Pet Health At Home: Vet Advice for Pet Owners – by Helen M. Evans, DVM

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending a small seminar held at the Mesa Library last night. The lecturer was Dr. Helen M. Evans, DVM who specializes in veterinary dentistry, and practices out of Family VetCare in Chandler, AZ. She grew up on a small farm in Western New York surrounded by animals, and Helen knew early on that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She received a bachelor’s in Animal Science at Cornell University in 2004, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Ross University in 2008. Because she specializes in dental care, we learned so much valuable information about the oral health and hygiene of a dog. She stated that “Every pet will have dental disease at some point in their life.” I’d like to share some key points that we learned that I believe are very important for pet owners to know. Dr. Evans also covered Arizona Pet Hazards, which covered hazards and treatment options for those who own pets in Arizona. I will write about that in my next blog.

Check the mouth and teeth regularly. It doesn’t have to be a chore. Starting early and doing it often will help the dog accept it as part of their routine. Look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal on dental products. This means that it has been scientifically tested for results.

Brushing is the Gold Standard when it comes to home dental care. Just like our teeth, preventive care is the best option. Brushing your dog’s teeth removes plaque, and prevents plaque from turning into tartar. Tartar is mineralized plaque, like cement on the teeth. Once tartar is on the teeth brushing is not as effective. The mechanical act of brushing is more important than the toothpaste! This is something that I needed to know. I’ve been telling my clients that you don’t have to brush as long as you get the toothpaste in the dog’s mouth – or on the teeth. I thought the enzymes in the toothpaste did the cleaning, but that is not true. It is the act of brushing that breaks up the plaque and removes the buildup, not the toothpaste. Make sure to get the back teeth as well by lifting the cheek up to expose all the teeth. Only brush the outside surfaces near the cheeks – you don’t have to brush the inside of the teeth. It’s best to brush 3 times a day, but we should try to brush them at least once a day. Consistency is the key.

Water Additives are good, but it doesn’t penetrate the plaque (biofilm). It’s like using mouthwash but not brushing our teeth and expecting our teeth to be clean. It’s best when used along with brushing. Oral rinses that are prescribed by the vet can help, and are best used after the dog eats because chewing the food helps break up plaque. Dental chews are a good alternative if your dog will not tolerate brushing. It takes advantage of the dog’s natural desire to gnaw on things. This way the natural cleaning mechanisms of the saliva and shearing action helps break up the plaque on the teeth.

Bones break teeth! Bones do damage to the teeth and mouth. Dr. Evans has seen so many dogs come in with broken teeth or wounds caused by bones. She pointed out that wolves in the wild do chew bones, but the life expectancy of a wild wolf is only 5 years. Chew toys are a better option, and the rule of thumb when it comes to chew toys or bones is that you must be able to bend, break or flex it in your hands.

She also gave us a list of Safe and Unsafe dental products for our dogs: 

Safe Toys/Chews: Traditional Rawhide*, Granulated Rawhide, Rope Toys*, Greenies or other consumable dental chews, Rubber Toys (Kong), Plush Toys*.    *always supervise when using these products. They can be a choking hazard if your dog tries to eat pieces of the toy/rawhide.

Unsafe Toys/Chews: Natural Bones, Hard Nylon, Bully Sticks, Antlers, Rocks, Compressed Rawhide, Knotted Rawhide, Tennis Balls.

Dental Diets like t/d, prescribed by the vet, are helpful but it is usually not enough. It’s like eating crackers at night before bed instead of brushing your teeth. Preventative care is much better than having to go to the vet for emergency care. “They’re really good at hiding their pain. You have to be vigilant. Sometimes they’re dealing with serious dental disease that causes a lot of pain, but you’d never know it because they hide it so well.”

If you notice any of the following, it is time to see a vet: Broken Teeth, Loose Teeth, Missing or Extra Teeth, Bleeding Gums, Painful Mouth, Oral Mass, Change in Chewing Habits, Drooling (if the dog usually doesn’t drool), Heavy Tartar Buildup, Bad Breath (usually an abscess in the back of the mouth).

X-Rays and Blood Work are so important because pets can’t talk to us. They don’t say, “By the way, I’ve been dealing with some abdominal pain lately.” Or, “I’ve been having headaches and muscle cramps.” We have to test them to see if everything is ok. Even if they could speak to us, they probably wouldn’t tell us anything because they’re masters at hiding pain!

Non-Anesthetic Dentistry for Dogs seems like a nice concept, but it actually does not promote oral health. It’s literally only scraping the surface because the roots make up 60% of the dog’s teeth. If you’re not able to clean the roots and gums it doesn’t really do any good. Another big reason why it is not as effective as anesthetizing the dog is because you cannot get X-Rays. Without X-Rays we can’t really determine the true state of the dog’s teeth because we can’t see under the gums. Dog’s can’t tell us that they’re having pain in the back of their mouth. We need to test them.

This was such great information, and I’m so happy to be able to share it with you! I will now stop telling people that it’s ok to just get the toothpaste on the teeth. Brushing is more important than the toothpaste! Another thing that was a huge hit to me was that natural bones break teeth. I’ve told so many people to just give their dogs beef stew bones to chew on. I’ve even used the reasoning that the wild dogs and wolves do it so it must be safe.  I was wrong, as I usually am 🙂 That’s why I am so grateful to be able to attend these types of seminars! It’s so nice to finally know that I didn’t know something that I thought I knew, and exciting to know that I’m always learning that I don’t even know what I don’t know. I’m always eager to learn, and equally excited to share my experiences with you. Thank you so much for reading!

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