Spring 2014

The calendar officially proclaims that IT’S SPRING, and hopefully the long, bitter weather is behind us.  Spring is a great time of the year, and both humans and canines are ready to feel the warm sunshine, with grass on the ground instead of ice and snow. However, spring brings hazards for our companion animals, who are restless from being cooped up, and are eager to shake off the blahs of winter.

  • There are new smells and new places to explore which means that normally well-behaved dogs will suddenly become escape artists and dig or climb their way out of their safe yards to find themselves lost with no clue about returning home. Please be sure that you have up-to-date identification on your dog. We also recommend micro-chipping your animal.
  • In spring, depending on your dog’s breed, you can expect more shedding as the coat changes. Consistent daily brushing is necessary, and remember, in a pet lover’s home, a few dog hairs can be classified as condiments! (I doubt anyone ever died from a dog hair in his soup!)
  • If you have an intact pet, he will really become restless. The alarming statistics of unwanted offspring and animal overpopulation should convince you to spay or neuter, and it is also important to do it for the health and safety of your pet.
  • Spring is a good time to schedule a wellness check. Hopefully the vet will give her a clean bill of health, but if something suspicious is found, perhaps it can be treated in the early stages. Most dogs have teeth problems by the time they are three years old, and since tooth and gum disease can lead to more serious problems, be sure to include a dental checkup for your canine.
  • We used to believe that heartworm was a problem only in the Southern states. Not true. This mosquito-borne parasite is a definite threat to your animals, and while it is true that heartworm can be treated if caught early enough, the treatment is harsh and is also expensive. Get your dog tested for heartworm and on a preventative provided by your veterinarian.
  • Don’t wait until you see a flea to begin treatment…fleas are more than a nuisance, and bother your dog with more than allergies and itchy skin, and by the time you see one, you have an invasion of these nasty little creatures.  If a flea swallowed by your dog contains tapeworm larvae, the dog may get tapeworms, and other diseases may also be transmitted by the fleas.  Once your dog is infested, the problem extends to the home and yard, and is more difficult to treat. The smart thing to do is to treat your animals BEFORE fleas are present. There are many safe products that will eliminate flea problems. DO NOT use over-the-counter products…many are toxic. Discuss your options with your veterinarian.
  • It is equally important to protect your dog (and you) from ticks, which can carry and transmit several diseases including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Fever. Again prevention is much easier than treatment. Some products are effective against both fleas and ticks. Again talk to your vet about preventative measures, and how, by consistent implementation of relatively easy strategies, you can protect both humans and canines in your household from these unwelcome parasites.  Controlling and eliminating fleas, ticks, and parasites require energy, time, and money. The best control is always prevention.
  • If you use herbicides or pesticides on your lawn, be sure to restrict your pets from the treated areas for at least 24 hours, preferably longer. These chemicals are toxic to your pet.

By taking just a few precautions, spring will be a fabulous time for both you and your dog!

The Question Is: Am I Crazy?

Feedback is good, right?  Well, there was a lot of feedback from last week’s Paw Prints… Most of it centered around a three-word-question:  “Are you crazy?”  Now, admittedly, there are days, if you were to ask my family about my mental health, you might get an affirmative response, but before we get too personal, let me complete the question: “Are you crazy?  You REALLY don’t expect us to brush our dog’s teeth.” Yes, I really do! An effective dental health program for dogs involves three components:

1.    Diet.  It is important that you feed your dog a high-quality dog food. To find out how different foods rate, please check www.dogfoodadvisor.com

2.    Routine professional cleaning.  Just as with humans, dogs need their teeth checked by a veterinarian on a regular basis.

3.    Home care.  The best method of home care is brushing. Most dogs can be acclimated to brushing the teeth if you take it slowly. Hopefully many of you have been handling your dog’s mouth on a daily basis for the past week, and he feels more comfortable with your lifting his lip and rubbing your finger gently along the gum line.  You have talked gently to him while you stroked around his mouth, and rewarded him with praise and a carrot. .

Once the dog is comfortable with having his mouth touched, it is time to move on to his teeth. But rather than beginning with a brush, it’s easier to go in with a strip of gauze, or a warm washcloth wrapped around your finger. Lift the dog’s lip on one side, and with the washcloth wrapped around your finger, rub the outer surfaces of both upper and lower teeth. Then switch to the other side. If he resists, quit the session. Doing this once a day for a week or so will result in your pet’s getting used to having your fingers inside his mouth, and make  it easier to move on to the next step: a toothbrush. Dr. Holmstrom, author of Veterinary Dental Techniques recommends using a soft, child-size toothbrush or one designed specifically for dogs. You can also buy brushes that fit over your index finger.  Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and with a gentle, circular motion, brush the entire outer surfaces of the teeth, especially the area where the base of the tooth meets the gum. Do NOT use toothpastes made for humans, as these usually contain detergents and since dogs are more likely to swallow than spit and rinse, human toothpaste can cause stomach upset. Pet toothpaste comes in so many lip-smacking flavors that most dogs accept it eagerly.

Okay, some of you are still not ready to use a toothbrush on your dog’s teeth. I confess:  some dogs don’t do really well with a brush …. so use a finger brush, or even a warm washcloth.. Any method is better than none, so use whatever approach you and your dog feel most comfortable with, but establish it as part of your regular routine.

Since animal care companies recognize that many caregivers will not brush, they have been hard at work formulating no -brush products, so there are many new products on the market now that claim to make dental care more convenient., including specially formulated non-toxic solutions and sprays that require no effort beyond adding them to your companion’s water or spraying them in his mouth.  Some of these products are more effective than others, but before you rush out to buy one, consult your vet…Do not buy an over-the-counter solution. Brushing at home is the best strategy to prevent dental issues.  With patience and persistence, you can curtail the amount of periodontal disease, reduce the frequency of professional cleanings, and provide your dog with a healthier, sweeter smile!

Brush Up on Dental Health

We all know that we need to take care of our teeth so that plaque and tarter buildup doesn’t cause bacteria that can migrate into our bloodstreams, resulting in serious health problems. The same is true with our pets. Along with good food, exercise, and lots of love, regular brushing of their teeth is one of the most important things we can do for them.  Poor dental health isn’t just about your dog’s teeth and gums.  Over 80 percent of them are affected by dental problems including serious periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, which affects their overall well- being.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month with the “Pets Need Dental Care Too” campaign. Remember what your teeth looked and felt like this morning when you got up?  That rough, thick feel to the surface of the teeth after going only overnight without brushing.  Can you imagine not brushing your teeth for a couple days…or weeks…or years?

Dogs depend on healthy teeth and gums for survival.  Like their caregivers, they are susceptible to bacterial plaque, tarter, cavities, and tooth aches.  Periodontal disease, caused by bacteria and their toxins, if left untreated, will damage the teeth, gums, and supporting tissues. They can also spread through the bloodstream to other organs, including the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart. Since dogs cannot brush their own teeth, it is the responsibility to the caregivers to keep their teeth and gums in tiptop shape.  According to recent surveys of dog caregivers, almost all confirm that they would proactively do anything to help their dogs live longer, healthier lives, but fewer than l0 percent recognize dental care as one of the top health concerns for dogs. Very few recognize the importance of brushing their dog’s teeth.

Symptoms of periodontal disease include brownish or discolored teeth, tarter buildup at the gum line, swollen, bleeding, or receding gums, irritability, decreased appetite or reluctance to chew, eat, and drink, pawing at the mouth, rubbing the face on the ground, and persistent bad breath.

To help your dog keep a healthy, lifetime grin, humans need to practice preventative care.

  • Don’t dismiss doggie breath.  A dog’s bad breath is often an early warning sign of dental problems.
  • Pay attention to your dog’s eating habits. If she is reluctant to eat hard kibble, it could be due to a tooth ache.
  • Provide fresh water daily. Bacteria can escalate inside bowls containing water that is more than a couple days old.
  • Treat your dog to a raw baby carrot or two every day. Raw carrots help scrub plaque away as well as provide vitamins and fiber.
  • BRUSH her teeth…no, we are not kidding!  The idea of brushing your pet’s teeth daily can be a bit daunting at first, but it’s the best way to keep gum disease from getting started.  If you have never done this, start off easy. Begin by handling his mouth for a couple minutes every day for a few days. Stroke around his face, and then reward him with praise and maybe a carrot!  For the next week, work toward getting your dog comfortable with having his mouth handled.  Don’t even try to brush….

Next week’s Paw Prints will cover basic tips for actual brushing.

Please don’t be one of the majority of caregivers who will become discouraged …as Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”  With patience (and carrots), you’ll eventually have a dog who happily lets you mess with his mouth!!