Monday, June 27, 2016

What is going on inside your pet's mouth?!

What is the most common health condition we see in our patients every day?  I'm sure you've already guessed from the title of this blog but it's dental disease.  If you have a dog or a cat you may have noticed their breath doesn't smell so nice. You might have also noticed their gums look more red in colour as compared with a person's gums. Many people assume this is normal for dogs and cats. Though dental disease is very common it is not normal.  It is estimated that 85% of dogs and cats over the age of 4 years have periodontal disease--this means disease of the gums, and the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. 
This is what the normal teeth and gums should look like

 The cause of the problem begins when plaque begins to build up on the surface of the teeth. Plaque is made up of a mixture of sticky mucous like substances and bacteria. Plaque begins to form on the teeth within 2 DAYS after a professional dental scaling and polishing.  If the plaque is not removed it will continue to harden and form tartar. Tartar is rough and is irriatating to the gums and changes the environment of the mouth allowing bacteria to creep underneath the gum tissue to live and grow.  These bacteria produce by-products that destroy the tissues that surround and hold the tooth in place. The end result is a loose tooth that is often lost.  In addition to lost teeth the bacterial growth can lead to abscesses (pockets of pus build up). The chronic inflammation of the mouth can affect the entire body as it is constantly fighting off the infection in the mouth.

   All this inflammation and destruction of tissues is painful. Most pets won't show you any obvious signs that their mouth is sore because it has been a chronic problem they have learned to live with. The graphic above shows signs to look for. In my experience bad breath and yellow or brown tartar are the most common signs. If  your pet is having difficulty eating this is a sign the dental disease is very severe! Don't rely on your pet to tell you if they have dental disease. Instead look at their teeth and gums yourself or ask your vet or a veterinary technician to take a look for you if you aren't sure what to look for.

 So what is the solution to this dental disease epidemic? Certainly once dental disease has become advanced a professional scaling and polish with possible tooth extractions is required. However, as you read above, plaque begins to build up again within 2 days of our professional cleaning. This means that home care for teeth is essential for preventing the dental disease from quickly returning. Home care can take many forms. The gold standard is daily tooth brushing. We offer free demonstrations of tooth brushing to help owners get on the right track. The dental diets also offer excellent benefits with larger kibble sizes to scrape up against the tooth to remove plaque. Some dental diets also contain special ingedients to prevent plaque from calcifying into tartar.  Water additives and dental chews can also be added to compliment brushing or dental diets but are unlikely to be enough on their own to prevent dental disease.

Now that you know the basics of dental disease in pets don't hesitate to get started on a home-care regimen. If you need help or have any questions call, e-mail or drop by the clinic!
Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dog Bite Prevention

 Last week I had the pleasure of doing a radio interview to talk about the importance of safety around dogs and dog bite prevention. This is a topic that I feel passionately about. Pets can enrich our lives in so many ways but they can also pose a danger. I have seen first hand the damage that can be done if people are not taking proper safety precautions.  So I am adapting my interview into a blog post.

So question # 1 : What Causes a dog to bite?
This is a very broad question and there are many possible answers but a few common reasons are as follows: a dog may be trying to protect something such as a toy or food, or their owner or owner's property.  Another very common reason for biting is out of fear of a perceived threat. Overexcitment during play or chasing can also lead a dog to bite. Finally injury or pain can predispose an otherwise docile dog to becoming aggressive.

Question #2: What are some signs of stress in dogs?
These are great things to become familiar with. If you see a dog showing these signs it's a good idea to give them space and leave them alone. One of the keys to dog bite prevention in many situations is to let a dog have space and let them choose if they want to interact with you or not.  Signs of stress include yawning, rapid panting, pinning the ears down or to the side, licking the lips and showing the white parts of the eyes.  If you approach a dog and it turns its head away from you, holds its tail very low or has a very slow wag the dog is trying to tell you he doesn't want you to come closer.
Right before a bite a dog may become suddenly stiff, hold its head low and possibly curl its lip.  A good rule of thumb is if a dog is wiggly and relaxed it is unlikely to bite but a dog that is stiff like a statue can be dangerous. 
Photo provided by

Question #3 What role does proper obedience training play in reducing dog biting events?
Proper obedience training and socialization of young dogs and puppies is crucial to helping prevent dog bites.  Firstly puppies should not be removed from their litter too young as they learn proper bite inhibition (not to bite too hard) from their mothers and litter mates.  Puppies should not go to new homes before the age of 8 weeks and to be honest staying in the litter even longer is beneficial to social skills.  Once you have your new dog its important to expose it to new people, and other dogs that you know are friendly and that are up to date on vaccines. Ask your vet before introducing a young puppy to new dogs to make sure you won't put your puppy at extra risk of infections.  Obedience training is recommened for all dogs as it will help your puppy get used to new people and other dogs in a controlled setting. It will also teach a young dog how to communicate with their owner, builds trust between dog and owner and can help fearful dogs to become more confident and comfortable.

Question #4 Should young children ever be left alone with a dog?
This one seems like a no-brainer but I can't emphasize enough that young children should NEVER be left alone with a dog. What I think is especially important to know here is that it's not just umfamiliar dogs or dogs outside the family that we need to be careful with. In fact 3/4 of dog bites are inflicted by known or family dogs and most victims are children.  The majority of bite incidents also occur on the victims own property. This means most dog bites actually occur with a known family pet.  I also want to mention that just being in the same room with the child and dog doesn't cut it. If your child and the dog are out of your reach then your child is still at risk for a bite.

Question #5 What should you do if an unfamiliar dog approaches and is off leash?
There is a really excellent education program aimed at children called "Be A Tree" that teaches what to do in this scenario.  Step 1 is fold your branches meaning bring your arms to your side and clasp your hands in the center. Step 2 Watch your roots grow. Look down at your feet and don't make eye contact with the dog. Step 3 Count in your head until help arrives or the dog goes away. Pretty simple and easy to remember. If you are on the ground when a dog approaches curling up into a ball or the fetal position is an alternative method to protect yourself.  I think all children should be taught "Be A Tree" as early as possible.
Photo from

Final Question: what are your final words of advice for dogs owners and parents?
For dog owners: keep your dogs on leash when out in public and keep your dogs up to date on their rabies vaccines. Rabies is a real public health concern and we do have it in Manitoba. For parents: teach children as early as possible to learn the signs of a stressed dog compared to a relaxed dog. Teach children not to hug or ride dogs and that it is best not to pet a dog directly on top of their heads. These precautions alone should help reduce your risk of being involved in a bite incident.  Children and dogs can make great companions and friends but only if the right steps are taken to protect both the child and the dog.

Thanks for reading!
Dr Ingrid