Regular dental checkups crucial for pets

April 28, 2011

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 10-year-old miniature pinscher recently had a tooth extracted. The vet said my dog has an enlarged heart and a murmur.

The next day, I took him back to the vet because the prescribed medication caused him to suffer. My dog refuses to eat. I have to force-feed him. The vet recommended that I take him to a cardiologist.

A.T., the District

DF: My guess is that you did not take your dog for annual checkups that might have disclosed underlying health problems. These surfaced following the stress of general anesthesia and dental surgery.

I cannot stress enough the importance of regular veterinary checkups for dogs and cats, especially from middle age on.

Your experience underscores the attendant risks of dental surgery in older animals, especially those whose oral health has been neglected. Neglect can mean bacteria and inflammatory substances from diseased teeth and gums entering the dog’s bloodstream and harming internal organs, especially the kidneys and heart.

The medications you listed were appropriate, and once out of your dog’s system, he should feel better. Give your dog a daily supplement of probiotics and B complex or brewer’s yeast and coenzyme Q10.

RUNT TROUBLE

Dear Dr. Fox:

We fell in love with Zoe the moment we saw her. She was friendly and a little ball of energy.

One thing we noticed: Her brother was almost twice her size. Now she is 2 and only 39 pounds. She has always been a finicky eater, but what worries us the most is her lack of energy.

For the first year, her activity level seemed normal, but now she sleeps most of the day and night. She won’t fetch, run or play with any toys. When we walk her, she walks slowly and will sometimes just stop in the road, refusing to move.

We have invisible fencing in our yard, but she does only her business there and then wants to come in. The only other health issue she was treated for was head tilting, which the vet blamed on congestion. She also has some dental issues and will require a cleaning next year.

Her diet consists of dry dog food, rice, carrots and biscuits, but some days she only eats a few treats. I decided to feed her dry food because I had heard it was better for her teeth.

R.M., Shelton, Conn.

DF: You most probably acquired the runt of the litter — the pup that, in competition with other developing embryos in their mother’s uterus, was almost crowded out and had a small placenta.

So her development became impaired early on, even though she was “a little ball of energy” when young.

I would suspect a congenital or developmental abnormality of the heart or hydrocephalus, which could account for some of her symptoms and dull behavior. She might develop seizures. The best treatment is tender loving care and appropriate medications as symptoms surface.

FAT KITTY

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 4-year-old Siamese cat is overweight at 14 pounds. I’ve fed her Wellness CORE dry food. It’s all protein and fat, no carbs.

She is shedding terribly. I brush her almost every day, and it keeps coming. She also has developed fur knots that I mostly must cut out. Could knots be a symptom of a thyroid illness?

B.P., Minneapolis

DF: There are many reasons cats and dogs constantly shed their fur and need daily grooming.

You must do this to reduce the chances of your cat developing fur balls in her stomach from swallowing the shedding fur that she grooms off herself. Knots of fur are more of a problem with longhair cats and can form painful mats that must be clipped away. But remember, brushing cats too much can stimulate hair growth and shedding, so all things in moderation.

Your cat is probably too young to have thyroid disease. Her coat condition should improve by adding a few drops of good-quality fish oil, beginning with two to three drops daily on her dry food and working up to a teaspoon daily.

Feed her several small portions of food throughout the day. Try her on various quality canned cat foods (such as Wellness, Castor & Pollux, Evo and PetGuard), because moist foods are better for cats.

PLAYFUL?

Dear Dr. Fox:

I rescued a sickly kitten, had her checked out at the vet and nursed her back to health. She’s spoiled rotten, and I love her very much.

Whenever I hold her or anyone tries to pet her, she starts biting. If she is on the floor and we try to pet her, she bites our feet. She cries when she is left alone, but when we try to give her affection, she starts biting again.

Once, when she bit me, I left the room. I hit her on the nose and said no. I felt terrible, and it didn’t work.

She seems to like the other cat, but the feeling is not mutual. I had her spayed, but she appeared to get meaner. She is now 1, and although she seems to be getting better, she still bites. It’s almost as if she thinks this is playing.

C.S., Chesterfield, Mo.

DF: In some instances, a sudden change occurs in a cat’s behavior and temperament after spay/neuter surgery, and some veterinarians believe this might be because of the use of ketamine as the sole surgical anesthetic, which it is not.

Proper anesthetic agents should be used. Ketamine might cause hallucinations and is a dissociative analgesic — pain is felt but not reacted to.

Your cat might simply want to play. Because your other cat does not like her, you must become her playmate rather than her play-fight-and-bite surrogate. If your other cat had accepted her, she probably would have learned to bite and claw gently, exercising self-control during physical social play-chasing and tussling.

Mother cats discipline kittens with a loud hiss and a paw-slap on their noses, which you can mimic, but be consistent. More important, learn to redirect your cat’s focus onto a substitute play-prey objects, such as a bundle of feathers on the end of a string or tied to a cane.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011 United Feature Syndicate

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