Three Pearls For Pet Health

By Teresa Garden, DVM

After thirty years of practicing veterinary medicine I realize there are a few problems that affect most of our pets. Preventing or treating them will vastly improve a pet’s quality of life and longevity as well. Lack of good grooming, periodontal disease and obesity are the three evils afflicting most pets.

Overlong toenails can significantly decrease quality of life for dogs and cats by making every step they take a painful one. Humans are plantigrade-we walk on our feet. Dogs and cats are digitigrade-they walk on their toes. Imagine how painful that could be with overlong nails or nails that have become ingrown into the footpad. Often, pet owners may not recognize this problem-especially in long haired breeds. So it is important to part the hair and inspect your pets feet and nails and pads on a regular basis. Check the bottoms of their feet to make sure there are no lesions or injuries or impacted cat litter. Visual inspection is key to discovering long toenails. We can also “hear” the problem in dogs. If your dog walks across tile or hardwood flooring and you hear the nails go “click click click” then they are too long!

It’s best to train pets when they are young to accept nail trimming. Practice holding your puppy or kitty’s paws daily. Paws are defensive weapons. Pets will not naturally allow you or your veterinarian to hold their toes or feet. They must be trained slowly, gently, and patiently. Buy nail trimmers appropriate for your pet’s size. If your pet will not allow nail trimming at home, a groomer or your veterinarian’s office can provide this service. Nails should be trimmed every 8 weeks. Seniors and geriatrics need nails trimmed more often since their nails grow faster and get thicker as they age.

Older pets with long hair may need extra grooming care. Cats may no longer groom themselves and may develop painful severe hair mats. Long haired pets should be brushed and combed daily to prevent hair mats. Pay close attention to the anal area. Keep this area clean and devoid of fecal mats. Make sure hair around eyes is kept short and free of discharge and mats. Some of our older pets become too irritable to groom at home. Seek professional care from your groomer or veterinarian to help these “special needs” cases. Older dogs may benefit from “puppy cuts” and cats from a “lion cut” shave down.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. Eighty percent of pets greater than 5 years old have the disease in some form. Periodontal disease includes gingivitis and periodontitis (loss of alveolar bone and the periodontal ligament). Gingivitis is reversible. Periodontitis is progressive and irreversible if the disease process is not controlled. Small and toy breeds are at increased risk to develop dental disease due to genetics. Senior pets are also at risk. Poor nutrition when young (such as strays or orphans) will increase the risk to this disease. Periodontal disease can lead to pathology in the kidneys, liver, and heart. Pets can sometimes be in pain from cracked or broken teeth that may not be apparent to the pet parent or the veterinarian. Pets in pain may be more irritable and exhibit a decrease in appetite and activity.

What can you do? Have your veterinarian perform a good oral exam yearly for younger pets and every 6 months for older pets. Dental cleanings under anesthesia should be performed if dental disease is found. Then brushing the teeth daily will help slow down disease going forward. Anti–plaque gels or rinses can be used along with brushing. Feeding high quality foods will help to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. Chew toys can also help slow down progression of plaque and calculus. It’s very important that pet owners look in the mouth to see if teeth are clean or dirty. Pay particular attention to those back molars since that is the first place calculus starts. Train your puppies and kitties when young to allow oral exams and tooth brushing! They will reap the benefits when they are older!

Obesity is defined as being at least 15% over ideal body weight. It is a form of malnutrition that significantly impairs health. Obesity impairs the life of 50% of our dogs and 60% of cats! These pets will have shorter lives and often are afflicted with other health problems associated with obesity. Dogs are at increased risk for musculoskeletal diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer, pancreatitis, Cushings disease, hypothyroidism, hypertension, tracheal collapse, and heat intolerance. Cats are at increased risk for cystitis, diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, cancer, hyperlipidemia, and constipation. Why do we have an epidemic of obesity? Too much food and treats and not enough exercise put most of our pets at risk. Genetics can play a role. Spaying and neutering will decrease metabolic demands for calories so rations need to be decreased by 20 to 30% for these pets in order to maintain a healthy weight. Often, pet owners do not recognize obesity in their pet. Please ask your veterinarian if your pet is overweight or obese. It is our duty to tell you the truth in spite of any hurt feelings it may cause. Diagnosing the disease is easy. Treating it is hard. Work with your veterinarian to formulate a weight loss diet and an exercise regimen to treat the disease. Allow 12 to 18 months to reach your pet’s target weight. The goal is to lose 2 to 8 % body weight per month. Take photos before and after to monitor your pet’s progress. Helping your pet maintain a healthy weight throughout life is the kindest, and by far, the most important contribution you can make for a long and happy life together.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian /owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood /Richmond Heights area. 314-781-1738.