Teething trou­bles

Vet­eri­nar­ian Dr Karen Davies ex­plains why your dog’s teeth and gums are a key in­di­ca­tor of over­all health.

Field and Game - - VET ADVICE -

One of the first things your vet will ex­am­ine when look­ing at your dog dur­ing a check-up will be the mouth.

There are a num­ber of things that be­come ev­i­dent very quickly when you look into a dog’s mouth, and it can in­di­cate not only den­tal dis­ease but also dis­eases involving other body sys­tems. Where do we start? Does the dog have bad breath? This can in­di­cate gut dis­ease, kid­ney dis­ease and di­a­betes to name a few.

Is the gum colour nor­mal and does blood re­turn to the gums quickly if the tis­sue is de­pressed? In­creased red­ness can be an in­di­ca­tion of tox­i­c­ity or an in­fec­tion, while pale gums are as­so­ci­ated with pain or anaemia, slow re­turn or re­fill when pressed could in­di­cate poor blood pressure.

Some an­i­mal’s gums are more pig­mented or black­ened com­pared to others, and if you own a Brit­tany some­times they can look al­most or­ange. How­ever, in other breeds this colour may ap­pear with the jaun­dice as­so­ci­ated with liver dis­ease.

That is a long list of pos­si­ble ail­ments and we haven’t even men­tioned the teeth yet!

In most nor­mal an­i­mals, the gums will be a bub­ble-gum pink colour; when pressed, blood should re­turn within two sec­onds. You should get to know your dog’s usual colour when healthy and at rest to en­sure you know what their nor­mal is. Now down to the teeth. We know that 80 per cent of dogs will have some form of den­tal dis­ease by the time they are six years old. It may be as sim­ple as some plaque build-up or slightly in­flamed gums; others will have frac­tured crowns.

Pe­ri­odon­tal dis­ease is an ex­ten­sion of gin­givi­tis, an in­flam­ma­tion, or re­ced­ing of the gums that al­lows in­fec­tion to loosen the sup­port­ing struc­tures of the teeth.

Just as in peo­ple, plaque (the bac­te­rial film), and tar­tar (the hard build-up) are the usual cul­prits that start the process.

While dry food does scrape away some plaque, help­ing to lower the in­ci­dence slightly, and raw meaty bones or den­tal treats also can help, there’s no sub­sti­tute for brush­ing your dog’s teeth.

I rec­om­mend start­ing early with young dogs. If brush­ing is in­tro­duced dur­ing early so­cial­i­sa­tion and train­ing, your dog will ac­cept it with lit­tle has­sle.

With older dogs it’s more of a prob­lem, yet most well-trained gun­dogs soon ac­cept the brush­ing. You can use an old face washer over your fin­ger with a lit­tle pet flavoured tooth­paste, or a sil­i­con/ rub­ber brush that sits over your fin­ger.

Try to clean both the in­side and

out­side sur­face of the teeth.

If you have an older dog, start with a trip to your vet and ask for a pro­fes­sional clean under anaes­thetic, you can do the main­te­nance clean­ing from there.

A vet can also show you the best way to brush, and dis­cuss dif­fer­ent prod­ucts to use. The fre­quency of brush­ing will de­pend on your com­mit­ment, but daily brush­ing is our rec­om­men­da­tion.

Our aim is to en­sure your dog does not miss a hunt be­cause of a tooth root ab­scess, or pos­si­bly de­velop heart dis­ease brought on by in­fec­tion from gum dis­ease en­ter­ing the blood­stream.

Odd tastes or odours from plaque buildup and in­fec­tions can also al­ter your dog’s scent­ing abil­ity.

Frac­tured teeth are com­mon in all dogs but more so in hunt­ing breeds.

Break­ing off the crown tip of the tooth can cause a few issues, de­cay can set in, the nerve can be painfully ex­posed and in the worst case, an in­fec­tion through to the root. Ex­trac­tion or re­moval of painful teeth is an op­tion but there are also vet­eri­nary den­tal spe­cial­ists that may be able to re­pair dam­aged teeth with fill­ings and root canals.

Lastly, while the dog’s mouth is open, we will look for tu­mours, which in this area are of­ten par­tic­u­larly nasty.

Al­though the risk for most tu­mours in­creases with age, most vets will ad­vise a biopsy of any mass in the mouth re­gard­less of age.

One of my own dogs de­vel­oped a bone tu­mour in the front of the jaw at only 14 months. It was ex­tremely ag­gres­sive and ter­mi­nal within one week from di­ag­no­sis, with the only ini­tial sign be­ing a loose front tooth and dark­ened gum at­tached to it. Some lumps are be­nign, trig­gered by long­stand­ing in­fec­tions, so it is al­ways best to know what you are deal­ing with.

Signs of den­tal dis­ease could be a loss of ap­petite, bad breath, paw­ing at the mouth, ex­ces­sive or bloody sali­va­tion, chew­ing on one side more than the other or dif­fi­culty in swal­low­ing.

There are scores of pre­ven­tives in the mar­ket but to avoid con­fu­sion, my ex­pe­ri­ence is that brush­ing is best, fol­lowed by raw meaty bones. The bones need to have plenty of meat and chewy bits on them not just the hard bone (ribs, brisket, spines, shoul­der blades, and pelvis). I find the leg bones are of­ten too hard and can frac­ture the enamel off the tooth sur­face, es­pe­cially on those big back teeth.

Den­tal chews should con­tain prod­ucts that pre­vent the build-up of bac­te­ria. Oravet chews con­tain a prod­uct called del­mopinol, which when fed daily aid in pre­vent­ing plaque build-up. Del­i­cate Care make a treat and a dry pel­let that con­tains sim­i­lar prod­ucts along with Yucca fi­bre to scrub the teeth.

In my book, an ounce of pre­ven­tion is bet­ter than any cure.

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