One of my resolutions this year is to do a better job taking care of Baxter’s teeth.
February's Pet Dental Month is the perfect excuse to investigate doggie dental care more closely and get a better understanding of why it’s so important.
A long-time friend of mine, Laurie Stevenson, is a registered veterinary technician at our clinic, Clappison Animal Hospital.
Below, she and my favourite vet, Dr. Stephen Longridge, explain how to take care of your dog’s oral health.
Julia Thomson: The newsletter I recently received from the clinic says “A pet's mouth is the gateway to their overall health.” How so?
Laurie Stevenson and Dr. Stephen Longridge: As with people, dental health care is a key element in the overall well-being of our pets. A diseased mouth can lead to disease in other areas of the animal's body.
A healthy mouth enables the animal to eat a healthy diet free of pain, prevents infection from entering the blood stream and can prolong your pet’s life. It’s about both the quality and length of your pet’s life.
JT: What can you tell from looking at a dog’s mouth?
LS & Dr. SL: When examining an animal's mouth we are looking at the teeth, gums, lips, tongue—everything in the mouth. We also take note of areas surrounding the oral cavity including the eyes.
We note the colour and wear of the teeth and gums, any abnormal pigmentation, gum erosion, and tartar or calculus (the really hard debris on an animal's teeth) build up.
Also, we can tell what the animal has been chewing and whether or not they chew more on one side than the other. If one side is used more it may indicate areas of pain or teeth that are loose.
JT: What are common issues you see?
LS & Dr. SL: Loose teeth due to gum recession are very common. Deep pockets around the teeth (gum recession) allow bacteria to grow which in turn leads to infection around the tooth as well as pain and inflammation. The roots of the teeth can become exposed leading to pain, infection and loose teeth. The jaw bone can actually begin to erode due to infection.
JT: Why is it important to get regular checkups that include dental checks?
LS & Dr. SL: If problems are caught before they get too bad then the animal's teeth can be saved and money can be saved as well. It's much better (and cheaper) to prevent problems than it is to fix them once they have occurred.
If dental disease progresses too far, it can lead to more severe diseases, in turn leading to a shorter overall lifespan.
JT: How does tooth care prevent other diseases?
LS & Dr. SL: A diseased mouth allows infection to enter the animal’s blood stream and harm organs. Usually, bacteria do not lead to infection or abscesses in other organs, but they create constant wear and tear on the body. In some cases bacteria may enter the animal’s blood stream causing a systemic infection. This infection can enter other organs causing heart, kidney or liver failure.
JT: What’s the best way to take care of your dog’s teeth?
LS & Dr. SL: The best way to take care of your dog’s teeth (and cat) is to brush daily. This can be very difficult of course, so as much brushing as possible is best.
If you cannot brush on a daily basis, the next best thing is to use chew treats such as CET chews which are specifically made to rub against the pet’s teeth as they chew and thus get rid of tartar. These chews also contain an enzyme which mixes with the dog’s saliva and aids in killing the bacteria in the mouth which causes tartar.
A specific dental diet may also be a good choice. The kibbles are formulated to brush up against the animal’s teeth which chewing. They are also larger kibbles and need to be chewed more than normal kibbles
Finally, additives can be added to your dog’s drinking water. They are similar to mouthwash for humans and aid in killing bacteria.
All these methods can be undertaken to prevent tartar build up which in turn leads to calculus.
JT: What’s involved in a professional dental cleaning?
LS & Dr. SL: A professional dental cleaning is very similar to human dental cleaning. The biggest difference for animals is that they must be under general anesthetic.
The animal is sedated, placed on IV fluids, then put under general anesthetic. A technician begins by cracking off the large pieces of calculus. The teeth are thoroughly examined on all sides and each tooth is individually charted.
Defects such as cavities, fractures, pulp exposure, wearing are all noted. The gums are examined around each tooth for deep pockets where infections start. The entire mouth is examined in detail.
Next an ultrasonic scaler is used to remove all calculus and tartar from the exposed parts of the teeth. Any loose teeth or teeth with exposed roots and bifurcations are noted. A curette is used to clean beneath the gums to remove tartar from under the gum line.
Next the veterinarian examines the mouth and determines if any teeth need to be removed. X-rays may be taken—to be sure of tooth health full mouth dental x-rays should be taken. It is impossible to see what is going on underneath the gums otherwise and problems may go undetected.
The vet will then extract any teeth using elevators. This is the most time consuming part of the dental procedure. Any lumps or abnormal tissue growth are also removed at this time. For large teeth that are removed the gums will be sutured together to aid in healing. An oral rinse helps clean the mouth and kill bacteria. If many teeth are removed the pet may be placed on antibiotics for a time after the procedure.
Once all the extractions are completed and the teeth have been cleaned (scaled), the teeth are polished. Once this has been done the animal is cleaned up and the mouth is rinsed.
The pet is now woken up and recovered before going home at the end of the day.
JT: What’s the most important thing people should realize about dental care for their dogs?
LS & Dr. SL: No matter the breed or diet, each and every dog should have their teeth closely monitored and properly taken care of. Brushing is the best way! Dental care is not just for humans. A healthy mouth means a healthy pet overall and can help them lead a longer and happier life with fewer health issues.
As for the rest of you …
Do the rest of you get regular dental check-ups? How do you take care of your dog’s teeth?
Let us know in the comments!
Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.
Alternatives to brushing a dog's teeth
How to get a dog used to nail trims (similar approach could be used for teeth brushing)
Cleaning your dog's teeth without anesthesia
I can't afford a dental cleaning for my dog
As dog lovers, we know how a dog can comfort, energize, motivate and bring joy. Therapy dogs take those good qualities and spread them around.
One of Baxter's friends, Leto the Great Dane, is a therapy dog. In fact, her owner, Cory Huston, coordinates the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program in Burlington, Ontario. I recently sat down with Cory to ask about her experience in the program.
While St. John Ambulance operates all around the world, its only therapy dog program is in Canada.
Therapy dogs with St. John are active in nursing homes, group homes, schools, libraries and even hospitals (in some areas).
People join because they want to give back to their community and share the joy of their dog with others.
How to join
People self-identify as volunteers. Cory and her team evaluate the dogs before admitting them to the program.
“There is a test involved which takes a couple of hours to see how your dog reacts to other dogs, to people, to noises and distractions—to simulate what would happen in a therapy environment,” says Cory. “We want dogs to be happy doing this work.”
St. John does not provide or require any training for the dogs. However, dogs have to have basic obedience skills and people have to have control of their dogs. Cory explains, “Your dog can't pull you down the hallway of a nursing home.”
A typical visit for a therapy dog
What does a therapy dog do?
Visits can happen one-on-one or in groups. In retirement homes, volunteers may gather in a common room and allow residents to meet and pet the dogs. In nursing homes, they may be assigned particular rooms and patients to visit.
Most shifts are about an hour, and volunteers try to see as many people as possible during that time. Shifts are available in the evening or during the day, depending on volunteers' schedules.
Little dogs are particularly suited for people who are in bed or in wheelchairs, as they can sit in people's laps. Leto, who is a Great Dane, is tall enough for a person in bed to easily pet her.
“All we're doing is visiting. We're there to make them have a nicer day,” says Cory. “The dog is the focus rather than the handler. In fact, most people don't care whether you're there or not. It's all about the dog.”
80% of dogs in the St. John program work in retirement or nursing homes. After a special evaluation, dogs also do sessions in schools and libraries, visiting with classes or helping children with reading. In Paws for Stories, dogs lay on the floor beside children, who then read a story to the dog to help them build confidence in reading.
“I had a little boy and when I first started working with him in the fall, he couldn't read. It took ages for him to read even a word like ‘pig,'” shares Cory. “By June he was reading Marley and Me. Now he always has a book in his hand and he reads his sister bedtime stories. That is why I do it. It's so rewarding.”
Safety for dogs and people
Safety is the first concern in the program. Volunteers are not allowed to move patients in case of falls. Dogs have to stay on leash and the handler has to hold the leash at all times.
“Most of the time I prefer that people don't do tricks with the dogs. Old people's skin is so fragile, and just doing high fives can scratch them,” says Cory.
Handlers need to also take care of their dogs—watching for things on the floor that their dog might eat, people who want to feed the dogs, or children who pull ears or tails. “Sometimes kids tend to be careless,” explains Cory's husband Jeremy. “They'll be sitting with Leto and then they'll jump up, and they'll stand on her foot. I have to be careful that they don't kick Leto by mistake.”
Characteristics for success
The type of therapy depends on the dog. For example, Leto thrives more with children, as opposed to retirement and nursing homes. Dogs have to be well socialized, so that they are comfortable with other dogs, people, noises and situations. Dogs also have to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and in general good health. Therapy dogs should be very self-confident, calm and want to visit with people.
Likewise, the handler has to be calm, personable, friendly and like people. As well, it's important that handlers respect the rules of their therapy dog organization and be committed to completing their volunteer shifts—St. John asks for one hour a week from its volunteers.
Even with the most social of dogs, therapy sessions can be tiring. Leto works for about an hour and a half at a time. “Longer than that and she'll turn her back on people or go lay down under a table. She won't interact with people anymore,” says Jeremy. For a therapy session to work, your dog must be having fun. Pay attention to your dog and know her limits.
Challenges for therapy dogs and their handlers
As rewarding as it is to be a therapy dog, sometimes volunteers encounter challenging situations. With people who have dementia or autism, some days they love your dog, and the next day they don't. People may yell or cry.
“You have to be really careful how your dog reacts when somebody's crying because some dogs just really hate it and get upset and just come over to you and cower. Other dogs want to go over and say what's going on and depending on the reason for the kid crying that may not be the best situation,” says Cory.
Some people have little impulse control and may react physically—one child once punched Leto.
Most of the time, staff at the facility will advise the handlers if they're going into a challenging situation and will often accompany the volunteers and the dogs.
Therapy dogs provide numerous benefits for people they encounter. For staff and teachers, therapy dogs can help them deal with the stress of their jobs. For patients and children, its a fun, calming activity during their days.
And for the volunteers, the appreciation they receive and happiness they bring keeps them committed to the program.
Cory tells the story of being at a nursing home and seeing an elderly gentleman sitting in a chair.
The man's daughter came over and asked if they could bring the dog to visit with her dad. So they took the dog over. The man was just sitting there and then all of the sudden he started to pet the dog and then started talking to the dog.
The daughter burst into tears and explained her dad hadn't spoken in three months. Not a single word.
“He sat there and talked to that dog for about 20 minutes,” says Cory. “That kind of stuff is why I do what I do.”
Have you considered training your dog for therapy work? Do you know any therapy dogs?
St. John Ambulance therapy dog program started in Canada in 1992 and today more than 3,300 therapy dog teams give more than 230,000 hours of their time each year bringing joy and comfort to the sick, lonely and those who need a friendly visit.
Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.
Happy New Year, everyone. It’s my first post of 2017, and I’m sharing some of the goals I have for Baxter and myself for the year ahead.
1. Take a dog training class.
Ongoing training is valuable for our dogs, ourselves and our bond. Classes are a way to try something new and have fun. It’s been awhile since Baxter and I did formal classes together. I don’t know exactly what we’ll try, but I’m looking forward to finding something new for us to experience together.
2. Better dental care.
The best trick we have for taking care of Baxter’s teeth is giving him a soup bone every so often. Chewing the bone chips the tartar off his teeth and keeps them nice and white. However, there are a few teeth where this doesn’t work quite as well, and I’ve noticed some of his gums seem a bit discoloured.
Teeth health is important to overall health. This year, I’m aiming to do a better job of regular tooth brushing, along with the bones.
3. Go back to basics.
Off leash hiking is one of Baxter’s and my favourite activities. However, as I’ve written before, dude has a very big comfort zone and sometimes ventures farther away from me than I like. On our final hikes of last year, he would occasionally choose his own adventure for up to 15 minutes at a time.
Even though I’m proud of how he would eventually come back to me, it always made me anxious when he disappeared. And for the other people we’re hiking with, standing around waiting for him to catch up or even walking back along the trail with me to find him isn’t the most fun.
We’re going to start this year by focusing on basic obedience. Spending time on recall, leash dragging, rules, boundaries and limitations will help to strengthen our bond so that when we return to off leash activities, they’re enjoyable for both of us.
I enjoy setting goals at the start of each year. They help me to prioritize what’s most important and provide a focus the rest of the year.
And what’s most important is lots of time with my dog, experiencing as much as possible and doing fun things together.
Do you have any goals or New Year's resolutions for your dog?
What would you like to focus on with your dog over the next year?
Any suggestions of interesting classes I should investigate?
Shortly before Christmas, my dog Baxter and I took part in one of our favourite holiday traditions: our trainer’s annual holiday hike.
Every December, our trainer invites all her past clients to a local conservation area for a hike. It’s a pretty special experience to be part of—dozens of dogs and people tromping together through the woods.
For Baxter, it’s a gift—new dogs (including a Shar Pei in her sharp coat and a young German Shepherd who knew how to box), new people, being outside, running off leash.
As we celebrate the holidays, I hope that you and your dog can enjoy a special outing of your own. Maybe it’s a hike with some doggie friends, or maybe it’s something different. Or maybe you already have a tradition that you enjoy together.
However you celebrate, I wish you and your dogs happy holidays.
Thanks to Lindsay for letting me guest post and share some of our experiences. And thanks to all of you for reading along. Baxter and I will be back in 2017.
– Julia & Baxter
Julia is a regular writer for That Mutt and maintains the blog Home on 129 Acres.
‘Tis the season for parties. In between planning the guest list, the food, the decorations and all of the other details, it’s helpful to think about our dogs and make sure the party is festive for them as well.
We hosted our annual Christmas party recently, and here are some of my tips to keep your dog comfortable during a party.
1. Make sure your dog has a place of his own.
For Baxter, that meant his bed in his usual corner of the living room—party central. While Baxter is not a party animal, he did want to keep an eye on the festivities.
If your dog is shy, anxious around crowds, nervous around children, aggressive with strangers, overly exuberant, it may be better to put her in a quiet place, like a bedroom or a crate.
2. Let your dog say hi.
Even if your dog prefers to be away from the hubbub of the party, he may still want to know who’s in his house. Have a plan to help your dog and guests meet each other as politely as possible.
It may be hard for your dog to contain his excitement with lots of new people arriving. Leading up to the party, work on proper greeting behaviour. And be aware of who’s at your party. Some people are afraid of dogs. Now is not the time to help them work through their fear.
3. Tell guests that you have a dog.
If your guest list includes acquaintances or people you don’t see very often, it’s polite to let them know that you have a dog when you invite them. My brother-in-law is allergic to dogs. When he comes to visit, he makes sure to prepare with his medication, so that he can enjoy the party.
4. Let your guests know how to interact with your dog.
Some people have not spent a lot of time with dogs or may not be entirely comfortable around them. Telling them, “She really likes it when you scratch under her chin” can help them get off on the right foot with your dog.
I’ve had some experiences where people—usually people who call themselves dog people—grab Baxter by the collar or the tail. They think they’re being funny, and don’t seem to realize the fun is all one-sided. It can be hard to rebuke family or friends, but you need to stand up for your dog. Be calm and polite. Say, “Please don’t do that. Baxter doesn’t like to be held/touched/handled that way.”
5. Be aware of what your dog eats.
The best part of parties is the food—but food can present a lot of issues for your dog. If people are sharing their food, your dog can end up eating way more calories than he needs, having an upset tummy or even ingesting something toxic. Play it safe and tell your guests not to feed your dog. (And make sure your dog doesn’t eat the decorations.)
However, special food can also help your dog to associate the party with goodness. For us, that meant mixing some of Baxter’s favourites—turkey and squash—in with his dinner.
6. Keep everyone safe.
Safety has to be your first consideration in any decision you make for your dog.
It can be simple—watch that wagging tail around the wine glasses—or serious—keep the dog out of the kitchen so that no one trips and spills a hot pot on him.
Baxter can sometimes be a bit growly if strangers pet him while he’s snuggled in his bed. Letting people know that Baxter should be left alone when he’s in bed protects both Baxter and our guests.
The most important part of planning a party is to be real about your dog and what’s best for him. That way, you, your guests and your dog can all enjoy the party.
P.S. A final tip from Baxter: “I told you not to vacuum. Aunt K invited me to sit with her on the couch. And she’s wearing black! Everyone should have fur. Vacuuming is a waste of time—and that machine is not nice.”
What would you add to this list? How does your dog do when you have visitors?
Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres here.
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