Tips for Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

Periodontal disease affects many dogs that do not receive appropriate preventative dental care. It is divided into four stages depending on the severity of disease. Minerals within your dog’s saliva become stuck to his or her teeth and harden to form dental calculus. This causes inflammation of the gums, which can weaken the periodontal ligament that holds each tooth in place. Bacteria can then gain entry to the tooth roots, resulting in loose teeth and root decay. This can become painful for your dog, especially during meal time. A foul smell permeating from your dog’s mouth can also provide a clue that something is amiss.

If you suspect there may be an issue within your dog’s mouth, a visit to your veterinarian is recommended. If there is only mild dental calculus present, at-home dental care may be started to prevent progression of disease.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure your dog’s teeth stay fresh and clean.

  1. Brush their teeth! In most dogs, tooth brushing is actually quite simple. Enzymatic toothpaste specifically designed for dogs is available online or at pet stores. Brushing once daily before bedtime can remove food and plaque from their teeth so that it doesn’t calcify overnight.
  2. Use a dental rinse. This involves simply squirting some rinse into both cheeks so that it contacts the teeth. These rinses typically contain chlorhexidine as an ingredient which reduces bacteria that can lead to gum disease. Although less effective than brushing, it is a good option in some dogs.
  3. Give them a dental chew. Rawhides or Greenies are great for scraping the plaque off of teeth as your dog chews them. Just be diligent about supervising your dog so that a large piece is not swallowed which could be a choking hazard or cause an intestinal blockage.
  4. Feed a large, dry kibble. There are specific diets formulated to reduce plaque buildup on teeth, but feeding any dry kibble is beneficial. The large pieces scrape against teeth as your dog chews, which can remove any unwanted plaque before it calcifies.
  5. Get a professional cleaning. Some veterinary hospitals offer dental radiographs (x-rays) where the doctor can get a good look at what may be happening beneath the roots. A close visual examination is also performed while your dog is under anesthesia which can detect early gum disease and diseased teeth. These teeth can be extracted, and scaling can be performed to remove built-up calculus. The results of a professional cleaning are pretty amazing!

Dental disease is something that often goes unnoticed by pet parents until it progresses to a severe state. By implementing these simple steps, you can ensure your dog’s mouth stays as healthy as it can be!

Wait…my dog has fleas?!

Summer is upon us, and that means more pets are arriving to the animal hospital with allergies and corresponding clinical signs.  Oftentimes, their itchy skin and hair loss is related to fleas. These small parasites are frequently found outdoors and can jump on your dog while he or she is sunbathing, taking a walk, or playing ball. An allergic reaction to the saliva can occur in sensitive dogs when a flea bites, leading to intense itching, hair loss, and inflamed skin. This can be incredibly uncomfortable!

If your dog is experiencing itchy skin or losing hair, it is best to see a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam. A flea comb will be used to identify any live fleas or flea dirt (feces of fleas). The most common distribution of hair loss and inflamed skin secondary to flea allergies is on the rear end near the tail base and down the hind legs.  Absence of fleas or flea dirt does not necessarily rule out flea allergy dermatitis. When your dog goes outside, a flea can still jump on, bite, and trigger a reaction. However, the flea will not stick around and cause additional issues if your dog is current on monthly prevention.

Flea prevention is essential year-round to prevent infestations and these secondary signs in your dog. Products that work to kill fleas and ticks rather than repel them are preferred. A couple products in this category include Bravecto or Credelio. In addition, using a household cleaner specifically formulated for fleas will help eliminate any infestation present within your dog’s home environment that can wreak havoc. This is an essential step in resolving the issue. Be sure any other pets in your household are also up to date on flea prevention! Fleas can be difficult to treat due to their extended life cycle. However, this is a treatable condition with a good prognosis. For dogs that are particularly itchy, anti-histamines or steroids can be given to provide relief while any fleas are being eliminated.

Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

I have been seeing numerous patients suffering from allergies recently. Environmental allergies are seasonal and occur most commonly in the spring and summer when there is an abundance of pollen and other allergens. This condition is medically referred to as atopic dermatitis.  

First, it is important to differentiate atopic dermatitis from food or flea allergies. To learn more about these other allergies, you may read my previous blog post. Atopic dermatitis usually affects a dog’s belly, paws, muzzle, or ears. Dogs suffering from this condition are usually brought to the animal hospital because they have started to itch, lose hair, or chew their paws. Additional presenting complaints may include watery eyes, sneezing episodes, or malodorous skin. Common environmental allergens are pollen, dust, molds, hay, and grass, among others.

There are specific tests available through your veterinarian to pinpoint the exact allergens your dog is sensitive to. One test is serological and consists of submitting a blood sample to detect antibodies against more than a dozen potential allergens. Intradermal skin testing is also an option, which consists of injecting a small volume of allergen within the skin and assessing whether any swelling or redness results.

Many treatment options are available to provide your dog relief from allergies. In dogs that are only mildly affected, antihistamines or medicated shampoos may be effective. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine, and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are all commonly prescribed antihistamines but be sure to get veterinary guidance before administering anything to your dog. These medications reduce the histamine response that occurs from allergies but must be administered frequently to maintain their effect. Medicated shampoos can have anti-inflammatory, anti-pruritic, and antimicrobial properties. Often, they are used in combination with another therapy.

Steroid injections can provide immediate relief from itchy skin and inflammation. The relief is usually short-lived and lasts about two weeks. Steroid injections should not be given repeatedly because they have a wide array of side effects. However, they can provide relief while you determine a long-term treatment strategy.

Two medications–Apoquel and Cytopoint— have been specifically formulated to combat allergies. Cytopoint is a subcutaneous injection that starts working within 24 hours and lasts 4-8 weeks. It is very safe and works to block a specific inflammatory cytokine involved in the itch pathway. Apoquel is an oral medication that also targets the itch pathway and begins working within 4 hours. Monitoring bloodwork with long-term use of Apoquel is recommended.

In severely affected dogs, immunotherapy injections may be recommended. They can provide long-term relief since they slowly build up tolerance to specific allergens. This therapy consists of a series of subcutaneous injections that each contain increased doses of the allergen. Injections are continued until an adequate dose is given to provide immunotolerance. This means your dog’s immune system will no longer react to the allergen causing issues. The goal of this therapy is similar to that of vaccines, which primes the immune system against certain disease.

The prognosis for dogs affected by allergies is good, but it can require lifelong treatment to reduce clinical signs and ensure your dog is comfortable.

Help! My dog won’t stop scratching his ears.

One of the most common reasons for a dog’s visit to the veterinary hospital is ear issues. Pet parents notice their dogs will not stop scratching their ears or that there is a foul smell permeating from them. So what exactly does this mean? Dogs, especially those with floppy ears, commonly get ear infections that cause pain and irritation. If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, a visit to the veterinarian is warranted.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough ear examination using an otoscope. This device is used to look deep down into the ear canal to visualize the ear drum and the internal ear canal. A dog’s ear canal is “L-shaped,” which means that when you flip your dog’s ear up and see the canal, you are only seeing half of it. Debris can get stuck deep down in the internal ear canal which can provide the perfect dark, moist environment for bacteria to harbor and cause infection.

After examination, your veterinarian will collect a sample of the ear debris using a cotton swab. Then, that sample will be pressed onto a glass slide, stained, and examined under a microscope. Yeast and bacteria can be identified and quantified using this method. There should be rare to no bacteria and yeast present within your dog’s ears normally. If there is an abnormal amount of these organisms present in the sample, an ear infection is diagnosed and treatment is discussed.

Treatment consists of topical antimicrobial medications instilled within the ear. Ear cleaners are often provided to use at home to remove excess debris as well. Typically treatment is required for 7-10 days followed by a recheck to ensure the infection has fully resolved before medication is discontinued.

Uncomplicated ear infections are usually very easy to treat, but if the infection becomes persistent, it can penetrate the inner ear and cause complications. If you suspect your dog may have an ear infection, it is best to schedule a veterinary visit sooner rather than later.

Understanding Canine Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism in dogs occurs when there are decreased levels of thyroid hormones present within the body. It is common in middle-aged to older dogs. These hormones are important for maintaining heart rate, a healthy hair coat, energy levels, ideal body condition, and normal body temperature.  

What causes it?

The pituitary gland secretes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce T3 and T4 (thyroid hormones). When there is a problem along this pathway, low levels of thyroid hormone can occur. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is lymphocytic thyroiditis, which means that the immune system is attacking the thyroid gland and causing inflammation and destruction. Atrophy of the thyroid gland may also occur as dogs age. A tumor within the pituitary gland that prevents TSH from being produced is another possible cause, but it is much less common than primary thyroid disease.

What are the clinical signs?

Since thyroid hormones are important for metabolism, dogs typically experience weight gain despite a normal diet. Hypothyroid dogs will often have fat accumulating along their hind ends, shoulders, or neck regions. Low heart rate, lethargy, and abnormal hair coat (shedding, hairless areas, dandruff, thickened skin) are often found. Hypothyroid dogs also cannot regulate their body temperature as efficiently and are often heat-seekers.

How is it diagnosed?

Often, this disease is detected through annual wellness bloodwork when T4 levels are checked. If results indicate a low T4, hypothyroidism should be considered. However, many non-thyroidal illnesses can cause low T4 levels so it is important to decipher these based on clinical signs and additional testing. In dogs where hypothyroidism is suspected due to a low T4, a comprehensive thyroid panel is submitted. If the values in this panel match what we would expect to see in a hypothyroid dog, your veterinarian can make the diagnosis. High cholesterol and high triglyceride levels are often found on bloodwork as well.

What is the treatment?

Treatment consists of supplementation of thyroxine (T4). This is a relatively inexpensive medication that is given orally every day. Hypothyroid dogs must be regularly monitored while receiving this medication to ensure the dosing is appropriate to maintain normal thyroid hormone levels.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis is generally good for dogs receiving supplementation. As long as regular monitoring is performed via bloodwork and veterinary visits, most dogs can go on to live normal lives.  

Cat Vaccines

There are far fewer vaccines available to cats compared to dogs. We will discuss three of the most common vaccines given. Two of these are considered core vaccines, and the other one is specifically for at-risk cats.

Core Vaccines

Rabies
The rabies vaccine is given to kittens between 12-16 weeks of age. The first vaccine is good for one year, and each booster is good for either one or three years thereafter depending on the label. This disease is the same in cats as we see in dogs. It is transmitted through the saliva of an affected animal and results in severe neurological disease leading to death.

FVRCP
This vaccine protects against three diseases, which include Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (herpes), Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia (feline distemper). The first dose is given between 6-9 weeks of age followed by boosters every 3 weeks until 16 weeks of age. It is boostered again at one year and then every 3 years thereafter. Feline herpes and calicivirus both cause upper respiratory disease and eye or oral lesions. Feline panleukopenia is a severe, but very uncommon disease in cats today. It causes gastrointestinal and neurological disease.

Non-Core Vaccines

FeLV
The FeLV vaccine is the most common non-core vaccine we consider for cats. It can be given to kittens or adults, but it must be boostered 3 weeks after. It is only given to cats who are outdoors and considered high risk. Cats should test negative for FeLV prior to receiving their first vaccination because if they test positive, there is no need for the vaccine. Read more about FeLV in cats here!

In the past there had been controversy regarding vaccines in cats due to the added adjuvant that was used to boost the immune response. Select cats developed injection site sarcomas (masses) from these vaccines. Now, vaccines have been developed that do not contain these adjuvants and are less controversial in veterinary medicine today. Your veterinarian will be happy to go over what vaccines he or she uses and any concerns you have at your cat’s first appointment.

Dog Vaccines

Vaccines are administered to prevent specific diseases throughout your dog’s life. Core and non-core vaccines are important to ensure your dog stays protected and healthy!

Core Vaccines

Rabies
Rabies is a zoonotic viral disease that is transmitted through the saliva of infected dogs, specifically when they bite. It causes severe neurological dysfunction and death. It is important that your dog stays up to date on this vaccine to protect him or her. If a dog is not kept up to date on the rabies vaccine and is exposed, he or she may need to be euthanized or undergo strict quarantine for a period of time to ensure the disease was not contracted while susceptible. The rabies vaccine is given to puppies between 12-16 weeks of age. The first vaccine is good for one year.  Every booster after that is good for 3 years.

Distemper (DAPP)
Canine distemper is also a viral disease that causes gastrointestinal, neurological, and respiratory signs. It is spread through bodily fluids, and young, unvaccinated puppies are most susceptible. The distemper vaccine is given between 6-9 weeks of age and boostered every 3 weeks until your dog is 16 weeks of age. We vaccinate so frequently because maternal antibodies are still present in young puppies and can interfere with their immune responses to vaccines. By 16 weeks of age, all the maternal antibodies should have disappeared, and your puppy will have mounted a sufficient immune response to be protected. The distemper vaccine is administered again at one year of age and then every 3 years.

Non-Core Vaccines

Bordetella
Bordetella is a type of bacterium that can cause infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) in dogs that come in contact with each other, such as during grooming, daycare, or boarding. As the name describes, this disease results in upper respiratory signs. It is administered in dogs 10 weeks and older. The first dose is given intranasally for a localized immune response, and boosters are given either intranasally or subcutaneously thereafter. Boosters are done every 6 months-1 year depending on your dog’s exposure level and your veterinarian’s preference.

Leptospirosis
Leptospirosis is a type of spirochete bacterium that is transmitted through contact with infected wildlife urine or puddles. It is zoonotic and most commonly causes kidney and liver disease. This vaccine can be combined with the second distemper vaccine booster or given individually. It is boostered 3-4 weeks after the initial dose and then yearly. It is only given to at-risk dogs.

Lyme
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted by tick bites and causes kidney and joint disease. This vaccine is administered at 12 weeks of age with a booster 3-4 weeks later. It is then given yearly to at-risk dogs.

Influenza
There are currently two strains of influenza seen in dogs. Influenza causes upper respiratory signs similar to what we see in people. It is highly contagious among dogs coming in close contact with one another. The vaccine can be administered at 8 weeks of age and then is boostered 3-4 weeks later. It is then given yearly to at-risk dogs.

What is the SNAP Combo Test for Cats?

Many of you have probably visited the veterinarian’s office where a SNAP combo test was recommended to check for infectious diseases in your cat or kitten. You may have wondered what this test is and why it is important. These tests are usually recommended in your kitten’s first year of life, but can be done at any time if you adopt an adult cat or if your cat becomes ill.

A SNAP combo test checks for Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, which are both lifelong diseases that cause immunosuppression. They are not overly common, but it is best to diagnose these diseases early on since they are contagious and can spread to other cats in the household.

FeLV

Feline Leukemia Virus is considered a “friendly cat” disease because it is most commonly transmitted through saliva when cats are grooming each other or drinking out of the same bowl. It can also be spread through bodily fluids, such as urine, or from the mother during nursing. It is most common in younger cats but can occur in any age. This virus infects the bone marrow resulting in immunosuppression and anemia. Cats infected have a higher risk of developing lymphoma and leukemia.

FIV

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is equivalent to HIV in humans. It is highly contagious and is known as the “mean cat” disease since it is spread most commonly through bites. This disease is most prevalent in young, outdoor male cats. It also causes immunosuppression and predisposes those affected to secondary infections.

There are no effective treatment options for either virus, but supportive care and maintenance of good health can help improve your cat’s quality of life. Both diseases become progressively worse over time. Most FeLV-infected cats succumb to the disease within 2-3 years; however, some cats live much longer with the proper veterinary care. The prognosis for FIV-infected cats is much more guarded, and usually cats succumb to the disease just months after diagnosis.

Vaccination against at-risk cats is important to reduce the prevalence and spread. Cats that are infected should be kept separate from other cats within the household and be strictly indoors for the duration of their lives. Your veterinarian may recommended repeating this combo tested yearly or as needed for at-risk cats.

Why is My Pet Coughing?

Coughing can be caused from a variety of medical conditions. We will discuss the most common reasons why you may have noticed a cough develop in your dog or cat recently.

Heart Disease

Let’s first discuss heart disease, which can be congenital or acquired. Hearing a heart murmur can provide the first clue that heart disease is present. Murmurs occur when there are valvular abnormalities within the heart. Over time, the heart can become progressively damaged and lead to congestive heart failure. If the left side of the heart is affected, fluid may back up into the lungs and produce a wet or productive cough.

Heartworm Disease

Dogs and cats that have contracted heartworm disease may also develop a cough. This can be due to an anaphylactic reaction to heartworm microfilaria or progressive damage to the pulmonary artery and right atrium, where heartworms become lodged.

Lung disease

Parasites and inflammation are a few lung issues we can see in our patients. Coughing may worsen during spring and summer when environmental allergens cause inflammation within the bronchioles (bronchitis). In cats, asthma is fairly common and results in difficulty breathing and a non-productive cough likely secondary to environmental allergens as well. In addition, primary lung tumors or metastatic disease can reduce lung capacity and lead to breathing abnormalities and coughing that may expel blood.

Infection

Dogs and cats can contract bacterial, fungal, or viral infections that may lead to upper respiratory signs. Pneumonia results in lung consolidation and a productive cough, whereas many viruses result in a dry cough. Unvaccinated dogs are at risk for contracting kennel cough or distemper by coming in contact with a virus and/or bacteria. Cats may also develop upper respiratory tract infections due to underlying viral or bacterial disease.

Upper Respiratory Disease

Older, large breed dogs can develop laryngeal paralysis, which is a nerve defect that causes the larynx to become partially closed. This results in noisy breathing and a dry cough. In contrast, small breed dogs are predisposed to tracheal collapse where the cartilage within their tracheas weakens and the lumen becomes smaller. A “honking” cough is characteristic of this disease and can often be elicited upon tracheal stimulation.

As you can see there are many possible causes of the coughing that is occurring in your pet. Your veterinarian can perform diagnostics, such as bloodwork and chest radiographs (x-rays) to determine the underlying cause and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.

What is Feline Hyperthyroidism?

Middle-aged and geriatric cats are frequently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Pet parents often first notice a change in their cats’ behaviors or significant weight loss, which can be clues that this disease may be present. With early detection, we can begin necessary treatment and prevent secondary complications.

What is it?

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your cat’s thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone (T3 or T4). Usually, a benign enlargement of the thyroid gland, commonly referred to as an adenoma, is the cause. Rarely, a malignant thyroid tumor may be present. It is unknown what causes this enlargement to occur.

Thyroid hormone affects many of the organ systems, especially the heart and kidneys. If too much thyroid hormone is secreted, your cat’s metabolic state kicks into overdrive and can cause systemic damage.

What are the clinical signs?

Weight loss despite a ravenous appetite is often the first sign that pet parents notice. Hyperactivity, increased thirst, increased urination, and an unkempt hair coat are also common. When your cat presents to the veterinary hospital, he or she may have an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a palpable enlargement of the thyroid gland. If the thyroid hormone is increased severely, some cats may also have abnormal heart rhythms.

Hyperthyroidism causes increased perfusion of the kidneys (due to the high blood pressure), so kidney disease can also be masked in untreated hyperthyroid cats.

How is it diagnosed?

If your cat’s veterinarian suspects that hyperthyroidism is present based on a thorough physical exam, he or she will listen carefully to your cat’s heart and take a blood pressure measurement. Blood will be collected to check overall health, including a serum chemistry panel and T4 levels. A urinalysis may also be submitted to check for any concurrent illnesses. If an abnormally high T4 level is detected, hyperthyroidism is diagnosed. In rare instances, some hyperthyroid cats have T4 levels within the normal range. If your veterinarian still suspects hyperthyroidism based on appearance and clinical signs, additional diagnostic testing may be warranted in this case.

How is it treated?

There are several treatment options to consider, including a diet change, medications, surgery, or radioactive iodine therapy. Sine iodine is essential in producing thyroid hormones, switching your cat to a low-iodine diet may decrease their T4 levels. This is usually reserved for very mild cases of hyperthyroidism or in patients where other treatment options are contraindicated. Most often, cats are started on a medication known as methimazole, which prevents the thyroid from producing hormones.  Less commonly, surgery to remove the thyroid glands or radioactive iodine treatments to destroy the thyroid gland is used. Your veterinarian can work with you to choose the best course of treatment.

Are there any complications?

Cats with hyperthyroidism are at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. If high blood pressure is left untreated, cats can develop retinopathies that may lead to blindness. Treating hyperthyroidism may unmask kidney disease in some patients, which may require additional treatment. With surgery and radioactive iodine therapy, some cats may actually become hypothyroid and require thyroid hormone supplementation. Regular bloodwork and monitoring, despite the therapy chosen, is recommended to ensure cats are well-managed and living happy, healthy lives.