What is the most common reason we anaesthetise pets at the Ark?
The outright winner is dental disease, either preventing or treating rotten teeth in dogs.
Why do you think this is?
Its multifactorial. Firstly, we have only just started recognising the importance of dental health in animals. Just like us, dogs and cats only have one set of adult teeth for life. These teeth can rot and cause pain and also spread bacteria to other parts of the body. Secondly, the most common breeds we are seeing are increasingly prone to teeth problems.
I know my dog’s teeth have some brown coating on them, but they are still eating, so how are they in pain?
The tartar, brown coating, is not in itself painful. However, tartar is bacteria calcified to the teeth. The gums will try and fight the bacteria causing gingivitis. When the gingivitis is ongoing the attachment between the bones and the teeth is destroyed leading to a rotten tooth, which is painful. Unfortunately, dogs cannot tell us they have a sore tooth. They will also not stop eating from a sore tooth. To a dog, not eating is giving up on life. Instead they might slow down overall in life. Sleep more, not be as active. Sometimes we will see overt signs such as chewing on the other side, being picky with types of food or drooling. But often it is a hidden disease. The hard part is we cannot see whether a tooth is rotten until we probe and xray them.
Oh so you’re saying they might be in pain but it is hard to tell from the outside?
You also mentioned breed issues. What do you mean by this?
Well, it is well known that smaller, particularly fluffy dogs, have worse teeth than larger dogs. The majority of dogs coming through the Ark doors are small (and fluffy) – poodles, cavaliers, malteses and pugs. These breeds, and their crosses, tend to develop dental disease earlier than, say a Labrador. Some dogs have squished faces, such as pugs, which means their teeth are all crooked. Others, such as poodles, have a very reactive immune system to plaque causing gingivitis to develop and therefore periodontal disease.
But the fluffy ones are cute!
That they are. So cute!
What can owners do about it?
There is no easy fix for dental disease, once bony changes occur, the disease is irreversible. The best treatment is prevention. Periodontal disease can be prevented through disrupting the plaque layer before it forms tartar. The catch is plaque forms tartar within 24 hours. This is exactly why the human dentists tell us to brush every day, twice a day. In dogs, brushing is best. We can also disrupt plaque with dental diets, water additives and dental chews – however these methods are inferior to brushing. Once tartar forms, the only way to remove it is through sonic scaling and polishing.
But you said we cannot tell if they have painful teeth, won’t brushing hurt?
It is a conundrum. This is why we suggest, unless the teeth look 100% happy, to have a quick general anaesthetic, teeth assessment and along with cleaning before starting prophylaxis.