For the week of February 24, 1999  thru March 2, 1999  

Good oral hygiene brings pets health, longevity

Express Staff Writer

f17dog.jpg (16690 bytes)Imagine not brushing your teeth for a few weeks or months after devouring a steady diet of fish, poultry, and other mushy meat product.

Not a pretty picture or smell, right?

Unfortunately, that is the plight of most dogs and cats, whose owners often perceive dental care as a frivolous intrusion and, thus, neglect to have it done.

Dental care for dogs and cats, however, is as pertinent for them as it is for us.

Plaque and tartar are enemies we fight daily with an arsenal of pastes, washes and floss.

They are enemies of dogs and cats, too.

Plaque and tartar form as a result of bacterial accumulation on the teeth. Buildup of plaque and tartar leads to periodontal disease, which affects more than 80 percent of adult dogs and 70 percent of adult cats. It is the leading cause of tooth loss, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.

The bacteria associated with periodontal disease have the potential to spread through the bloodstream to the heart, liver or kidneys, potentially decreasing the longevity of pets.

"Periodontal disease may cause bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream, carrying the infection to other parts of the body," said Dr. Ellen Logan, president of the society.

Common indications of oral disease include bad breath, brown buildup of tartar along the gum line, red inflamed gums, a change in eating or chewing habits, pawing at the face or mouth and depression.

Veterinarians urge pet owners not to wait for bad breath or depression to take hold. A trip to the office for a dental exam at least once a year and a dental care routine at home are recommended by the society.

Many pet owners feel pet tooth-brushing at home and professional cleanings with the veterinarian is a form of cruelty to their animals.

According to Jo-Anne Dixon, a veterinarian at Sun Valley Animal Center, a major concern about such dental procedures in the office is that the sedation process is dangerous or difficult for the dog.

At Sun Valley Animal Center, dogs and cats receive a gas anesthetic in addition to a mild sedative, which prevents the pet from remembering anything about the procedure. The anesthetic is necessary so hygienists can have easy access to all parts of the mouth, like the gum line, where most of the bacteria collect. Before any anesthetic is applied, though, veterinarians perform a medical exam to insure that the pet is healthy enough for anesthesia.

"Most dogs and cats do really well," Dixon said. "They all go home the same day, and most are in the same condition as they were in the morning."

In fact, Denise Young, dental hygienist at the center, said dogs and cats are often more spirited after the cleaning.

"I’ve heard so many pet owners say how much younger their pet acts after the procedure," Young said.

Arnold, a 15-year-old Kerry Blue Terrier, was in a deep sleep during his cleaning at the center Friday afternoon. According to his owners, Arnold bounced back right after surgery.

Dogs like Arnold are prescribed a routine of tooth brushing at home, which, veterinarians say, usually becomes a cherished ritual for the pet, perhaps because of the lamb and poultry flavored pastes that are available.

Arnold may be living a little longer because of the dental care he will be receiving.

"Dental care has done more to extend the life of dogs and cats than any other advances in the profession in the last 10 years," said Gene Rivers, a veterinarian practicing in Tacoma, Wash. "In fact, statistics show that dental care will prolong a dog’s life by two years."

Long live Arnold!


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