Since the onset of Covid-19, we more of us are at home working. This has given us time to see and sometimes smell what is going on in our pet’s mouth. For some of us, it has been a rather rude and smelly awakening. Pet parents around the world are starting to realize their pets need their teeth brushed!
In a recent Q & A with Dr. Dia McPherson-Hurt from Tuskawilla Oaks Animal Hospital in Oviedo, we had to get the skinny on just how important it is for pet parents to pay attention to and take preventative measures to make sure their pet’s teeth are in good condition.
WPPC: When should pet owners begin attempting to brush their pet’s teeth?
Dr. McPherson-Hurt: I recommend starting this process when puppies or kittens are young and still have their baby teeth, typically between 10-13 weeks old. This is an ideal period of time to expose our young pets to new things like other animals, people, car rides, etc. without them becoming fearful. So although they will lose their baby teeth, it’s still a good time to get them acclimated to brushing their teeth as well.
WPPC: How often should pet owners brush their pet’s teeth and is that a different answer for different kinds of pets?
Dr. McPherson-Hurt: I will speak on dogs and cats because that is what I primarily work with although every animal needs dental care, from guinea pigs to horses. All animals are capable of developing dental disease, even our wildlife in zoos and in the their natural environment. This is why dental care is one of the primary concerns for zoo/exotic veterinarians.
As far as our small companion animals are concerned, daily brushing is the gold standard but I have found that at least 3 times a week may be sufficient for those of us who may forget to do it daily (like me!) I always remind owners to compare themselves to their pets. Humans are supposed to brush twice a day every day to have optimum oral health so imagine if we never brushed and how disgusting our mouths would get. All of us would have really bad dental disease and would be in a significant amount of pain. I recommend trying different flavors of toothpaste to see which one your pet likes the best. There are minty flavors but there are also meaty flavors like chicken or fish for our feline friends. I know that sounds gross for toothpaste but the point of the paste is to remove bacteria from the surface of the tooth, not necessarily “fresh breath” that we look for as humans. Focus on the outer portions of the teeth and be gentle when brushing. Most pets are not going to allow you to brush the inner or occlusal surfaces. You can use a regular toothbrush or a “baby toothbrush” (the rubber ones you put on your finger). The toothpaste should be fluoride free and foam free since our pets can’t spit it out. Dental treats, chews, and water additives may be beneficial as well.
WPPC: What is the long term effect of not brushing your pet’s teeth?
Dr. McPherson-Hurt: Horrible dental disease which can lead to pain, tooth loss, abscesses and the possibility of oral bacteria spreading to other places in the body. Even when owners take really good care of their pets teeth we usually still clean their teeth periodically. Sometimes there is dental disease below the gum line at the root that you can’t see just by looking at the teeth superficially. A dental prophylaxis every few years is a good idea to get a full picture of your pet’s oral health. This is done under a safe anesthetic protocol tailored to your pet. Dental x-rays are taken to assess for any changes with the roots of the teeth. We check for any oral masses or abnormalities and then the teeth are scaled and polished just like when a person goes to the dentist. If a good dental regimen has happened at home the hope is that no teeth will need to be extracted, BUT if there is a significant amount of bone loss causing a loose tooth then it’s best to remove the diseased tooth.
We do NOT recommend anesthesia free dentals for several reasons. Please visit the website of the American Veterinary Dental College to learn more about why anesthesia free dentals are NOT advised at afd.avdc.org. This website also has other resources for owners about dental health for pets.
It is clear that pet parents must be proactive in the dental health of their cherished pets. Each February, Winter Park Pet Concierge tries to lend a helping hand to local veterinary hospitals, groomers and play camps by donating toothbrushes so that they can be given out pet parents. It is one way that we contribute to the communities we serve.
Recently I wrote a blog about summer pet grooming tips, but I wanted to revisit the subject after having several conversations with pet parents about unfortunate mistakes they’d made when grooming their own dog or in the requests they made to their groom. Most people seem to just think that that dogs should have most of their shaved off for the summer months and that will do the trick. The truth is pet hair grows in seasonal cycles. In the winter, the hair lies close to the skin, but in the summer it fluffs up allowing them to regulate their internal temperature more efficiently. Hair overexposed to air can tickle the dog’s skin and cause itching and scratching. I was able to investigate fact from fiction while spending some time interviewing the wonderful staff of The Dirty Dog in Winter Park, Florida.
For some pet owner’s they are not even sure how to find a groomer or how to easily get their dog to willingly go. According to groomer Sue Johnson, “Get a referral.” Someone you trust might be able to suggest a good groomer. Visit the location for a tour to make sure it is clean and there is proper equipment being used. You also want to ask what their disciplinary practices are. Let’s face it, some dogs aren’t as thrilled as we are to go to the groomer. But, there are ways to prepare pets for a trip to the groomer. Groomer Nicole Deornfeld explains, “Regular brushing and combing will help. Touching their feet and touching their ears will also help.” Pets that have little exposure to physical contact are not regularly brushed or are not use to having anyone touch all parts of their body will be more likely to resist a groomer.
If you are the brave type and choose to groomer your pet at home, there are some things to consider. Even though you are at home, you still need to avoid common mistakes owner’s make. The biggest mistake made according to Christine Patrick is owners don’t brush their dogs before they wash them. This is recipe for an exhausting grooming session. Dirty fur plus water equals knots. Dogs and cats alike must have their coats brushed out prior to washing or it will tangle. The second biggest mistake is when owners try to cut out matted fur and end up cutting their pet. A matted coat often covers over unseen skin. Trying to cut it before brushing it out can lead to an expensive trip to the vet. Even before the wash, an owner needs to consider whether or not their pet has any allergies. And, at the end of the wash, be sure to rinse twice to be sure all product residue is rinsed away and don’t forget about your flea prevention. The summer time is the season where you see a significant increase is flea activity.
Another mistake is using the wrong equipment. Using your husband’s clippers to shave your dog could be disastrous as they are not made for pets. “You’ve gotta’ have proper equipment,” says Johnson. Clippers meant for human hair can burn dog’s skin as the instrument heats up during use. Pet parents also make the mistake of towel drying their pets with bath towels. Usually, this significantly increase the probability that their pet is still going to smell bad even though they were just given a bath. If a dog or cat is not dried quickly, they will retain that dirty dog or cat smell. Towel drying is simply not an efficient way to dry an animal unless they are a small short haired breed. Blow dryers work best, but I don’t mean the kind you find in our bathroom. The wattage of a human hair dryer is too low to quickly dry off a dog or cat. The wattage of a pet groomer’s hair dryer is significantly higher and can dry dogs and cats much faster, and in doing so reducing the scent of the animal.
How much time and money you spend on a groomer often depends on whether or not you have a low maintenance or high maintenance breeds. Pit bulls, Dobermans, Whippets, Italian Greyhounds and even Jack Russel Terriers are lower maintenance and could get away with going in for regular nail trims and an occasional de-shedding. When asked which breeds require the most amount of maintenance, the staff of The Dirty Dog echoing behind Christine Patrick said “Doodles!” Higher maintenance breeds such as Doodles, the Standard Poodles, the Maltese, the Shih Tzu, the Bichon Frise, the Great Pyrenees and other breeds are going to need to see a groomer often. Their coats get matted easily and can result in lengthy, tedious grooming appointments.
The most important tip given was to “Brush, brush, brush!!!” Christine Patrick could not stress this enough. It cuts down on matting, helps with shedding and can be quite enjoyable to many pets.
As the spring has passed away and the heat of the summer arrives, temperatures start to rise and the humidity can be become unbearable. Even though the heat can be brutal, it tends drive families out of their homes looking for summer fun. They often take their pets with them. Dogs and cats alike release heat by panting, so the hotter the temperature, the more they pant in an attempt to balance their internal temperature. Exposure to excess heat from hanging out in soaring temperatures in a car, on the beach or at the park can make it impossible for them to move heat out of their bodies.
Dr. Hess from the Winter Park Veterinary Hospital in Winter Park, Florida took the time to answer a few common questions in regards to animals and the summer heat.
Can I just shave my dog’s hair/fur to keep him cool during the summer months?
No, fur acts as insulation against heat and cold. Dogs don’t sweat out of their body so shaving doesn’t allow for evaporative cooling. It’s also worthy to note that their coat is also a barrier of protection against skin scrapes and rashes from twigs, grass stickers and other things lurking in bushes or on the ground.
Should I put sunscreen on my dog’s skin?
Yes, on the nose and belly only. These areas have little to no fun/hair and can keep those areas from getting sun burned.
Sometimes I’m just running a quick errand, can I leave my dog in the car for just 15 minutes?
NEVER LOCK A DOG IN A CAR FOR ANY PERIOD OF TIME 15 minutes can be too long.
Can we roll the window down and let our dog hang her head out of the window to stay cool?
No, dogs can get foreign material in their eyes. There are also other factors. If a driver suddenly steps on the brakes while a dog has his head hanging out of a window, the dog’s neck can be broken from the impact that will result. Dogs can even be crushed from airbag deployment in the case of an accident. Many dogs will attempt to jump out of the vehicle. Dogs should be properly restrained in a vehicle with the air conditioner running.
Which dog breeds are more susceptible to heat exhaustion or heat stroke?
Brachycephalic breeds like pugs, bull dogs and French bull dogs. There are other dogs that are susceptible to the heat:
- older dogs
- sick dogs or those with a compromised immune system
- obese dogs
- puppies because they haven’t mastered thermal regulation
If my dog or cat gets over heated, how do I cool them down?
Use a tepid water bath, not cold, and then see a vet. Dogs can temporarily improve but have serious, fatal issues later from complications due to overheating. If you think your pet is suffering from heat stroke, see a vet immediately. It is thought by many to just pour ice water over a pet to cool them, but this can cause shock. Blood vessels vasoconstrict and reduce the ability for proper blood flow causing them to exert too much energy trying to cool themselves down.
SIGNS OF HEAT EXHAUSTION
- Dry or purple gums
- Rapid panting
- Red or droopy eyes
- Foaming or profuse salivating (drooling) at the mouth
- Extreme lethargy
LESS KNOWN TIPS ABOUT PETS AND HEAT
- Pay attention to your pet’s paws. Dogs, cats, mice and other animals have sweat glands on their feet. If they are leaving wet paw prints, they are sweating. They will need to stay hydrated.
- Smaller pets such as bunnies, hamsters, rats and other smaller furry friends should be kept in cages or enclosures that are kept off of the ground. This will keep it cooler and help with air circulation. They also need to be well groomed. Long-haired hamsters and bunnies can use a summer trim to help.
- Horses should be kept in the shade and protected from flies. They also need to keep their feet hydrated and monitor their muzzle so it doesn’t burn them.
- Shorten dog walks during the hot summer months. That afternoon jog can cause problems. They can get plenty of exercise in the house without the heat.
If you are going to help your pets beat the dog days of summer, take preventative measures so your pets are fully protected.
Spring is saying its goodbye and summer is coming fast. Dealing with your dog’s matted coat or your cat’s shedding hair can be tough. It can feel like it is literally raining dog hair or cat hair. Is it a battle to groom your pet? Is it too much of a hassle to bathe your pet? Well, there are ways to navigate the difficulty of bathing and grooming.
Here are some tips for a successful grooming session:
- Make sure you use the right size tools while grooming.
- Have a pet with sensitive skin issues? Look for a shampoo that has oatmeal as an ingredient, as it is very soothing.
- Proper rinsing is important to ensure that all of the pet shampoo is fully cleansed from your pet’s fur. If not, the remaining shampoo can cause excessive dryness to your pet’s coat.
- Have a white pet? Purchase a shampoo that’s specially formulated for them, so that their coat will not have a dingy or yellow tint to it.
- Keep your pet’s toenails trimmed properly. This is where you’ll need to do your research so you don’t hurt them.
- Remember that certain breeds have special needs during grooming. Pugs, Bulldogs and other flat-faced dogs require specific attention to their facial area. Baby wipes work well to clean the wrinkles.
- Check the ears to make sure there is not too much build up. If you pooch like to swim, make sure the inside of the ear is allowed to dry so they don’t develop swimmer’s ear.
- Always check between the toes. They are a hiding place for grass stickers, ticks, foxtails, cone heads etc.
- Run a flea comb through to make sure there are no surprises.
- They might not like it, but brush their teeth. Also gently brush the gums as well.
- Be careful not to trim the coat down too far. You pet’s coat gives them built-in air conditioning. It also protects again sunburn, stickers, sprigs and other things.
- Always remember to brush your pet! Brushing ensures a healthier looking coat, removes dead hair, and stimulates the skin; plus, most pooches and kitties love it.
- If you decide you cannot do this, seek a professional groomer. Sometime you just have to pay for convenience.
If you have any grooming tips that have worked for you, add them to the list? We’d love to hear from you!
Embark On Pet Health
Make sure your veterinarian knows of these specific needs, as well as your groomer, if you decide to retain professional services.
These suggestions are great for creating and maintaining a healthy routine for your dog.
Food and Nutrition– Let’s face it. It’s hard not to give your dog treats from the table when they are staring at you with those big, sad eyes begging for food. But feeding your dog table scraps can be a bad habit. Too many foods that humans eat are dangerous for dogs causing upset stomach, gas, diarrhea and possibly a costly trip to the vet. Always check with your veterinarian before giving your dog human food. It is important to maintain a solid nutritional regiment. Some human foods can actually be healthy.
Exercise– Pets can be very active, especially puppies, and we should take the initiative to become actively involved with the exercise maintenance of our pet. Especially for larger and more active breeds, exercise is almost a necessity or your pet will become bored, get separation anxiety and possibly begin destructive behaviors. With any outdoor activity, such as walking or running, always make sure your pet is on a leash. Eventually, you may possibly want to mix up walking/running with hikes or bike rides. Playing fetch or ball is also a great bonding technique.
Train Your Dog! – Come on folks, spend the money. It is worth its weight in gold to get a trainer for potty training proper behavior and socialization. Far too many pet owners end up wanting to find a new home for their pets because they failed to get proper training to break habits like:
- Tearing up furniture
- Licking or biting
- Excessive barking
- Humping on guests
- Stealing food
Techniques learned during training can be reinforced by playing games and teaching new tricks. Having a well-mannered dog can significantly increase the happiness of your home.
Visit the Vet– Taking your pet to the vet ensures the longevity of your pet’s health and life. Your veterinarian also provides routine tests, vaccinations, and a physical exam that your pet needs. Always maintain monthly or yearly check-ups with your pets and don’t ignore new lumps and bumps that might appear as your dog ages.
Don’t Forget the Pearly Whites– Just like we have to brush regularly, so does your dog. Brushing your dog’s teeth, gums and tongue can insure that your dog does not get a case of ‘yuck mouth’. Plaque and tarter build up can make your dog’s breathe smell like death, not to mention cause gum disease and other very serious issues. Use an old toothbrush to combat bad breath. A regular soft adult toothbrush for large dogs and a baby toothbrush for smaller dogs will work. You may also use a finger brush (although they do not work as well); dental chews and water supplements to make your dog’s dental care easier. Start slow and build up. Brush in a circular motion. Try brushing the top teeth one day and the bottom the next. Be sure to use toothpaste intended for dogs and fluoride free since fluoride is toxic to dogs.
Do you ever wonder why you cat poops in places other than their litter box? Or maybe your cat digs around but never actually goes in the litter box? Do they void the box like the plague? If this is the case, here are some tips that might inspire your cat to use their own litter box rather than your hardwood, tile or favorite carpet.
- Make sure the litter box is clean! Felines are incredibly fussy about their living space being clean. If there are two cats in the home, there should be two litter boxes. The litter should be scooped daily and the their entire box cleaned out at least once a week.
- Privacy please! While you want your cat to have easy access to their box, definitely keep it away from their food and water in a low traffic area in the house.
- Use your nose! It seems like today you can buy everything scented. Just because that wild berry scent smells good to you doesn’t mean your cat is going to like it. Try an unscented clumping litter.
- Many of the fancy new boxes are now covered, but your cat might find it to be scary, especially if you own another cat or dog that sneaks up behind them. A covered litter box could make them feel trapped because there is only one way in and one way out. A covered box could also contribute to the consolidation of strong odors.
- Size does matter. A standard litter box is perfect for a kitten, but it might not be suitable for a large tabby cat or Maine Coon. Larger cats need extra large litter boxes. And, you might have to think outside the box (literally). According to Arden Moore, author of Fit Cat: Tips & Tricks to Give Your Pet a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life, giant cats need larger litter boxes more comparable to a sweater storage box with higher sides. Conversely, a kitten, senior or special needs cat might need a box with lower sides.
These are basic tips to improve your cat’s litter box culture, but if it doesn’t, seek out a veterinarian. There could be a hidden medical condition that needs attention.
Moore, Arden: Fit Cat: Tips & Tricks to Give Your Pet a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life