Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Have you wondered what happens during a dental cleaning at the veterinary hospital? Recently I brought my dog Oreo to the clinic to clean her teeth. Read on to see what was involved.
Oreo is about 7 years old and had her last dental cleaning 2 years ago. I’ve brushed her teeth at home, but not regularly enough to keep tartar from building up.
Oreo came to the clinic with an empty stomach. Thoroughly cleaning pets’ teeth requires general anesthesia, so Oreo had bloodwork to check for abnormalities that might affect the anesthetic plan. The analysis included blood cell counts, markers of liver and kidney function, electrolyte levels, blood sugar level, and other tests. I also gave her a complete physical exam. In the coming months Mallard Creek will be installing a dental x-ray unit, which will let us further assess patients before their dental procedures. [Updated: Mallard Creek Animal Hospital began including dental x-ray imaging with dental procedures in March 2018.]
2. Preanesthetic medication
Oreo received a sedative injection before going under general anesthesia. This sedative reduced the amount of general anesthetic she needed. Injected sedatives wear off more slowly than the general anesthetic agents we use at Mallard Creek, so Oreo was a little sleepy for a few hours after her procedure.
3. Intravenous catheter
We clipped fur from Oreo’s front leg, cleaned the skin with an antiseptic, and placed a catheter in her vein. During the procedure, Oreo received intravenous fluids through the catheter.
4. Anesthesia induction and endotracheal tube placement
Oreo’s general anesthesia began with an injection of a fast-acting anesthetic agent through her catheter. Once she was asleep, we placed an endotracheal tube in her trachea (windpipe). This tube allowed us to deliver oxygen and anesthetic gas to keep her asleep. An inflatable cuff on the tube also kept water and debris out of her lungs.
Pam, one of our trained veterinary technicians, looked after Oreo while I was cleaning her teeth. Pam monitored Oreo’s heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen level, and level of anesthesia.
6. Tooth scaling
I removed plaque and tartar from Oreo’s teeth with an ultrasonic scaler. This instrument vibrates at a very high speed to remove tartar quickly and efficiently. It sprays water while it’s cleaning to keep the scaler tip cool. Because Oreo was under anesthesia, I was able to remove plaque and tartar under her gums, which is essential to prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease. Oreo’s gums bled a little during scaling, showing that she had already developed some gingivitis even though her gums did not look particularly inflamed on the physical exam.
7. Tooth polishing
After I scaled Oreo’s teeth, I polished them with polishing compound. The point of polishing is not to make the teeth look pretty. Polishing smooths the tooth enamel after scaling, removing tiny grooves where bacteria and plaque can take hold. Brushing with toothpaste does not have the same effect.
8. Rinse and repeat
After I rinsed the polishing compound from Oreo’s teeth, Pam and I turned her over to repeat the process on the other side.
9. Waking up
When the cleaning was finished, Pam turned off the anesthetic gas and let Oreo breathe oxygen. During this time, Pam continued to monitor Oreo’s vital signs and trimmed her toenails. After a few minutes, Oreo began waking up, and Pam removed her endotracheal tube. Later on, Pam removed the intravenous catheter.
10. Going home
Oreo came home with a bandage on her front leg where the catheter had been. I removed the bandage that evening. After a couple of days it was time to restart her home dental care!
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Cold weather can be hazardous to pets. Fur is not enough to protect pets when the temperature plummets, even if they spend most of their time outdoors when it's warmer. If it’s too cold for people to be outside for very long, it’s too cold for dogs and cats too.
Some cities have regulations stating that animals cannot be left outdoors when the temperature falls below a certain point. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s animal ordinance is more general: “Animals must have an adequate shelter so that the animal can be protected from extremes of weather (heat, cold, rain, etc.) and able to remain dry and comfortable.” Use common sense when deciding how long your pets can be outdoors in cold weather.
Know your pets’ limitations
Some pets are more tolerant of cold weather than others. Body condition, coat type, age, and health all affect an animal’s ability to withstand low temperatures. A healthy 3-year-old Siberian husky can handle the cold more easily than an arthritic 11-year-old greyhound, but even the husky is susceptible to hypothermia if left outside too long.
Medical conditions like heart disease and thyroid disease can make it harder for pets to regulate their body temperature. Pets with arthritis may be more likely to fall if they encounter icy patches. Very young and very old animals can also have trouble managing temperature extremes. These pets can go outdoors in the cold, but their time outside should be supervised and shorter than usual.
Watch for signs that your pet is having trouble with the cold:
Bring them indoors
It’s fine to let healthy dogs play outdoors in the cold for a while, but they shouldn’t stay out for a long time. In weather as cold as we’ve had this past week, dogs should certainly be indoors at night. How long they can stay outside during the day depends on the dog and the environment. The safest approach is to keep dogs indoors during the day and take them out frequently for supervised exercise.
The Humane Society recommends never leaving cats outdoors in cold weather at all. Cats sometimes seek shelter in warm car engines. Bang on the hood of your car and perhaps honk the horn before you start the engine to evict stray cats and wildlife that might have taken refuge under the hood.
Wrap them up
We’ve seen some spiffy coats and sweaters on dogs coming into the clinic. If you think your pet will be more comfortable in a coat, be sure it fits snugly and has no loose parts that might trap legs or become a chew hazard. Remove wet clothing immediately; it will make pets colder.
Keep them safe on walks
January is Walk Your Pet Month. Even in cold weather, walking has great health benefits for both you and your dog. Keep dogs on a leash when you’re near bodies of water so they won’t jump in. Wipe their paws when you come indoors to remove ice balls stuck between their paw pads and chemicals used to melt ice on roads.
Ice-melting chemicals and salt are dangerous if swallowed or licked off paws. Keep these products out of reach of your pets. Do not let your pets lick or walk through any liquid that has leaked from a motor vehicle. Even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly; windshield washing solution is also toxic.
Cold weather pet safety (AVMA)
Cold weather safety tips (ASPCA)
7 Tips to keep animals healthy during cold weather (NCSU)
Photo by Marcus Löfvenberg
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM