Pet Connection

Dental Dilemma

How to take the fear -- yours and your pet’s -- out of pet dentistry

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

My parents have a 12-year-old toy poodle named Spike whom they love dearly. Spike is as cute as he can be, but boy, does he have bad breath. My dad won’t get his teeth cleaned, though, because that means putting him under anesthesia, and he’s afraid Spike will die.

That’s a common fear. Many places try to counter it by offering non-anesthetic dental cleanings. In other words, they scrape the visible plaque and tartar off the teeth. And it’s not like the recent dental cleaning I had, which involved lying back in a comfy chair and watching Anthony Bourdain eat his way through Sicily. Pets must be restrained during the process, which can be distressing for them, or even cause injury if they squirm at the wrong moment and are accidentally jabbed with a sharp scaling device.

Pet dentals are done under anesthesia for many reasons. The aforementioned squirming, for one. Anesthesia ensures that pets remain still and don’t experience fear, pain or discomfort during the procedure. Besides reduced pain and stress for pets, anesthesia allows the veterinarian to better perform a complete examination of the mouth, clean tooth surfaces thoroughly, get beneath the gumline where bacteria hide, and take X-rays of teeth to ensure no damage or infection is lurking.

By the numbers, anesthesia is a low-risk procedure. The risk of death associated with general anesthesia in both healthy and sick dogs and cats is approximately 1 in 500, says Bruno H. Pypendop, DVM, a professor and veterinary anesthesiology specialist at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. In the case of healthy animals, the risk drops to 1 in 2,000.

“Many factors have improved anesthesia safety over the years,” Dr. Pypendop says. “These likely include drugs with more consistent and predictable effects, better knowledge of the effects of drugs on vital function, better ability to monitor and therefore prevent or treat abnormalities and better pre-anesthetic screening.”

Your pet won’t have the option to watch Animal Planet while he’s worked on, but pre-anesthetic blood work ensures that he doesn’t have any underlying health conditions that could be affected by anesthesia. Monitoring of blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, body temperature and other vital signs during the procedure helps all pets stay safe and comfortable.

“More advanced equipment for monitoring pets during anesthesia allows for thorough assessment of the pet’s status during the procedure,” says Cheryl Blaze, assistant professor of anesthesia at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “There has also been increased emphasis on continuing education training for technicians to increase their skills.”

Sedation beforehand, in the form of drugs such as trazodone or gabapentin, help him relax before the procedure, and a local nerve block minimizes pain if extractions are necessary. Long-acting medications provide pain relief after the procedure.

Why the assortment of drugs? Pain travels the body through multiple pathways and involves different neurotransmitters and receptors. Using a combination of medications, known as multimodal pain management, ensures that as many routes of pain to the brain as possible are blocked.

If your pet is a senior or has health problems, your veterinarian may consult a specialist in anesthesiology about the best ways to minimize risk and manage pain.

“Even older animals can be safely anesthetized when a thorough pre-anesthetic evaluation and dedicated monitoring during anesthesia are consistently done,” Dr. Blaze says.

Ask to see a practice’s anesthetic safety record. There is always some risk when a pet (or person) goes under anesthesia, but advanced anesthesia drugs and techniques used help to ensure that all goes well.


Does aspirin help

pets with pain?

Q: Is it OK to give my pet aspirin if he’s feeling sore or stiff?

A: I don’t recommend it. In an acute pain situation, a veterinarian may prescribe aspirin for a dog, or you may know someone whose dog or cat is taking aspirin, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea for your pet.

For an explanation of aspirin’s risks, as well as when it might be used, I turned to Tina Wismer, DVM, a veterinary toxicology specialist and medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

She says aspirin can be problematic in pets who are on medications that could interact with the aspirin and increase the risk of side effects.

“Long-term, we like to go with medications that are a little safer and that tend to have fewer side effects,” Dr. Wismer says.

Vomiting is the most common side effect of aspirin seen in dogs. Stomach ulcers are a potential but less common side effect. Dogs who break into a bottle of aspirin and swallow a lot of tablets run the risk of liver failure and seizures.

Cats are more sensitive to aspirin than dogs because they don’t metabolize it as quickly, but it does have at least one beneficial use for them.

“In cats, the most common use for aspirin is actually heart problems, and veterinarians prescribe aspirin for its anti-platelet effect -- basically, so your cat doesn’t get blood clots,” Dr. Wismer says. “But the dosing in cats is very different, and they only get a dose every couple of days.”

Any time you want to give your pet an aspirin, check with your veterinarian first for two reasons: to make sure you’re giving the correct dose and to make sure it’s indicated for what’s ailing your pet. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Cats have preferred

paw, study says

-- Take a look at your cat next the time he or she is reaching for a toy or patting your face to wake you up. Which paw is being used? A study of 44 cats at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, found that female cats tend to be right-pawed and males left-pawed. Does it really matter? Surprisingly, the information may help you determine how your cat deals with stress. Researcher Deborah Wells, Ph.D., says limb preference might be a useful indicator of vulnerability to stress. “Ambilateral animals with no preference for one side or the other and those that are more inclined to left-limb dominance seem more flighty and susceptible to poor welfare than those who lean more heavily toward right limb use,” she says.

-- Nearly 80,000 people have signed an online petition to urge that pet food become an approved purchase with food stamps, reports Caitlin Dewey in The Washington Post. The rationale? People on a fixed income often share their own food with their pets, meaning they don’t get enough to eat and their pets may not be getting a balanced diet. Supporters say it would save money by keeping pets out of shelters. The change would require Congressional action, so don’t expect to see it any time soon.

-- Flying through Canada’s Calgary International Airport? Feeling frazzled? Keep an eye out for a tabby named Taz wearing a red vest emblazoned with the words “Pet Me.” Taz is one of a team of pet therapy cats and dogs who visit the airport regularly to provide snuggles and stress reduction to passengers and employees as they wait in long lines or deal with flight delays. Some 50 airports in North America have therapy pets patrolling the premises, including Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver and San Jose, California. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


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 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 or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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