Ask the Vet: Dr. Dan Anderson

By Shane Lueck February 6, 2014

Categories: Featured - Home Page, Our Lives, Pets

As an ongoing part of Lavender’s Pet Issue, Lavender partners with a veterinarian for a Q&A. If you have a question you’d like answered by a veterinarian, email it to editor@lavendermagazine.com.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Are there any signs of dental disease I should be looking out for that are often overlooked by owners? Is dental care different between dogs and cats?

Many of the first signs of dental disease are missed because most of us do not regularly look into our pet’s mouths. Regular exams by your veterinarian will help you to decide whether your pet needs a dental cleaning. The most obvious sign that there may be dental disease is “bad breath.” Bad breath is never normal, and chances are that they already have some degree of dental disease. To catch problems early, regularly examine your pet’s teeth for discoloration and buildup of tartar or calculus, which is a tan to brown material that accumulates near the gums. Check to see if any of the teeth are chipped, broken or loose. Also examine the gums, looking for redness or puffiness. A swelling or non-healing sore on the face or jaw may indicate an abscessed tooth.

Sometimes behavioral changes can indicate a problem. Reluctance to chew food or rawhides, or fetch a favorite ball, or play “tug of war” may be caused by an injured tooth or other mouth pain. If you see any of these signs, have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian.

Dental care is essentially the same for both cats and dogs. The best way to help prevent dental disease is to brush the teeth. This should be done on a daily basis with a toothbrush or finger brush and a pet toothpaste. Starting when your pet is a puppy or kitten is best. Most older pets will allow us to brush the teeth if we are gentle and patient, and, of course, generous with rewards. When dental disease is already present, brushing may be painful, and a dental cleaning at your vet is recommended before brushing. If you cannot brush your pet’s teeth, dental rinses and tartar control/antibacterial chews can be helpful. Even with regular brushing, most pets older than 2 or 3 years old will need yearly professional dental cleanings…just like humans!

It gets so cold during the winter, making it difficult to go outside. But I still want to make sure that my dog is getting the exercise he needs. How can I do this while making sure frostbite isn’t an issue?

Tolerance to the cold will vary from dog to dog. Many factors play a role in how comfortable your dog will feel. Coat length, body fat, age, health and activity level will all play a role. Long-coated dogs are more tolerant than short-coated dogs. Thin dogs will become colder faster. Elderly dogs, especially those with arthritis, will be more sensitive to the cold. Puppies become colder faster. Dogs with health problems such as diabetes or kidney disease, are less able to regulate their body temperature. A dog who is running or playing intensely will stay warmer longer.

No matter what type of dog you have, outdoor time will need to be limited, and special precautions taken, when cold weather sets in. All breeds of dogs can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite if they are outside too long. Signs that your dog needs to go inside include shivering, lifting paws up off the ground, reluctance to continue walking, chewing the feet, weakness or lethargy.

A sweater or coat will help to keep your dog warm. Booties help keep the feet warm and protect them from chemicals used to melt ice. These chemicals can cause dryness and cracking of the pads. If booties are not an option, you should clean your dog’s paws of any chemicals encountered on your walk. You may need to keep the hair clipped on the underside of the paws to help prevent snow build-up during walks.

Dog day care centers often have a large indoor play area. You may wish to consider this option if your dog is not getting enough exercise outdoors. I once had a client who bought two treadmills, one for him and one for the dog, so they could walk side by side indoors! It worked great for them, and illustrates the fact that sometimes we need to be creative to make it through our long winter.

The take-home message is to pay attention to the temperature, know your dog’s limits, and take the proper precautions to make being outdoors enjoyable for both you and your pet.

I live an apartment, and I’m quite sure my neighbors don’t appreciate all of the barking. How can I keep my pet quieter?

Behavior in dogs is quite complex and may need the attention of your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist. Barking can have different triggers, and therefore different solutions. Anxiety is probably the most common cause. There are some simple things that you may wish to try first.

First and foremost, make sure that your dog is getting plenty of exercise. Some dogs will require much more exercise than others. Always remember, a tired dog is a good dog!

Try leaving on a radio or television. This will reduce the noises your dog hears from outside that may be initiating the barking.

Try giving your dog a rawhide or a toy that can be stuffed with treats before you leave. This may help occupy his or her time.

Ignore your dog for 5 minutes before you leave and when you get home. An emotional farewell and greeting may seem nice to us, but it can cause more distress when you are leaving, and heightened anxiety about when you will return.

Anti-anxiety pheromones work well for some dogs. It is a compound that is secreted by nursing mothers that has a calming effect on dogs. They come in a spray or a room diffuser.

Citronella bark collars can be effective and do not cause any pain to your dog. When the dog barks, citronella is released from the collar, distracting the dog. Shock collars should be avoided, and used only as a last resort. They can actually make the problem worse.

If these measures fail, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You can discuss the possible causes of the problem, and then pursue solutions. You may be prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, given further recommendations, or referred to a behaviorist. Good Luck!

Dr. Dan Anderson graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991.  He is the owner of Larpenteur Animal Hospital.  He and his partner, Mike, have two chihuahuas, Edith and Olive.

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