cells behind can actually cause the tumor to behave more aggressively. In fact, studies have shown that the best chance for curing a skin tumor is by removing it effectively the first time around. Knowing what we are getting into helps us plan for surgery to provide the optimal outcome.
But what if it just looks like a fatty mass?
Nine times out of ten, if it looks like a fatty mass, it is. But in that tenth case, we are missing a potentially curable cancer. When the procedure to detect this cancer carries zero risk and minimal cost, why take the chance? We could be talking about adding years to your dog’s life, here.
What other options are there besides surgery?
Most of the time, surgical removal is the treatment of choice, however there are other options. Radiation therapy, which involves directing x-ray beams at the tumor to kill cancer cells on a microscopic level, is a procedure only done at large specialty practices and universities, but it provides another viable option when surgery isn’t possible or isn’t enough. Chemotherapy is not commonly used as the primary treatment for skin tumors, but can often help slow or eliminate metastasis, or spread to other parts of the body.
So next time you are visiting your veterinarian, be sure to have a thorough discussion about making sure you know what all of your dog’s lumps and bumps are. And for more information, be sure to check out this YouTube video about the “Don’t Wait, Aspirate!” campaign to reduce fatal skin cancers in dogs.
Growing up, I remember being told to NEVER ask or talk about other people’s financial situations. This is just one social rule (among many others) that I have to break on a daily basis as a veterinarian. Nobody likes to talk about the “business” of medicine, but it is a reality. Medical care carries with it a hefty overhead, and the medical supply companies, landlords, and reference labs don’t care how much a veterinarian loves animals when she can’t pay her bills.
Veterinarians are often blamed for the cost of pet care today compared to years past, but it has much less to do with our (not so) deep pockets, and way more to do with how much the emotional value of the pet has gone up. After correcting for inflation, the US expenditure on pet-related products and services has grown at FIVE TIMES the rate of growth for the US economy. I should also mention that veterinary care makes up less than a quarter of that spending. It isn’t that vets are charging more for what we are doing, we are actually DOING a lot more to keep your pets happy and healthy for as long as possible.
Dogs (in particular) have evolved over the past 30,000 years to be the perfect companion to humans, but it was only recently that we started treating them as surrogate family members. Many people have (sheepishly) confessed to me that the most profoundly intimate bond in their life is with their pet, and there is no shame in that. There are even academic programs now that investigate the power and utility of this relationship, which has been shown to have many emotional and physical benefits for humans.
The worst part of my job is watching someone struggle with deciding whether or not to spend a certain dollar amount to save their companion’s life. Even more often, I see owners having to cut corners on preventive care, which puts their pets at risk, and could end up costing them a lot more in the long-run. How can we reconcile the emotional value of pets with the very real financial burdens of veterinary care? We can start by doing a better job of preparing for these costs on day 1 of owning that pet (better yet, several months prior), so the bills don’t feel so, well, burdensome.
Here are some strategies for managing the lifetime cost of your companion’s veterinary care:
- Find a reputable pet insurance provider, and get your pet covered as young as possible.
- Pet insurance coverage is typically limited to illness and injury, and ranges from high-deductible catastrophic plans to high premium comprehensive plans. Your vet can help you choose the right plan for your pet.
- Find a vet you wholeheartedly trust, and follow his or her recommendations for preventing disease. Prevention is always much less costly than treatment!
- For preventive care and to cover the cost of premiums and deductibles, you should have a separate debit card for pet spending, and have a certain amount automatically deposited each month. Like anything else–if you don’t see it, you won’t miss it!
- Ask your vet for an estimate of all of the necessary wellness care for the year so that you know how much to save each month. A rough estimate is $100 per month per pet for wellness care (including dental cleanings) and insurance premiums, but it all depends on size, breed, and lifestyle.
The influenza virus has a long history of scaring people. Flu pandemics killed millions throughout the 17th and 18th century, and the global war path of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic still haunts us today. Luckily, modern sanitation practices and antibiotics have brought the mortality rate down to less than 0.1% in developed countries, but the ability of the flu virus to quickly adapt to evade the immune system makes it an unnerving opponent.
We need a new flu vaccine each year for that very reason. Luckily, only 2 strains of canine flu have been isolated in the US so far. One of them, strain H3N2, has made headlines recently because of its ability to quickly infect large populations of dogs in kennel settings. It is not necessarily more dangerous than the previous (H3N8) flu, but it is certainly spreading more easily.
Things you need to know about Canine Influenza
- The new strain of canine flu (H3N2) originated in Asia and was then found in Chicago last spring. Since then, thousands of cases have been identified in the Midwest, including in St. Louis.
- It is a completely different strain than the one previously isolated in the US in 2004 (H3N8), and the old vaccine does not protect dogs from the new strain.
- There is now a vaccine on the market for the new strain.
- Dogs that frequent day cares, dog parks, grooming, boarding, or veterinary clinics are at a higher risk.
- Dogs who become infected may be asymptomatic, may have fever and cough for 2-3 weeks, or may develop life-threatening pneumonia.
- There is no specific treatment or cure.
- 80% of dogs who are exposed to the virus become ill.
- Infected dogs can spread the virus for at least 2-3 weeks, which is one of the reasons it is spreading more easily than the previous flu.
At Picture Hills Pet Hospital, we are adopting the following protocol for the new H3N2 vaccine:
We recommend any dog over 8 weeks of age who frequents day cares, dog parks, or boarding be vaccinated with 2 doses, 3 weeks apart, and then yearly thereafter so long as the threat of this flu remains.
Please direct any questions regarding this virus to a veterinary professional. We are just as concerned as you are, and our goal is to protect your dogs and ease your fears!
As a veterinarian with a special interest in nutrition, I will admit that I take your pet food choices WAY too personally. It’s just that nutrition is probably the single most important factor under our control in optimizing a pet’s health. Don’t get me wrong, parasite control and vaccines are very important. But obesity is a far more prevalent disease than anything we vaccinate against, and affects quality of life in a multitude of ways. And yet, when a veterinarian recommends a vaccine, that advice is typically taken without skepticism, but when a veterinarian recommends a food, it is often considered to be unimportant, or worse, a biased sales pitch.
The best way to ensure your pet gets quality nutrition within your means is to partner with your veterinarian. Let us know your goals and your budget and we will do our best to find a diet we are confident will fulfill your pet’s needs.
In the following info-graphic, the term “natural” is used to denote pet foods labeled with the following marketing claims: natural, grain free, no by-product meal, holistic, organic, human-grade, etc. I am not saying these food brands are bad, but rather that there are better ways to determine the quality of a food than what is on the front of its bag.
Fun fact: The first AustinPowers came out almost 20 years ago!!!
Now–onto the science.
Photobiomodulation (Say that 10 times fast).
This big fancy word describes what happens at the cellular level when a therapeutic laser is applied to live tissues like skin, muscles, and joints. It means changing the processes going on inside living things via light energy. Some call this “low level laser therapy” or “cold laser therapy” because the energy used is not as hot or powerful as lasers used for other purposes, such as surgery.
So, how does photobiomodulation help with chronic pain? It essentially puts the body’s healing forces into hyperdrive, while slowing the destructive forces.
The best thing about laser therapy, is that there are virtually no side effects. With some of the other pain management components that I will cover in future posts, there are risks and side effects. This is a great way to lessen, if not eliminate the use of those medications.
Interested in learning more? Picture Hills Pet Hospital is now offering laser therapy! We offer several packages to make it more affordable for you to use long-term for the management of your pet’s chronic pain.
It is completely case-dependent, but an example treatment plan is 2 treatments per week for 4 weeks, then 1 treatment per month to maintain therapeutic effects.
SHARE this post on Facebook for 1 free laser therapy session (a $30 value!).