Let’s talk about foxtails! No, not the back end of a fox… the annoying weeds that are everywhere in the Sacramento area this time of year!
A foxtail is the seed of a common grassy weed. When it dries out, the seed has a very sharp tip that is perfectly angled to work its way into fur, between toes, and basically into any crevice on an animal’s body. We’ve removed them from eyes, noses, throats, and pretty much everywhere else! Once it’s wedged in, the foxtail can pierce skin and actually work its way around in the animal’s body. It can lead to pain, irritation, infection, or, in very rare cases, death.
When a foxtail is in an ear or nostril, the veterinarian may be able to remove it with the help of a light sedative. This may be accomplished during the course of an appointment, or your pet may need to stay a few hours. If the foxtail is embedded under the skin or has migrated, the procedure may require a general anesthesia. In this case your dog will likely need to stay in the hospital for a half-day or longer to allow time for preanesthetic labwork, IV catheterization, surgery, and anesthesia recovery. He or she will probably need to take it easy for the rest of the day or night, but should return to full activity in a relatively short time frame. In most cases pain medicine, antibiotics, and e-collars will not be necessary, but your veterinarian will let you know if they are appropriate for your dog.
Avoiding foxtail injuries can be accomplished by recognizing foxtails, eradicating them from the environment when possible, and doing your best to avoid them on walks in environments that you can’t control. In your own yard, pull all weeds when they are still green – before they have a chance to dry out. Take your dog to mowed parks when possible, and keep them leashed and out of tall weeds when necessary.
If you are going hiking or camping, or cannot avoid foxtails for other reasons, it is important to look for them every time your dog comes in from outside. Check between toes, in armpits, and in any very hairy areas. If long-coated dogs are to be exposed a lot, consider having them shaved for ease of removing seeds. If they are keeping their long coats, brush them regularly and try to inspect the skin to make sure it is smooth, unbroken, and weed-free. Signs that your pet may have a foxtail will vary greatly, depending on the body part affected, but may (or may not!) include sneezing (with or without blood); shaking or tilting the head; sudden, excessive scratching of the ears; swollen or weeping eye; or swelling of any body part.
If you suspect that your pet may have a foxtail stuck in his or her skin, eye, ear, or other body part, it is time for a visit to your vet. The sooner the foxtail is removed, the less damage it can cause and the more comfortable your dog will be.
This case illustrates the reasons why anesthetic-free “cleanings” are actually bad for your pet’s health. (A few details have been changed to protect Jasmine’s identity, but the facts of her dental disease and treatment are accurate.)
Jasmine’s mother loves her dearly, and wanted to do everything she could to keep her pet healthy. After a professional Oral Assessment, Treatment and Prevention (Oral ATP) procedure a few years ago, in which Jasmine needed a tooth extraction, her mom started taking her to an anesthesia-free “dental” practitioner. She was hoping to keep Jasmine’s teeth clean, and to avoid losing any more teeth in the future. For two years, Jasmine went monthly to have her teeth “cleaned,” until the practitioner referred her to us with a loose tooth.
The loose tooth was Jasmine’s large premolar on her upper right side. This is a very important tooth for chewing, and one we want to preserve if at all possible. We started our procedure with a thorough oral examination and X-rays.
During the examination, we saw that most of the teeth were fairly clean on the surface, except for the little molar on her left side, which was completely surrounded by tartar. X-rays revealed advanced infection and bone loss around this tooth, which was also affecting the large premolar next to it. The loose premolar on the right also had advanced periodontal infection, and the molar behind it was missing.
The logical conclusion is that the molar on the right became infected (much like its counterpart on the left), and then fell out, but not before causing extensive damage to the bone surrounding its neighboring premolar. The right premolar and left molar had to be extracted; the hope is that the left premolar can now be preserved and kept healthy.
Now, why do I consider this to be a failure for anesthesia-free “cleanings”? As shown in the picture below, it’s very hard to see the last molar from the side.
Because it is so hard to visualize, it is nearly impossible for an anesthetic-free “cleaner” to remove the plaque and tartar from it. However, by removing the tartar from the visible teeth, the anesthesia-free procedure was giving Jasmine’s mom a false sense that her pet’s mouth was healthy. Trusting that the anesthesia-free practitioner would let her know if any teeth were at risk, she continued to have the procedure done until a tooth was loose—way too late to do anything to save it. If Jasmine had had an Oral ATP sooner, we would have identified the problem molar and removed it, which could potentially have saved her larger and more important premolar.
Anesthesia-free practitioners are unable to fully evaluate your pet’s teeth—that requires anesthesia, visual examination of each tooth, and X-rays.
Don’t be fooled by any claim to the contrary!
With the growing availability of medical marijuana in California, we have been seeing a significant increase in the numbers of dogs that become intoxicated with marijuana. The two most common means that dogs become intoxicated with marijuana are either ingesting the plant directly or eating baked goods with the plant baked into it.
Dogs appear to be very interested in the smell of marijuana and will go to great lengths to get at it once they smell it. The effect on dogs is based on how much they eat and their size. It takes much less marijuana to cause problems for a small dog than a larger dog and even something as small as the used end of a marijuana cigarette is enough to cause problems for a small dog. For baked goods with marijuana cooked into them, dogs seem to be much more sensitive and need to get into much smaller quantities to cause problems.
The signs of marijuana intoxication in dogs start with sleepiness and a wobbly gait and progress to leaking urine and finally coma and possibly death. When treated quickly and appropriately, almost all dogs will make a complete recovery, usually in a day or so.
If you notice any sudden signs of your dog becoming weak or lethargic, especially if it’s accompanied by difficulty walking, you should bring your dog to the hospital as soon as possible. Even if you don’t think your dog could have had access to marijuana in the house, we have seen dogs pick it up at the park or on a walk and then start acting abnormally. A quick urine test will be able to quickly determine if marijuana is to blame and then treat your dog appropriately.
Our goal with chew toys is to get the maximum, safe enjoyment for a reasonable price. For some breeds, a stuffed toy may last a lifetime, while others might destroy it in 15 minutes of fluff-tossing fun. Get to know your dog’s chewing style by observing his/her play closely with any new type of toy. If your dog is an “assertive chewer,” opt for toys on the tougher end of the scale. If he/she is “soft mouthed,” you can purchase almost any dog toy you see.
Please note that every dog is different, and a toy that works well for one pet’s needs might be dangerous for another. Regularly inspect your dog’s toys, and discard any that have pieces missing, sharp edges, or any other hazard.
|Toy||Things to Note|
Usually, no one would give their dog a rock to chew on purpose, but it’s surprising how many dogs like to carry and toss rocks. Teeth can be worn down to the gum line or fractured by rocks, and many pets have swallowed them, requiring surgery. If your dog is a rock-hound, discourage the practice by removing as many as you can from the environment, and providing other toys and activities.
Recommended for: No one
Natural bones are appealing for dogs, but they are one of the most-frequent reasons for pet injury and illness. Shards of bone can be swallowed and damage or block the digestive tract, requiring surgery. Bones are also one of the most common causes of tooth fracture.
Recommended for: No one
Similar to natural bones, antlers are apt to cause tooth fractures in assertive chewers. They also can be broken into shards, or chewed to a dangerous, sharp point.
Recommended for: No one
Hooves are softer than bones, and less apt to form dangerous points and shards. They can, however, contribute to tooth fractures in assertive chewers.
Recommended for: Soft to Moderate Chewers
Nyla-Bones® are among the hardest of the manufactured products, and are responsible for tooth fractures in many assertive chewers. They may also be chewed to a dangerous pointed shape over time. Make sure to observe the toy frequently, and replace it if it is being sharpened or chunks are being chewed off. Harder chewers should opt for the Gumma-Bone® line, which has more springiness.
Recommended for: Soft to Moderate Chewers
|Sticks (Natural and Manufactured)
Dogs love to play with sticks, and they are generally safe for teeth. Sharp points can be dangerous, and you should keep an eye on your dog to be sure he or she isn’t swallowing parts, or running with the end of the stick pointing into his or her mouth.
Manufactured sticks are made of wood pulp and other non-toxic materials, molded into a stick shape. They are intended to be durable and safe. I have not personally had any experience with these toys, so the jury is still out on their safety for teeth.
Recommended for: Most Chewers: monitor play
Kong® toys are very durable, and survive even most assertive chewers. The various colors indicate their toughness, with black being the strongest. They are not intended for consumption, but several styles come with treat-insertion sites, to add interest and value for your dog. In my personal experience with toy-destroying dogs, the Kong® toys last the longest, although the satisfaction of total obliteration is lacking.
Recommended for: All Chewers
|Firm Rubber Toys||
Various other manufacturers make firm rubber toys, which may be durable enough for most chewers. Some even come with indentations and other shapes to help scrub plaque off the teeth when chewed. Monitor your dog’s play to be sure the toy is standing up to abuse, and not being ingested.
Recommended for: Most Chewers: monitor play
Tennis balls are great fun but, from a dental standpoint, they are not always good for pets. The furry coating is very abrasive, especially if the ball goes outside and picks up dirt and grit. Many dogs who love to carry tennis balls wear down their teeth, sometimes so severely that they require extraction. Assertive chewers can remove the covering and may swallow it, often requiring surgery. Use tennis balls for interactive play, and wash them frequently. Offer a firm, rubber ball for solo play.
Recommended for: Interactive Play, not solo chewing
|Soft Rubber Toys||
There are a dizzying variety of soft rubber toys, and they are generally safe for teeth. Make sure you choose one that can withstand your pet’s play without breaking up or losing a squeaker. Move up the scale to firm rubber or a Kong® toy if your dog can damage a soft rubber toy. (And find all the loose squeakers!)
Recommended for: Soft Chewers
The various braided thread or braided material toys are good for removing plaque from teeth, and are designed to break apart into short lengths when chewed vigorously, so that if bits are swallowed they will pass through without causing any problems. However, some assertive chewers can pull off large tufts of threads, and could be at risk for blockage. Keep an eye on the toy to be sure that it maintains its integrity—if it starts to look ragged, or knots are coming undone, replace it.
Recommended for: Most Chewers: inspect frequently
It’s a great idea to manufacture a chew toy that can be destroyed (fun!) and safely swallowed, while helping to remove plaque from teeth. For many dogs, Greenies® fit this bill. However, assertive chewers can break Greenies® into large pieces and swallow them, which can lead to intestinal blockage and surgery. If you use Greenies®, make sure to choose the recommended size, and observe your dog’s chewing closely. If he or she is swallowing large pieces, discontinue offering these chews.
Recommended for: Soft to Moderate Chewers: monitor
The consistency of rawhide is safe for teeth, but there are other issues to consider before offering rawhide toys. Some pets cannot tolerate ingesting rawhide, and may become ill or vomit pieces. If your dog swallows large hunks, he or she could become obstructed and require surgery. Many rawhide manufacturers use harsh or toxic chemicals during the process, which could potentially remain in the product. If you want to give rawhide, read the label and look for assurances that the product is made safely and is toxin-free. Monitor play and remove the toy if your dog is eating large bites.
Recommended for: a Qualified Recommendation for Most Chewers: monitor
|Pig Ears/Bully Sticks||
Many of the byproducts of animals used for human food are produced for the pet market. These are intended for slow consumption, and are usually a safe option for chewing. Read labels and choose products that are reliably manufactured, preferably in the USA or Canada, where we have strict standards on pet food products.
Recommended for: All Chewers
How many times have I stood in the stuffed toy aisle, marveling at the adorable and funny variety! How lucky are those soft-mouthed dog parents, who can take pictures through the years of their dog with a favorite stuffed toy! When I break down and buy a stuffed toy (or any cloth toy, even without stuffing), I am resigned to enjoying about 15 minutes of dog play before I have to take its parts away for disposal. Cloth toys are not for every dog, and should be monitored frequently for damage (especially if they contain squeakers). They’re safe for teeth, though!
Recommended for: Soft Chewers: inspect frequently
Pets will sometimes experience trauma to their teeth. A few months ago we discussed pulpitis (internal damage), and how to recognize, treat and prevent it. This month, we’ll be focusing on fractured (broken) teeth.
First, a review of the anatomy that will be important:
Teeth are comprised of layers. The outer layer, enamel, is the hardest material in the body. It covers the visible crown of the tooth, and provides a tough shell for chewing food. Under the enamel is the dentin. This layer is thicker—the largest portion of the tooth—and is made of tiny tubes (dentin tubules), radiating out from the middle of the tooth. The central chamber of the tooth contains the pulp, or the nerves and blood vessels that keep the tooth alive and healthy.
When a pet fractures a tooth, the type of fracture (and therefore the treatment required) is determined by which layer(s) are exposed.
|The least serious tooth fracture is the Enamel Fracture. This is a very shallow fracture that does not penetrate the entire layer of enamel. Enamel fractures do not necessarily require any treatment, although the edge of the broken enamel may make the tooth more apt to collect plaque and tartar.
|In a Dentin Fracture, the enamel is completely chipped away and the dentin is exposed. Shallow dentin fractures do not necessarily require treatment. However, remember how the dentin is composed of microscopic tubes leading toward the center of the tooth? If the fracture is close to the pulp, there is concern that bacteria can move through the dentin to infect the pulp, causing pain and possibly an abscessed root.
Teeth with deep dentin fractures should be radiographed, to be sure they’re healthy inside and at the root, then treated with a Bonded Dental Sealant. The Bonded Sealant forms a protective cap over the dentin, to seal the tubules and guard the tooth from infection.
|The most serious crown fracture is the Complicated Fracture, where the pulp of the tooth is exposed. These fractures are usually quite painful when they occur, although your pet will not always show discomfort unless the area is touched with a dental instrument. The open pulp chamber contains the perfect environment for bacterial growth, so complicated fractures should always be treated as soon as possible.
There are three possible treatments for complicated fractures:
· Pulp Capping: If the fracture is very recent and the tooth is still healthy otherwise, the pulp chamber can be sealed with a special material. Teeth treated with pulp capping must be rechecked with X-rays in 6-12 months, to be sure that the tooth stays alive and healthy.
· Root Canal Therapy: Older complicated fractures in teeth that still have good structure left may be treated with root canal therapy. The entire pulp is removed and replaced with an inert material, eliminating infection. Teeth that have had root canal therapy can still be functional for chewing, work and play.
· Extraction: If the tooth is too badly damaged, or if the cost of therapy does not work within the budget, extraction of the tooth is the third option.
Prevention of tooth fractures is always preferable to treatment. As we mentioned in our article about pulpitis, there are several things you can do to minimize the risk of tooth trauma:
Our Dental Department is committed to the treatment of oral disease, and to providing education about preventing tooth loss. Teeth are meant to last a lifetime, and with proper care most pets can maintain good dental health. However, there are some circumstances that result in pets losing most or all of their teeth. Client whose pets require full mouth extraction often have questions about how their pets will fare:
Why do the teeth need to be extracted?
There are several reasons teeth may require extraction, such misplaced teeth, retained baby teeth or trauma. When a pet needs all of the teeth removed, it’s usually due to either:
Will he be in pain?
We do not want your pet to be in pain! During the procedure, he will be under general anesthesia. We also perform “regional blocks,” or application of anesthetic agents directly to the areas around the teeth to be extracted. These local anesthetics last for several hours after the procedure. Most dogs will receive an anti-inflammatory injection, and most cats will get a long-acting pain control injection or patch. We may also send some oral pain medications home with you. Amazingly, most pets will bounce back very quickly from this procedure, but if you feel your pet still seems uncomfortable, give us a call so we can find more options for him.
How will she eat?
Dogs and cats are incredible creatures—most will eat within 24-hours of a major dental surgery! We recommend canned or softened food while her gums are healing (10-14 days). Remove any chew toys and don’t offer any chewy treats. (Hint: To feed softened kibble, place 2-3 meals in a ziplock bag and add water to about the halfway mark. Keep it in the refrigerator to prevent souring, and replenish the supply as needed.)
What can I expect in the long term?
Once your pet’s gums have healed, he or she will be healthier than before, and able to enjoy life without oral pain. You can feed small kibble again, if your pet likes it–pets with no teeth just toss the food back and swallow it whole. Most pets won’t require any further oral treatments, although a small percentage of cats with gingivostomatitis will still have some flare up of symptoms. Your pet can play with toys again, especially the softer toys with non-abrasive coverings. An oral exam should still be part of every veterinary visit, to be sure that all the other tissues in the mouth are healthy.
This can be a life-changing treatment for a pet with severe oral disease, and many people are amazed at the improvement that they see afterward. Don’t be afraid to take this step for your friend, if your veterinarian recommends full mouth extraction.
From Baby Teeth to Adult Teeth: Dental Development in Puppies and Kittens
Puppies and kittens have baby teeth too! They are also known as “primary” or “deciduous teeth”, and under normal circumstances they are replaced by the adult, or “permanent,” teeth as the puppy or kitten matures. If the baby teeth are going to fall out, why do we care about them? Well, if you read our article on Interceptive Dentistry, you know that the teeth do not always come in in the right position, and that we can sometimes help the pet achieve a more normal bite if we catch the problem early. There are some other concerns as well; read on to learn more!
How do teeth develop?
The baby teeth are formed before birth, along with the bud that will grow into the permanent tooth. They “erupt” (move through the gums into the mouth) when the pet is a few weeks old. The baby teeth are small and usually very sharp.
The permanent teeth continue to form inside the jawbone. This is the only time that enamel (the hard outside covering of the tooth) is formed. Once the tooth erupts, no new enamel can ever be added (no matter what toothpaste commercials say!). As the permanent teeth develop, they cause the roots of the baby teeth to dissolve. The baby teeth become loose and are pushed out by the erupting permanent tooth. This process occurs between 4-7 months.
Sounds pretty simple—what could possibly go wrong?
Baby teeth can become damaged and/or infected, just like adult teeth. It’s not uncommon for a baby canine tooth to be broken during playtime, exposing the sensitive pulp. Small breed dogs in particular often have crowded teeth, and periodontal disease (infection and bone loss) can develop around and between baby teeth.
Sometimes the baby tooth root does not dissolve, and the tooth does not fall out when it is supposed to. This is called a “retained” or “persistent deciduous tooth.” These teeth may cause the permanent tooth to be mal-positioned. They also cause periodontal disease, as they crowd close to the permanent tooth and collect debris and bacteria. Since baby teeth are thin and fragile, and it is common for persistent deciduous teeth to break, leading to infection and pain for the pet.
The developing adult tooth can have problems, as well. If anything interferes with the enamel-building process, such as high fever, certain drugs or trauma to the jaw, the enamel may be pitted or may incompletely cover the tooth. This condition is called “enamel hypoplasia,” and can result in discolored and weakened teeth, that may be more sensitive to painful stimuli. Enamel hypoplasia can affect anywhere from one or two teeth to the entire mouth, depending upon the timing and severity of the cause.
What can be done to make sure my puppy or kitten develops healthy teeth?
The number one reason that cats are relinquished by their owners to shelters is for inappropriate urination. While this is a normal cat behavior when threatened, when defending territory, when attracting mates, it is absolutely intolerable to most of their human housemates. Inappropriate urination is such a multi-factorial problem, that this is just an overview of some of the thoughts on the subject.
If you have a cat that is urinating or defecating outside the litter box, it is best to seek veterinary attention right away. The longer the behavior continues, the harder it will be to break. There are also a whole host of different medical reasons that pets may urinate outside of their litter box. These need to be worked up and ruled out before you can focus on environmental factors and improving the cat’s comfort in the house. Some of the medical causes of urinating outside the box are:
Sometimes the medical conditions discussed above can result in a urinary obstruction, which is a life threatening emergency. If you ever see your cat sitting in the litterbox and not producing any urine, take them to the vet right away as pets can die quickly if they are unable to urinate. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend a urinalysis, a urine culture and blood work to rule out these medical conditions that might not be readily apparent on physical examination.
Once those are ruled out, then it is time to work on environmental conditions to make the cat want to use the litter box again.
The sooner you can address a urinary issue, the more likely you will be successful in returning your cat to using the litter box and to stop the undesired behavior.
What do your teeth have to say about your diet?
You can tell a lot about an animal by looking at the type of teeth it has. The different shapes of teeth are adapted to different uses:
Incisors are the flat, chisel-shaped teeth in the front of the mouth, and are used for cutting food. Animals which eat primarily plants (“herbivores”) often have very prominent incisors. Because plants are very fibrous and abrasive, they can wear teeth down. Some animals, such as rodents and rabbits, have incisors that continually grow throughout their lives, to enable them to gnaw tough foods.
Lots of animals besides dogs have canine teeth—even us! They’re located just behind the incisors. The canine teeth of “carnivores” (meat eaters) are very long and prominent, allowing them to grasp food powerfully. “Omnivores” like humans and other primates, who eat both meat and vegetation, often have shorter canine teeth. Herbivores often have no canine teeth at all.
The next type of tooth is the premolar. Premolars are located behind the canine teeth. They usually have pointed surfaces, intended to tear food. As a rule of thumb, carnivores have pointier premolars; herbivores and omnivores, who use their premolars to chew plant material, have more flat, grinding surface on their premolars.
Molars are the teeth in the back of the mouth, and are the major tool for grinding food. Molars are much more necessary for animals who must chew up plant material, so many carnivores have few or small molars. Some herbivores, such as horses, have very sturdy molars with deep ridges of enamel, allowing them to continue eating a very abrasive diet, even while the plant material wears away at the chewing surface.
What kind of diet do you think the animals below are adapted to?
Prominent Incisors—Rabbits and Horses are HERBIVORES!
Sharp Canine Teeth, Sharp Premolars, Tiny Molars—Cats are CARNIVORES!
Sharp Canine Teeth AND Grinding Molars—Chimps are OMNIVORES!
What about Dogs? Dogs have Sharp Canine Teeth and Sharp Premolars, but they also have Grinding Molars. Although dogs are usually considered CARNIVORES, they have the ability to eat some plants as well, allowing them to adapt to a more varied diet than cats.
Armed with the info above, what conclusions can your draw about this animal?
[Answer: This is the skull of a bear. Bears have prominent canine teeth and plenty of chewing surface on their premolars and molars, so are OMNIVORES.]
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