Pet Oral Health
By Brent Honcharenko
When Manny, a senior miniature poodle, was brought to Ruff Start Rescue (RSR) and placed with his foster, Sue LaBore, she said the poor condition of his teeth was the first thing she noticed when she lifted his little cheek. LaBore, who has been a foster for over two decades, said she called RSR’s small dog manager and a veterinarian appointment was scheduled.
“His teeth were terrible and his breath was horrible,” LaBore said. “They had to remove all but two of his teeth.”
According to RSR Veterinarian Dr. Hillary McCulloh, routine oral health care is extremely important for our pets. She said it’s just as important for them as it is for humans.
“Plaque and tartar contain a lot of bacteria, and since there is such a great blood supply to the mouth, this bacteria gets into the bloodstream very easily,” Dr. McCulloh explained. “Once in the bloodstream that bacteria affects the overall health of all the major organ systems, especially the heart and the kidneys.”
Simply put, Dr. McCulloh says if your pet’s teeth are left untreated, it can potentially lead to serious health effects including heart and/or kidney disease.
“Oral health care includes regular teeth brushing, ideally daily as plaque reforms on the teeth every 24 hours, and regular Comprehensive Oral Health Assessments and Treatments (COHAT) by a veterinarian,” Dr. McCulloh added. “While your veterinarian will examine your pet’s teeth at each annual exam, a COHAT is a procedure performed under anesthesia. Most pets need their first annual COHAT after about 2-3 years of age, but some of the smaller breeds may need them done as early as 6 months and repeated every 3-4 months for optimal health. At home, routine teeth brushing decreases the frequency that these procedures need to occur.”
Dr. McCulloh is passionate about this type of pet care and further explained that if oral health care is neglected, inflammation of the gums will occur due to the presence of the bacteria. She said as the gums become inflamed they start to pull away from the tooth roots and the exposed roots become infected. This process is called Periodontal Disease and it is very painful for your pet. If left untreated, the disease will continue to progress until the animal’s teeth will either fall out or need to be extracted. In some cases, especially in small breeds of dogs, this can eventually lead to them losing all of their teeth.
But don’t forget about the cats. Cats also have a unique disease where the inflammation from the Periodontal Disease, causes the body to attempt to resorb the teeth. Dr. McCulloh said this is a very painful process as it is slow (occurs over several months to a couple years) and involves the slow formation of holes in the teeth.
An unfortunate but real-life example of Periodontal Disease is Manny. When asked how Manny adapted to not having any teeth, LaBore said he ate soft food and had a wonderful appetite. LaBore said she’s fostered senior dogs in the past who have little to no teeth, so this wasn’t a new experience for her.
From who knows where, to an animal shelter in St. Paul, to RSR, and then to foster LaBore’s house, Manny just needed a soft, comfortable, permanent place to land, and he found that with his adopter Marian Norberg. Like LaBore who fosters small, senior dogs, Norberg has a history of adopting senior dogs, and Manny fit that bill.
“I’ve had senior dogs before with no teeth. With the proper type of food, they do just fine. Plus, Manny has a great appetite. He eats soft, canned food and he likes the chicken and vegetable mix. He also likes the salmon, but it really stinks,” Norberg said, laughing.
Manny was part of RSR’s Seniors-For-Seniors Program. This program lets seniors adopt senior animals for only $65. Norberg likes to adopt senior dogs because, she said, they need a good final home and she enjoys them. She added that senior dogs are easier for her, too, because they’re slower (she laughed) and already trained.
Despite his poor oral health condition, it’s RSR’s pleasure to report that Manny is in a good place with Norberg and is doing well. He definitely found his soft, loving landing spot.
To the rest of us, Dr. McCulloh reminds us to begin a daily oral health routine with our pets. It is that important.