Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Beyond the Teeth

Professional cleanings do more than remove tartar and get teeth white

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

My nearly 13-year-old cavalier, Harper, has had some vague symptoms lately that had us concerned about what might be going on with her. After a number of diagnostic procedures and lab work, plus a return to normal behavior and appetite, she was declared to be in good health. Since that was the case, I decided it was a good time to have her teeth professionally cleaned under anesthesia. It had been almost a year since her previous cleaning.

I dropped her off at the veterinary hospital, and received a call from our vet much earlier than I’d expected. “We just started on Harper’s teeth, and there’s a mass on one of her tonsils,” he said. “I’m going to remove it and send it out to pathology.”

That’s the call no one wants to get, but it illustrates the importance of regular dental care for pets. A professional cleaning isn’t just for polishing up fangs and temporarily improving bad breath. Your veterinarian is on the lookout for problems such as tooth resorptions; loose, broken or chipped teeth; areas of inflammation that could indicate infection; orthodontic issues such as missing, unerupted or misaligned teeth; and oral cancers.

Tooth resorptions, in which the tooth is being eaten away from the inside out, are common in cats, although they also occur in dogs. Stomatitis, an abnormal reaction to the formation of plaque on the teeth, is often seen in cats and dogs -- like our other cavalier, Keeper. And chewing on antlers is the No. 1 cause of fractured teeth in dogs, says veterinary dental specialist Jan Bellows, DVM.

“Fractured teeth can be so severe that the whole exposed tooth fractures off, leaving the root showing,” he says.

Broken and chipped teeth are painful. So are teeth that have grown sideways, and ones that are surrounded by large cysts. Teeth that are mobile can cause pets to have difficulty eating. Poorly positioned teeth can interfere with other teeth, or even grow into the jaw. Those are orthodontic issues; your pet won’t get braces, but she might need surgical extractions or a decrease in the height of the opposing tooth.

Oral cancers like Harper’s are more common than you might think. Not all lumps and bumps on skin or tissues are benign, especially in cats. Nine out of 10 malignant oral tumors in cats are squamous cell carcinoma, and SCC is the second-most common oral malignancy in dogs. In cats, SCC is associated with exposure to secondhand smoke, but it’s not known what might cause it in dogs.

Caring for your pet’s mouth is more than just getting annual cleanings and occasionally doing a halfhearted brushing at home. Those don’t do much good if you aren’t caring for teeth and looking at the mouth regularly the rest of the year. Dr. Bellows recognizes that most people don’t brush their pets’ teeth, so instead he recommends daily use of dental wipes. “It’s not what’s in the wipe that’s important; it’s the friction,” he says. He keeps a container of wipes in his TV room, and he or his wife rub their dog’s teeth while they’re watching TV. “The dog knows she’s going to get a treat after,” he says.

Look at your pet’s mouth at least monthly to check for problems. Reward with a treat after every look-see or wipe session. If your pet won’t let you look at her mouth, that’s a clue -- nobody with a painful mouth wants it touched -- as is bad breath. If a pet’s breath stinks, it’s time to go to the veterinarian.

Harper’s mass is malignant, but it hasn’t spread anywhere else, so we hope that chemotherapy and medication will give us more years with her. I’m glad I didn’t put off that professional dental appointment.


What are cat’s

vital signs?

Q: What should I know about determining my cat’s vital signs?

A: Great question! I’m always in favor of people knowing as much as possible about how their animals “work.” Vital signs, which show how well the body is functioning, are temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. Here’s what to know about each one when it comes to cats.

Normal body temperature for a healthy cat ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. To take the temperature, you can use an old-school glass thermometer or spend a little extra and get a digital rectal thermometer that beeps when it’s time to remove it and has an easy-to-read display. Before inserting, lubricate the thermometer with a water-based medical lubricant. Gently and slowly insert the thermometer 1 to 2 inches into your cat’s rectum and leave it in place for about two minutes or until it beeps.

Call your veterinarian if your cat’s temperature falls below 99 or rises above 103, or if you see evidence of blood, diarrhea or a black, tarry stool on the thermometer.

To determine your cat’s heart rate, place your hand on his left side, just behind his front leg. You should feel the heart beating. Using a watch with a second hand, a stopwatch or an app on your smartphone, count the number of beats during 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get the beats per minute. A cat’s heart rate ranges from 140 to 220 bpm. Check with your vet if it is slow, fast or irregular.

Take your cat’s respiratory rate while he’s relaxed and standing. Count the number of breaths for a full 60 seconds. Normal feline respiratory rate is 20 to 30 breaths per minute. Call your vet if the rate is faster or if your cat is panting. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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China dogs are

popular design trend

-- Artists have been modeling dogs in clay for thousands of years, but perhaps the most well-known clay canines are the Staffordshire dogs, which began to be produced in English factories in the 18th century. We tend to think of the highly collectible painted figurines as spaniels, but the artists produced a variety of breeds, including pugs, setters, pointers, Dalmatians, poodles, deerhounds and greyhounds. Some Staffordshire dogs were given glass eyes, thought to add a touch of realism. They came in the commonly seen red and white, but also in black and white, or white with splashes of blue, yellow, green or brown.

-- Lymphoma is the most common cancer in domestic cats, and prior to the development of a vaccine, the most common cause of feline lymphoma was feline leukemia virus. Any cat that spends time outdoors, including cats who live indoors but occasionally get out, should be vaccinated against FeLV. Vaccination programs have reduced the rate of FeLV-associated lymphomas by more than 50%, says Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. When bringing a new cat into your home, test her for FeLV before introducing her to your other cats.

-- What color is your dog? Don’t say plain old “brown.” Depending on the breed standard -- the “blueprint” for each purebred dog -- dogs don’t come in plain brown wrappers. Instead they might be sable, beige, fawn, mahogany, Isabella, tan or chestnut. It makes you wonder whether the people who come up with the standards have a background in interior design or work in the marketing department of a paint manufacturer. And who was the genius who came up with “chocolate” Lab versus the, er, colorless character who decreed “liver” for English springers? -- 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, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets 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.