Saving Pets’ Smiles and Sometimes, Their Lives!

Cleaning your pet’s teeth is a great way to save yourself from smelling horrendous pet breath. But, dental cleanings also save some pets from serious heart disease and occasionally, you might hear how dental procedures saved a pet’s life!

Ollie did not feel good. The young Golden Retriever mix missed her family and was completely confused by her surroundings. Ollie had never been confined in a cage, nor had she ever been somewhere with such strange smells and noisy neighbors. On top of everything, her mouth hurt terribly!

At this city shelter, the staff realized Ollie’s attitude was not normal for her breed. Investigating, they found the crowns of her four canine teeth had been literally cut off at the gumline! Known as crown amputation, some people have used this practice as a means to disarm a dog’s primary defense mechanism of biting. Without large canine teeth, the severity of bite wounds is supposedly reduced. But, the use of bolt cutters or wire snips to cut the teeth at the gumline and the lack of anesthetics or sterile technique often leads to major complications. Veterinary organizations, including the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) have expressed serious concern with this painful practice.

These dogs are so painful and prone to nipping (as a compensation mechanism) that shelters will often euthanize these dogs without seeking medical care. For Ollie, her condition became a life or death situation!

Fortunately, Golden Retriever Freedom Rescue in Denver, along with Deer Creek Animal Hospital heard of Ollie’s plight and sought to find a solution that would not only save her life, but free her from pain as well.

Like our teeth, dogs have an inner chamber of the tooth known as the pulp cavity. This hollow cavity (or chamber) contains the blood and nerve supply of the tooth. Anyone who has ever broken a tooth can surely empathize with the pain she was feeling. To make matters worse, Ollie was at high risk for developing serious infections of the gums, the nerve or even the underlying jaw bones.

At Deer Creek, Dr. Kenneth Lee was called upon to help. According to Dr. Lee, simple extraction of the four broken teeth was not an option. “Dog’s canine teeth extend well below the gumline and often are closely associated with the jaw bone.” He adds “extracting these teeth had the potential for causing serious damage to the jaws.”

Dr. Lee opted to perform root canals and was able to save the roots of the four teeth. After removing the vital tissue from within the pulp cavity, Dr. Lee used restorative materials to cap off the roots and prevent any potential infections. Sadly, since the crowns had been cut at the gumline, he was not able to place any artificial crowns and restore the actual tooth.

The good news is that Ollie is alive and doing well at her new home. Her dental surgery and post-operative care actually stopped the pain and her “forever” family says that she has adjusted well to her new life.

Thankfully, Ollie’s type of trauma is not extremely common, but millions of pets do suffer from serious dental disease. These pets may also exhibit behavioral changes due to their pain. Unfortunately many of these pets are relinquished to rescues or even euthanized.

Your pet doesn’t have to suffer from dental disease and you don’t have to tolerate “doggy breath”. Making a dental plan with your veterinarian will not only prevent dental disease, but may stop other health problems as well.

The first step is to have your veterinarian do a complete oral exam on your pet. Note any areas of excessive tartar build-up and any other concerns, such as fractured teeth, bleeding gums or ulcerations in the mouth.

Next, if appropriate, schedule a complete dental cleaning with your veterinarian. Cleaning will remove the tartar and plaque, reducing bacteria that cause serious illnesses, such as heart disease. Using digital x-rays allows the veterinarian to see under the gumline, a crucial step in preventing future dental problems.

After the cleaning, your veterinarian may apply a barrier sealant to help repel plaque-causing bacteria. This high tech – low cost – sealant gel is easy to continue at home and will help prevent further build up of plaque and tartar.

Home care is a vital part of maintaining your pet’s dental health. From routine brushing to special water additives and chew toys, your veterinarian can help make caring for your pet’s teeth easier. Some foods are even designed to help remove plaque build-up! The best news? These products not only remove plaque, but help to minimize bad breath. For some pets, they just might be lifesavers as well.

Heart Disease in Cats

As cats get older, problems with their heart, kidneys and other organs can occur. The most common diseases affecting aging cats are cancer, renal or kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism (disease of the thyroid gland), dental disease and heart disease. Cats age seven times faster than humans and examinations done by your veterinarian twice a year can help detect diseases earlier when they can still be treated. Diagnostic tests such as blood work, ECG, ultrasound and blood pressure monitoring can help detect problems earlier.

The most common heart disease that occurs in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM occur more frequently in cats, and is considered rare in dogs. HCM is an acquired heart disease that affects the walls of the heart causing them to become abnormally thick. As the disease progresses the pumping capabilities of the heart reduces. The ventricular heart muscle eventually gets thicker and stiffer and decreasing the ability to contract to push the blood out as it should. The narrow heart chamber holds a smaller volume of blood, so less blood is pumped out of the heart with each beat of the heart., This results in the amount of blood that once filled the heart is less than it should be and the heart muscle can’t contract as well to move the blood out of the heart into the body. The heart now has to pump faster and harder than normal to keep the blood flowing throughout the body. The resulting pressure begins to back up the blood into the lungs causing edema and congestion and eventually leads to congestive heart failure.

Sometimes, the faulty heart will have changes in the conduction system that tells the heart when to contract. This some times causes arrhythmias and can result in sudden death similar to those found in some of our young athletes that collapse during practice.

Cardiomyopathy can also cause feline aortic thromboembolism or FATE. Occasionally, blood clots can dislodge and clog the arteries going to the rear legs. The thrombus (blood clot) causes a loss of blood flow to the rear legs resulting in sever pain, paralysis and possibly death,. This condition is commonly called a saddle thrombus. About 40% of the cats can recover from a saddle thrombus with expensive and intensive therapy and may regain use of their legs over time. However, these cats still risk developing another episode and still suffer from the primary heart condition.

Cats are very good as masking underlying physical problems so early detection is key to helping these cats live a full life. A fat and lazy cat may be hiding a heart condition. Of course not all fat and lazy cats a have heart disease, and exams by your veterinarian can help detect disease if it is present. Laboratory tests, such as, EKG, blood pressure monitoring and ultrasound can help the veterinarian diagnose heart disease. The thickened walls of the heart can be seen with ultrasound and is a screening tool for cats as well as our young athletes.

Medications can help cats with their heart function, reduce the edema in their lungs and may help reduce the blood clot formations. The prognosis for a cat that has already developed the congestive heart failure is guarded, and even with medication, survival rates are 12-18 months after diagnosis and sudden death can occur at any time.

Develop a wellness plan with your veterinarian for early detection and diagnostics. By detecting diseases earlier, small changes in diet or medications can help your cat live longer.