Pet Connection

Say, 'Ahh'

A painful tooth or other oral problem isn’t always obvious, so it’s important to look deeper for potential problems

Andrews McMeel Syndication

A couple of years ago, I had a pet owner bring in an adult cat because she was meowing differently. That’s not much to go on, but I did a complete physical exam and found nothing. I suggested blood work, which also came back normal. Then I suggested sedation so that we could get radiographs. Again, we found nothing abnormal, so I suggested that we keep the cat and do medical rounds with the rest of the staff. When the three veterinarians and a couple of vet techs gathered and went over the history, we decided to start at the tip of the cat's nose and proceed with another detailed exam. This time, I took a pair of hemostats and gently tapped the cat's teeth, starting in the front. When I got to the cat's left upper fang and barely touched it, the cat just about shot up into orbit. We could find nothing else wrong on the repeat exam. We then did digital dental radiographs and saw that the root of the tooth was abscessed. After we surgically removed the infected tooth, the cat acted as if she had been relieved of incredible pain.

What started out as a different meow turned out to be a serious problem that was relieved only after a lot of detective work. Oral problems in dogs and cats aren’t always visible at first glance. Pets don’t have any way of telling us that something is wrong, and it’s natural for them to hide signs of weakness or pain so they don’t become targets of predators. It’s up to us as owners and veterinarians to be aware of changes in behavior that could signal pain or illness and to look beneath the surface for potential causes of problems. Here are some obvious and not-so-obvious signs that your cat or dog has a painful mouth and some of the conditions that might be causing the problem.

-- Inflamed gums or tartar buildup on the teeth. Your pet may have gingivitis -- inflammation of the gums -- or periodontal disease. Left untreated, gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease, which causes teeth to become infected and loose.

-- Bad breath or a bad smell in the mouth area. Repeat after me: It’s not normal for pets to have bad breath or any other bad odors. In the mouth area, it can signal dental disease or an infection of the lip folds in heavy-lipped breeds such as basset hounds, cocker spaniels or St. Bernards. Bad breath can also be associated with kidney disease.

-- Drooling. This is another sign of periodontal disease, as well as of mouth infections and foreign bodies such as splinters or burrs stuck in the mouth. Bad breath and drooling can also be signs of oral cancer.

-- Change in eating habits. If your dog or cat is reluctant to eat or picks up pieces of food and then drops them, there’s a good chance that the mouth hurts. He may have a broken tooth or a sore mouth from a type of inflammation called stomatitis.

-- Swelling. An abscessed tooth root is filled with pus that can cause swelling beneath the eye or a nasty condition called an oral-nasal fistula that occurs when an abscessed tooth breaks into the nasal cavity, allowing food and water to move from the mouth into the nose, coming back out through the nose. Yuck!

Don’t let your dog or cat get down in the mouth! Examine his mouth monthly for signs of problems such as redness, loose teeth and painful areas. You may need to put your money where his mouth is. He’ll thank you for it!

Q&A

Spay technique offers

option for dog owners

Q: I heard about a new way of spaying dogs that’s supposed to be easier on them than the traditional surgery. Can you tell me more about it?

A: Spay surgery -- technically known as an ovariohysterectomy -- is the removal of the ovaries and uterus through an abdominal incision. It’s usually done when puppies are 6 to 9 months old, although it can be done as early as 8 weeks of age or at any time in adulthood.

The procedure you ask about is called an ovariectomy, and it involves removing only the ovaries. It’s done laparoscopically, meaning the surgeon makes two tiny incisions: one for placement of a small camera so the organs can be seen and one for inserting instruments to remove the ovaries.

Called a lap spay for short, the technique is associated with less pain and a more rapid recovery time than traditional spay surgery. If you’ve had laparoscopic surgery yourself, you probably know how quickly you feel better afterward. The lap spay doesn’t require as much manipulation of the organs, so it is easier to perform. It’s well suited to young dogs because they are usually healthy and not overweight.

The drawback is that lap spays aren’t yet widely available and can be more expensive than traditional spays. Veterinarians who perform the procedure must first undergo advanced training and obtain specialized equipment. Before scheduling your dog for one, ask how many lap spays the veterinarian has performed and what the success rates were.

If you have pet health insurance for your dog, the plan won’t cover the surgery itself, but it may cover the price difference because lap spays usually have fewer complications. It can’t hurt to ask. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Researchers identify

key cancer gene

-- A large epidemiological study published in the journal PLOS One sheds light on golden retriever health. One of the significant findings was the prevalence of cancer in the breed. Out of 652 goldens included in the study, 65 percent died of cancer. The most common type of cancer that affects the breed is hemangiosarcoma -- a type of cancer that invades blood vessels and occurs primarily in dogs. In the future, researchers hope to determine why goldens experience such a high incidence of cancer.

-- Dalmatian puppies look white when they are born. Their spots, which can be black or liver-colored (ranging from a light reddish-brown to a dark chocolate brown), don’t start to appear until they are approximately 2 weeks old.

-- Call us old-fashioned, but we still think books are great gifts. If you are looking for presents for pet lovers, here are some suggestions. “My Life in a Cat House,” by best-selling author Gwen Cooper, is a continuation of her adventures with her feline family of five. The eight stories will leave cat lovers laughing in recognition. In "Smoky the Brave," Damien Lewis tells the story of World War II’s smallest hero: a Yorkshire terrier who earned eight battle stars for her aid to troops on the island of Papua New Guinea, including barking a warning of an incoming attack and pulling a cable through a 70-foot pipe. Adventurer Bear Grylls calls it a heartwarming and uplifting story of tiny paws and stupendous bravery. "City of Dogs" by Ken Foster and photographer Traer Scott tells the story of New Yorkers from all five boroughs and their dogs. In "The Secret Language of Cats," author Susanne Schotz, a professor at Sweden’s Lund University, introduces readers to the full range of feline vocalizations. Publishers Weekly writes, “This lively title will help cat lovers achieve a surprising and animating level of understanding with their house pet.” -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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