Home Dental Care
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Dental disease is very common in dogs and cats. Luckily, home dental care can help prevent painful tooth and gum conditions.
Dogs and cats rarely get cavities. However, just like people, they develop gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontal disease (inflammation and infection of the structures that hold the teeth in place). According to the American Veterinary Dental College, periodontal disease is the most common disease diagnosed in adult dogs and cats. It causes bad breath, mouth pain, and tooth loss. It's also associated with heart, kidney, and liver problems.
Because periodontal disease occurs under the gumline, you might not know your pet has the condition until it's advanced. Pets with unstained teeth and little tartar buildup can still have periodontal disease.
The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to remove plaque daily at home and have the teeth professionally cleaned from time to time, just as you do with your own teeth. Professional dental cleanings for pets are performed under general anesthesia to allow removal of plaque and bacteria under the gums. (Simply scraping tartar off the visible tooth surfaces doesn't prevent gum disease.)
Home dental care products
If your pet has mouth pain or is bleeding from the gums, consult a veterinarian before beginning a home dental care program. Plaque removal can be painful for animals with existing oral disease unless it's done under anesthesia.
When you're choosing oral hygiene products, look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal on the product packaging. The VOHC seal means that the product meets standards for effectiveness against plaque, tartar, or both. You can find lists of accepted products on the VOHC website.
Tooth brushing is the standard way to remove plaque at home. Brushing daily or every other day has been shown to be significantly more effective than brushing once a week. Use toothpaste formulated for pets, not for humans; it's safer for them to swallow. Here are two videos explaining the procedure in detail:
- How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth (Arizona Veterinary Dental Specialists): a demonstration with a dog
- Brushing Your Cat's Teeth (Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine): training cats to accept tooth brushing
Medicated dental wipes are an alternative to toothbrushes. In addition to providing mechanical plaque removal, these products contain agents that slow plaque buildup.
Oral dental gels contain antibacterial ingredients that improve breath odor and decrease plaque formation.
If your reaction at this point is "I'm liable to lose a finger if I try to stick something in my pet's mouth," there are other options. Indirect dental care products can be reasonable alternatives, especially for animals that might bite.
Dental diets are designed to abrade tooth surfaces during chewing. They work only on teeth in contact with the food.
Dental chews and treats also mechanically remove plaque or tartar from teeth that they contact. Some chews are made of rawhide; others are soluble. Be aware that any of these products can pose a choking risk. Rigid products (like bones or hard nylon) may fracture teeth. Dr. Jan Bellows, a veterinary dental specialist, recommends these precautions:
- Use a product appropriate for the pet's weight.
- Observe pets while they are chewing.
- Do not give rawhides or large treats to dogs who gulp rather than chew.
- Know how to remove an object stuck in the mouth or throat.
- Read product warning labels.
Water additives accepted by the VOHC inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth and reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
Your pet doesn't have to have bad breath! Call the clinic if you have any questions about your pet's oral health.
August 10, 2017
Photo by Ryan McGuire
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
You probably know that ticks carry Lyme disease. But did you know that ticks also transmit other diseases that can make your pet seriously ill?
People and pets get the same tick-transmitted diseases. These diseases are not directly contagious between humans and animals (you won't catch Lyme disease from an infected dog), but we are all exposed to the same ticks outdoors. And one recent study showed that people with pets were more likely than those without pets to find ticks on themselves.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
According to the CDC, North Carolina has one of the highest rates of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (in humans) in the country. The disease is caused by a type of bacteria called rickettsia. It is usually transmitted from a tick to its host within a few hours of tick attachment.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in dogs generally begin a few days to two weeks after transmission. Some of the signs in dogs are fever, loss of appetite, joint pain (lameness or stiff gait), vomiting, and bruising of the skin or gums. It is potentially fatal but can be treated with antibiotics.
Like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis is a rickettsial infection. The Companion Animal Parasite Council reports that in 2016, over 16,000 dogs in North Carolina had positive antibody tests for ehrlichiosis--that is, they had been exposed to the bacteria at some point in their lives.
The symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs and cats depend partly on the rickettsia species and are similar to those of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Dogs can also be infected without showing any symptoms. This disease is also treated with antibiotics.
Lyme disease, also called borreliosis, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. It is not as common in North Carolina as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis, although dogs do test positive here. (These tests do not show where the exposure occurred; some dogs may been exposed elsewhere and then traveled here.) The Companion Animal Parasite Council warns that the disease is spreading and that North Carolina and other states bordering typical Lyme disease areas may start to see more cases.
Borrelia are transferred from tick to host a day or more after tick attachment. Symptoms of Lyme disease vary, although fever and lameness that shifts from one leg to another are typical. The symptoms can be similar to those of other tick-borne diseases. Some dogs have no signs of infection. This disease can affect the kidneys, heart, and nervous system and may be fatal.
Like the other bacterial tick-borne diseases, Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. A vaccine is also available.
Some ticks produce a toxin that causes paralysis. The symptoms range from weakness (usually beginning in the rear legs) to a complete inability to move. In severe cases the patient can die from paralysis of the muscles that control breathing. Removing all ticks may be enough to cure the disease. However, some dogs require intensive treatment in the hospital.
Ticks carry many other known diseases, such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and tularemia, and probably some that have yet to be identified.
Because tick-borne diseases infect animals as well as people, dogs can act as sentinels for these types of diseases in humans. For instance, a CDC report published in 2011 showed that the incidence of Lyme disease in dogs could predict the risk of Lyme disease for humans in the same geographic area.
August 3, 2017
Image credit: CDC/James Gathany
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
With the Fourth of July and frequent thunderstorms, summer can be tough for pets that are afraid of loud noises. Medication and behavior therapy can help, especially when treatment begins early.
Noise phobia is common in dogs. In some behavior studies, up to half of dogs show fear responses to loud noises. Some dogs are afraid of only one type of sound; others are fearful of several. Fireworks, thunder, and gunshots are common triggers. Vacuum cleaners, construction noise, sirens, and other sounds can also set off fear reactions. Dogs with noise phobia may also have other anxiety disorders like separation anxiety.
Some behavior specialists classify storm phobia separately from noise phobia because affected dogs may be sensitive to environmental factors (like changes in barometric pressure) in addition to noise. Storm-phobic dogs often start acting anxious long before the storm arrives.
Noise phobia gets worse with time if not treated. Owners sometimes don't seek treatment until a dog's symptoms become severe, but phobias are usually easier to manage while the symptoms are still mild.
Signs of noise phobia
Being startled by a sudden loud noise is normal. Dogs with noise phobia develop irrational, ongoing fear responses to noise triggers. They can hurt themselves and damage property. Panicking pets may also hide or freeze, which is less obvious than breaking through a window but is still a sign of fear. Pets with noise phobia can have various reactions:
- Pacing, circling, or bolting
- Destroying property
- Whining or barking
- Seeking attention
- Panting, trembling, yawning, drooling, or licking the lips
Most behavior specialists suggest treating phobias with environmental modification and behavior therapy, usually combined with medication. However, treatment is tailored to each pet's needs. Before starting treatment, your pet may need diagnostic tests to rule out medical problems that can contribute to anxiety.
Environmental modification and behavior therapy
Pets should have a safe place to escape the noise. This can be a windowless interior room, a closet, a bathroom, a crate (perhaps with a sound-dampening cover), or any other area you've noticed your pet seeking during loud noises. Providing music or white noise in the safe place helps some pets.
If your dog does not have a preferred location, you can create one--but do not force a dog to go to a particular area (like a crate) if it increases his anxiety. Training a dog to settle in the safe zone on command can become a relaxation technique he can use during noise events.
Counter-conditioning can decrease fear and provide a distraction. For example, giving a treat-filled toy during thunderstorms can help a dog learn to associate the noise with something positive.
Desensitization begins with playing a recording of the problem sound at a very low volume for a very short time (at a level too low to provoke anxiety). The volume is gradually increased until the dog is able to listen without fear. This can take weeks or months. It is less likely to work for dogs with storm phobia.
Fast-acting antianxiety medications are used as needed for individual noise events, such as Fourth of July fireworks. Most work best if given at least 30 minutes before the noise begins, although some can reduce anxiety in dogs who are already frightened. Examples are alprazolam, trazodone, and a form of dexmedetomidine placed inside the cheek.
Long-term daily medications (such as fluoxetine) can help dogs who have anxieties in addition to noise phobia. They may also reduce overall anxiety in dogs with storm phobia. These drugs can be used in combination with fast-acting medications.
Antianxiety wraps put gentle pressure on the body. Some owners say these products help calm their dogs; others see little difference. A dog pheromone is available as a collar, spray, or diffuser. A recent study showed that the pheromone decreased signs of noise phobia, although other reports have been inconclusive.
What you can do
- Don't take noise phobia lightly. It is a potentially serious medical condition that tends to get worse with age.
- Bring pets indoors during fireworks and thunderstorms.
- Make sure your pets have access to their preferred safe zones during noisy times.
- Call us if you think your pet might need medication or if you have questions.
June 27, 2017
Photo by Robert Larsson
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
- Canine flu is highly contagious among dogs.
- Symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory infections.
- Illness in most dogs is mild, but some dogs develop more serious disease.
- Most dogs recover with treatment. Fewer than 10% of infected dogs die.
- Mallard Creek Animal Hospital uses a new vaccine that covers both known strains of canine influenza virus. This vaccine requires a booster to provide full protection.
You may have read about canine influenza in the news recently. Cases of canine flu have been confirmed in North Carolina, and 2 dogs have died. Here's what you need to know.
How canine flu spreads
Canine flu is caused by an influenza A virus that is highly contagious among dogs. It spreads through respiratory tract secretions. Sources of infection typically include the following:
- Infected dogs at shelters, kennels, dog shows, dog parks, or other areas where dogs gather
- Contaminated items, such as water bowls used by dogs with canine flu
Two strains of canine influenza virus have been identified in the United States. H3N8 virus was first seen in this country in 2004. H3N2 virus caused an outbreak in the Chicago area in 2015 and the recent cases in Florida and Georgia.
About 80% of dogs exposed to the virus develop clinical signs of infection. About 20% have no symptoms but can still spread the virus to other dogs.
Infected dogs are most contagious during the first 2 to 3 days after infection, before they show signs of illness. Dogs infected with H3N2 virus can continue shedding virus, potentially infecting other dogs, for more than 3 weeks.
Cats can also contract canine flu and spread it to dogs. To date there has been no evidence of the virus infecting humans.
Signs of canine flu
Clinical signs typically appear 2 to 3 days after exposure to the virus. Most signs are similar to those caused by canine infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) and other respiratory infections. The mortality rate is less than 10%.
Most dogs develop mild symptoms:
- Cough (dry or moist)
- Nasal discharge
- Decreased activity and appetite
Some dogs develop more severe illness:
- High fever (104°F to 106°F)
- Secondary bacterial infections
Diagnosis and treatment
Canine flu is diagnosed by sending swabs or blood samples to a diagnostic laboratory. There is no rapid in-house test for canine influenza virus. However, treatment does not depend on having a definite diagnosis.
As with human influenza, treatment is supportive and depends on the patient's symptoms. Antibiotics do not affect the virus that causes flu. Most dogs have mild illness that resolves after 2 to 3 weeks. Some dogs need treatment for secondary bacterial infections, dehydration, and other problems caused by the virus.
As of June 2017, Mallard Creek Animal Hospital uses a new canine influenza vaccine that covers both strains of the virus.
- The vaccine reduces the severity and duration of symptoms but does not entirely prevent infection.
- We make vaccine recommendations on a case-by-case basis depending on each dog's exposure risk.
- Dogs receiving the flu vaccine for the first time need a booster vaccine 2 to 4 weeks later. The vaccine is then given once a year.
- Dogs that we vaccinated for canine flu before June 2017 also need a booster after receiving the first dose of the new vaccine (the previous vaccine covered only one strain).
What you should do
- You can prevent exposure by keeping your dog away from other dogs. Call us if you'd like to make a vaccination appointment.
- If you think your dog might have flu, call us and limit your dog's contact with other dogs. We will probably ask you to wait with your dog in your car instead of the reception area before your appointment (as we usually do with pets that may have infectious respiratory illnesses).
For more information:
- Canine influenza in North Carolina (NC Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
- Canine Influenza: Know the Facts (NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine)
- Canine Influenza: Pet Owner's Guide (American Veterinary Medical Association)
June 15, 2017
Dr. Green's Blog
Where do puppies come from?
Puppy mills, breeders, humane societies all seem to be making the news lately. It appears that the Carolinas are prime puppy breeding states. So where do the puppies come from that walk in the doors of Mallard Creek Animal Hospital?
Rescue Groups: By far, the most common source for new puppies that come to us are from animal rescue groups, and that's a good thing. Most of the time, the puppies have been turned into a rescue group, taken from a bad breeder or puppy mill, or found as abandoned animals with no known history. Rescues vary by type. The most common are the humane societies. We routinely see pets from Cabarrus, Union, Lincoln and Charlotte. The humane societies operate as IRS non-profits and are funded by donations and adoption fees. Most of the pets have had parasite exams and treatments, have started vaccines, been treated for minor problems, spayed or neutered, and often have had temperament evaluations to help place them in the best home. Their goal is to only rescue that pet once. True non-profit humane societies are my first choice for rescues.
The second type of rescue group we see are the breed specific rescue groups. When adopting from this type of group, you have the advantage of their knowledge of a particular breed's characteristics and needs, important information for deciding if that breed is right for you. They often rescue all ages and usually have had the pets in some sort of a foster home. Foster homes give the pets time to adjust to family life before moving to a permanent home. It is important to check out these groups and make sure they are affiliated with a true non-profit group. You want to know who you are working with and that you have someone to call if the adoption is not going as hoped. Small adoption fees are common. Again, check that non-profit status. Sometimes these groups come and go, probably due to funding or not having a good relationship with a good non-profit humane group. Breeds we have seen that have good networks are Australian Shepherds, English Setters, Grey Hounds, Golden Retrievers, Boston Terriers, and Pugs.
The final group type is the one you really have to watch. I will refer to them as independents. Some are good. Some are animal collectors or puppy mills in disguise. Some things to look for here are relationships with a humane society or shelter, a clean set-up, and the money. If they seem to have a lot of pups and charge a fee for adoption, this may be a "for profit" enterprise. A few years ago, there was a "lady" who would show up in the parking lots of big box stores with a box full of puppies for "rescue", usually for $50.00. Within 24 hours of adoption, the pups would often become sick with Parvo Virus or parasite problems and the " Lady" was long gone. Animal Control finally ran her out of Charlotte. We still see this type of puppy supplier from time to time especially in flea market season. The lesson here is adopt from a reliable source.
County Animal Shelters: The next most common source for us is the Charlotte (CMPD) Animal Shelter located near the airport. I have been in Charlotte for thirty years and I have seen great things happen at our shelter. They still have to put too many pets to sleep, but they really try hard to adopt pets in their care. They also vaccinate, treat medical issues, spay and neuter, and do temperament testing. I often see pets that have been fostered by their employees or through their foster networks to buy them time to find a home. They have to deal with larger numbers of abandoned pets and often abused pets. Unfortunately, the numbers game of how many they can help often goes against the pets. If you are considering a rescue, the Charlotte Shelter is worth a visit.
The Pure Breed/AKC Type Breeder: Most of the pure breed puppies I see come from breeders who follow American Kennel Club Registration Rules and most are showing their dogs. The American Kennel Club sets breed standards for its recognized breeds. They describe the characteristics of the perfect dog and that is what AKC registered dogs are judged against. They do compete against each other in a show, but are really competing to see which dog best meets the breed standard. A pure breed breeder or kennel should know a lot about the breed. They should know temperament, exercise needs, common medical or inherited problems, and they should be breeding dogs that fit the breed standard and have been screened as best as possible to make sure they do not carry the genetic traits for problems. The breeders I work with carefully screen their breeding males and females for undesirable genetic traits. They have their puppies "vet checked" before they are sold to a new owner. They usually provide a very generous warranty against genetic problems... .usually for years to life. They want to know if their bloodlines have problems so they can stop breeding a line that produces dogs with issues. A good breeder will have knowledge of several generations of a family line. Usually, the sire and dam (dad and mom) will be on site or maybe on the show circuit where you can see both parents of your potential pup. A pup will grow up to look and usually act like mom and dad. You will pay more for a puppy from a good breeder. You are buying a family history, health screenings, a good warranty, and an idea of what your pet will look like when it grows up. Some negatives to watch for: Bad records, inbreeding, a place that you can't see the parents, filth, no vet checks, bad living conditions for their pets, no social interaction with their pets, and no references. If this is what you see, you are probably at a puppy mill.
The Hobby Breeder: I don't see many of these breeders anymore because most people don't want to put up with a female going into heat twice a year. A good hobby breeder usually has one or two females, one male that is not related in any way to the females, has a litter maybe once a year, and usually has a list of friends who want one of their pups. Their dogs usually sleep in the bed with them or are their passion....true members of the family. They are not in it for money, since raising puppies that are not show pedigree types is not profitable. My Brittany came from this type of breeder. I saw an ad in the paper, went to see both mom and dad at the home, checked the vet records, saw the AKC Papers of mom and dad, did my own vet check, and came home with a pup. If this is where you are looking for a pup, again make sure it fits the breed standards, has been vet checked, and comes with a warranty.
The Accident: I do see some puppies that come from the accidental breeding, but not that often. Most pet owners have their pets spayed and neutered before they ever reach breeding age. When we do see an accident, it usually is from the home that just didn't get around to spaying in time or they are from a family that adopted the adult stray that was already pregnant. The pups are here and need homes so what happens next is what counts. Do they just load up the pups and take them to the shelter or do they accept the full responsibility of adopting the "mom with a past" and properly care for the pups just like they were champion blood line show dogs. All puppies regardless of lineage need proper nutrition, parasite treatments, housing, vaccines, and the mother spayed!!! If this is what you see, help them out. The negative is you usually don't know what daddy looked like and that cute baby might grow up to be 100 pounds.
The Puppy Mill: If I see a small breed or toy puppy with terrible conformation, crooked teeth, no parent history other than a piece of paper that says dad lives out of state, a family tree that is too straight meaning they are inbred, parasites, bad skin, a 24 hour warranty and a big price tag, I think puppy mill. How to avoid a puppy mill? Get references. Call the vet who is listed as having examined the puppies. See both parents. See where the mom and dad live. Go visit the kennel. Don't meet in a parking lot somewhere. Make sure the puppies meet the breed standard. Be careful with the cross breeds that claim to be a pure breed. Take a friend along who knows the breed if you don't. If it is an AKC breed, call the AKC and ask if they have any complaints against the breeder.
The Take Home Message: Know what you are getting into when you adopt a puppy into your family and know from where you are getting your puppy. My old college economics professor closed every lecture with this quote, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." There is no such thing as the free puppy. Any puppy is a commitment of time, money, and love.
Mark Green DVM
When the buttercups bloom, so do the pollens. Pets with allergies have had a good winter. The rain and snow have kept most of the pollens and molds either buried or washed away and we did not have a "winter" flea season. The allergies I saw this winter could be linked to food allergies or the occasional winter allergies that seem to be caused by running the heat a lot or contact allergies. With spring comes sneezing humans and scratching dogs and cats.
By far, the number one cause of allergy cases I see is fleas. It only takes one flea to cause an attack. Pets are allergic to the flea's saliva and it just takes one flea bite to set off a highly flea allergic patient. Think about the person who is highly allergic to a bee sting. One sting and they are reaching for an Epi-pen. The best prevention for flea allergies is good flea control. Start early to keep the fleas from laying eggs around your house and yard. Most of the flea products either kill the fleas before they can lay eggs or have a growth regulator in them to prevent egg hatching or larvae maturation. Use products as directed and use monthly. Do not use dog products on cats as that can be really dangerous. If you pet is chewing and scratching a V pattern in front of the tail or along their back legs, think fleas. Cats will also break out around their neck and face.
If your pet is itching all over, licking their paws, or rubbing their face, think grass, pollen, or weed allergies. The allergens can cause problems by contact or inhalant exposure. The joke used to be to escape these allergies, you could move to Arizona. Apparently now so many people did move and moved their plants with them, that even Arizona has allergies. We start treating by trying to identify the cause. If it can be avoided, do so. For example, wipe the pet's feet after walks with a damp wash cloth if walking in grass seems to start the attack. Allergy testing can be done as well. Unfortunately, I find the best tests are done in the dead of winter as you need pets off all medications for 30 days and most allergy sufferers can't handle that in the summer. We always make sure good flea control is in place. In general, we reach for antihistamines, anti-inflammatory medications, immune suppressive drugs and nutritional supplements to manage allergies. Cortisone (Prednisone) has been the most commonly used drug for years and does work. It just has side effects that have to be carefully managed. Benedryl will often help dogs with mild symptoms and some antihistamines can help some cats as well. The drug I have found most helpful in the last 2 years has been Atopica, an immune modulating agent. We have had good success getting some patients off cortisone with this drug. It has been around a few years, but frankly was cost prohibitive for a lot of owners especially with big dogs. The company heard that and for the last two years have offered some very good rebate programs and dropped the price making it much easier on the budget. My own dog takes Atopica in the spring. A real key to spring allergies is to catch them before they get bad and before a secondary bacteria or yeast infection takes hold. If Fluffy keeps you both awake all night scratching, "spring has sprung". Allergy season is here. Go on the attack !
Candy warnings: Chocolate-The most toxic is unsweetened baking chocolate, the least milk chocolate. Stealing a chocolate chip cookie is usually not a problem. Eating a 12 ounce package of baking chocolate can cause neurological and cardiovascular problems, vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet ingests chocolate, call immediately to see if inducing vomiting is an option or see...k treatment. Xylitol ( found in sugarless gum and some candy, toothpaste or baked goods) can cause low blood sugar and liver disease. Again, call to see if inducing vomiting is an option and seek medical treatment. IV fluids are usually needed. Wrappers and sucker sticks can cause mouth injuries and obstructions. Take home message....Secure the candy dish !!!!
Winter will arrive on December 22nd. Make sure inside/outside pets have a good, warm, dry place to sleep and get out of the weather. I like the dog house to face south or east and straw has always been a good outdoor dog bedding. If it's going to be below freezing, they really need to come inside. Make sure water dishes do not freeze. Watch for car antifreeze spills as antifreeze is v...ery toxic to pet's kidneys. Slips on ice can be dangerous to pets as well. They run out the door not realizing that the sidewalk is frozen, slip and blow a knee just like the football players do. Cat litter works well on slippery sidewalks and is not toxic. A couple of tricks for housetraining a puppy in winter...create an area on top of the snow or ice with mulch for potty breaks or before the snow, spread one of those blue tarps on the ground to create a snow free patch for the new pup. Remember wildlife. We keep a wash tub of water in our wooded back yard for our "deer friends". Stay warm.
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