Sunday, March 28, 2010


If you've ever experienced an encounter such as this between dogs, you know that barking and growling can be manifested in many ways...and mean many things. More on "Barking and Growling" in at least 3 sections of this week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats....

Most of our readers know that there is special day coming up this week, April Fools' Day, and nobody wants to be considered an April Fool by being the unsuspecting butt of a joke or trick.
Astrid F., from the web site, All About Dogs and Cats, at:, has sent Helpful Buckeye a selection of photos depicting a possible example of an April Fools' Day joke. You decide whether these are a joke or not. Helpful Buckeye thinks this series of photos is just another example of the strange and sometimes wonderful relationships that develop between animals (including humans)....
As Astrid points out: "Friendship isn't about who you have known the longest. It's about those who came and never left your side ....."

Helpful Buckeye reminds our readers to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.


1) The American Veterinary Medical Association has published this news release about spot-on flea and tick products from the Environmental Protection Agency: "Adverse reactions can occur with any product but, according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), most adverse effects associated with the use of spot-on flea and tick products are mild and may include skin irritation and an upset stomach. The EPA and AVMA advise pet owners to talk to your veterinarian about responsible and effective use of flea and tick products, always carefully follow label directions, and monitor your pets for any signs of a bad reaction after application, particularly when using these products for the first time. Never use products labeled for dogs on cats. Keep the product package after use in case side effects occur. You will want to have the instructions available, as well as contact information for the manufacturer."

For the rest of the news release, including what to do to report a problem with one of these products, go to:

2) In what might turn out to be a harbinger of a trend across the country, this story from a suburb of Phoenix, AZ addresses an aspect of barking dogs that has people on both sides of the question upset. From the Arizona Republic: "Chandler (AZ) was poised to become the first city in the nation to discourage dog barking in a public dog park with high-frequency-sound devices that only canines can hear.
Now, humans are growling about the method. The Arizona Humane Society and dog owners and trainers across the Valley say they wonder if this is the best way to take the bark out of dogs in public places."

To read the rest of this story, go to:


Helpful Buckeye has discussed pet obesity in 2 previous issues of Questions On Dogs and Cats, at: and

Now, Paw Nation has presented a report that asks and answers the question, "Are treats Making Your Pet Fat?" Read this report and decide if any of this information might apply to the treats you give to your pets: We love giving our pets treats, whether to reward good behavior, keep them occupied or because we simply can't resist their plaintive stares or begging. But all those jerky treats, dental chews and milk bones are making our domestic animals fat. "If I could only point to one factor causing the modern-day pet obesity epidemic, it would have to be treats," says veterinarian Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and author of “Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter-A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives.” Vets and animal-nutrition experts point the finger at fattening pet snacks: Packed with sugar and carbohydrates, even the tiniest packaged cheese or bacon snack becomes what Ward calls "calorie grenades." "It's that seemingly innocent extra 50 calories a day in the form of a chew or cookie that adds up to a pound or two each year. By the time a dog or cat reaches mid-life, it's overweight and health risks begin to skyrocket," Ward says. Obesity is being blamed for health problems such as diabetes, joint pain and breathing problems in pets. That doesn't mean the snacks have to stop, but experts say treats should make up no more than 10 percent of your pet's daily calories. That's not much, considering a 10-pound cat needs less than 300 calories daily and a 40-pound dog should only get about 1,000 calories. Making things trickier, manufacturers don't list calorie contents on their packages, and they don't have to. Some of the worst offenders tend to be the newer "dental chews" for dogs, Ward says. One Purina BusyBone Dental Bone (Large) has a whopping 600 calories, while a Pedigree JumBone (small) has 297 calories, nearly an entire day's calories for a small dog. Other popular treats and their calorie counts, according to Ward’s research:
  • Pup-Peroni: 24 calories
  • Purina Beggin’ Strips: 30 calories
  • Milk-Bone Biscuit (Medium): 40 calories
  • Purina Chew-eez Beefhide Chew Strips: 60 calories
  • Pedigree DentaBone (Medium): 188 calories

Experts recommend replacing processed treats with crunchy veggies such as baby carrots (only two or three calories per carrot), cucumbers (one calorie per half-inch slice) and celery (around six calories per stalk). For owners desiring a commercial dog treat, Ward likes Liver Biscotti, which deliver less than one calorie per piece. No single treat is the culprit, however. The biggest problem is quantity, says animal nutritionist Susan Lauten, Ph.D., owner of Pet Nutrition Consulting in Knoxville. "A family of four could be each giving the dog three treats a day and they don't know what the other person is doing," she says. She recommends that you measure out the amount of food that the dog or cat is going to receive per day, put it all in a freezer bag and only give treats out of that bag. As for cats, the risk of packing on pounds is so high that Ward recommends avoiding treats altogether. If you must, give a pinch (3/4-inch flake) of salmon or tuna.

This whole report is presented at:


1) Now, for the second mention of barking dogs. From the folks at Paw Nation, we can learn what you might do with a dog that won't stop barking:

Meet Mary Burch, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Director and Paw Nation's new expert columnist addressing your questions on animal behavior. Dr. Burch has over 25 years of experience working with dogs and she is one of less than 50 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists based in the United States. She is the author of ten books including the new official book on the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program, “Citizen Canine: 10 Essential Skills Every Well-Mannered Dog Should Know.”
Dear Dr. Burch, Our dog Quigley is a very yappy Shetland sheepdog who barks at everything -- air, cars, leaves, vacuum cleaners, brooms, snow, people, other dogs, etc. He is the sweetest, most lovable dog ever, but the noise is driving us crazy. What do you recommend to tame his incessant barking? Dr. Burch Says: As a Shetland sheepdog, Quigley's actually got a long heritage of barking. Shelties originally were used by farmers to herd livestock. Because Shelties are smaller dogs, they often use their voices to get the livestock moving, so your problem isn't unusual.There are a number of reasons dogs bark. The most common include:
  • Alerting behavior, such as when a stranger is at the front door.
  • To show excitement, like you would see during an active play session.
  • To communicate with you when he wants something, as in, "Let's go outside!"
  • To communicate with other dogs when he wants to say hello or something else.
  • Separation behavior, such as when dogs bark, bark, bark when their owners are gone.

Some herding breeds, like the Shetland sheepdog, will also bark when something is moving. This can be caused by excitement or a desire to herd the object.

You've mentioned several situations that sound like moving objects are an issue, including cars, falling leaves, vacuum cleaners, brooms, snow, and other dogs. Here are two tricks to try to handle movement driven barking:

1. Teach your dog to bark on cue. When the dog is barking, be ready with some treats. When the dog is quiet, say, "quiet," and give the dog a treat. Whatever you do, don't give the dog the food reward when it is barking.
2. Teach your dog how to do a reliable sit-and-stay. You can put the dog on the other side of the room when you start to sweep. If the dog is quiet, go to the dog, say, "Good boy, quiet," and give him a treat. In the beginning of training, there should be some distance between him and the broom, but eventually, he will be able to be closer. We call this a "sit and watch" procedure.These tips and others are described in more detail in our book "Citizen Canine: Ten Essential Skills Every Well-Mannered Dog Should Know."

The whole interview can be read at:

From The New Yorker:

2) The AVMA has provided this alert from the Food & Drug Administration about possible problems arising from the use of online pet pharmacies: "The Food and Drug Administration has released a brochure to provide guidance to pet owners regarding online pet pharmacies.
The brochure warns pet owners that some Internet pharmacies are not reputable. The brochure also offers advice on how to determine whether an Internet pharmacy is operating legitimately."

More of this helpful information can be accessed at the FDA site at:


1) I guess it was an idea whose time has arrived. After being pioneered in Japan, these are now available in the USA in some areas. I won't spoil the surprise for about this new product and be sure to watch the included video. If you then still have questions about it, join the club. Go to:

Be sure to answer the poll question about this one....

2) Now that spring is making an appearance in most of the USA, your dogs will most likely be getting outdoors a little more...and getting themselves a little dirty and stinky. Learn about some new scents that are available to help your "stinky" pooch recover its appeal at:

Then, go to the Nootie web site for ordering information: The cucumber melon sounds interesting, doesn't it?

If any of you do try this product, please send a comment to Helpful Buckeye to voice your opinion or e-mail:

3) Postmaster General John E. Potter today unveiled the Animal Rescue: Adopt a Shelter Pet commemorative postage stamps and announced the Stamps to the Rescue promotional campaign. Each year the USPS features stamps for a different cause in its Social Awareness program. The last cause featuring dog and cat stamps was the Spay & Neuter campaign in 2002. Read more about this program at:

Here are the stamp selections:


1) For a lighter side story, the Paw Nation staff has conducted a short "on the street" interview with some dog owners about how they named their pooches. Enjoy:

Helpful Buckeye is sure that many of our readers have interesting stories about how they named their dogs and/or cats. Please share your stories with us, either by e-mail or by clicking on "Comment" at the end of this issue.

2) Dan Vergano, a writer for USA Today, wrote this recent review in the USA Today:

Dogs Likely of Middle Eastern Origin

Fido has an Arabian pedigree, a new examination of canine genes suggests. The analysis reverses previous gene studies suggesting an East Asian wolf origin for the earliest domesticated dogs. In the Nature journal study reported Wednesday, researchers examined gene segments from 912 dogs and genes of 225 gray wolves-the species from which dogs evolved in prehistory-from 11 regions and finds specific populations of Middle and Near eastern gray wolves to be most similar to domestic dogs. Most likely, wolves have periodically interbred with domestic dogs, gene patterns suggest. Last year, a Journal of Archaeological Science report described dog bones found at a 31,700-year-old site in Belgium, an age for dog origins the Nature study finds "consistent" with its results.

3) For our readers who are also fans of English literature, a dog collar that was worn by one of Charles Dickens' dogs was put on the auction block recently. To find out how much it went for, go to:

4) For the last section on barking and growling dogs, here is some help in interpreting what a growl might actually mean.
To humans, a growl is a growl. But to dogs, all growls are not created equal, it seems. Those growling sounds contain a wealth of important information to other canines, according to new research described in Discovery News.

Read the rest of this behavioral study for some pointers:


The Ohio State Buckeyes were bounced from the NCAA basketball tournament by Tennessee over the weekend. It was pretty obvious that we were outcoached by Tennessee in the second half of the game.

Major League Baseball begins the season in a week, so all will be right in the sports world. Stay tuned for how the LA Dodgers are playing....


It has been rewarding putting together this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats. Since our temporary detour to re-runs of a few select issues, Helpful Buckeye has been looking forward to producing new and fresh issues. I appreciate the patience of all our readers as I was working through the loss of my mother in Pennsylvania, as well as the personal communications many of you have sent to me. Thanks for that....

I'll close with the quote used earlier in this issue: "Friendship isn't about who you have known the longest. It's about those who came and never left your side ...."

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Monday, March 22, 2010


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye returned home to Flagstaff last night and we are already sorting out what needs to get done as we get back into a more "normal" life pattern.

This is still a "transition" period for Flagstaff weather...mostly beautiful, sunny, and warm days...but still lingering is the possibility of more snow, even into April and May.

Helpful Buckeye would like to thank all of you who sent comments and/or e-mails about the death of my mother. All of your sentiments are greatly appreciated!

A brand new issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats will be published on Sunday night, the 28th of March. There are many interesting and thought-provoking items I've accumulated the last several weeks for inclusion in upcoming issues of the blog. Looking forward to getting back in touch with all of our readers....

See you then....

Sunday, March 14, 2010


My mom passed away this week in Pennsylvania after a short illness. Desperado and I have been here with our families, taking care of the funeral, sharing lots of memories, and helping my dad prepare for life without my mom. They would have been married 65 years this coming June.

Mom had 2 sons, both of which went on to become veterinarians, which made our family one of the few in the country that could say that. Helpful Buckeye, as you know, has been retired from private practice for several years, while my brother, Robert, is with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

I won't be able to put together a fresh issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats for this week and possibly not for next week either. However, new issues should be appearing in 2 weeks. Thanks for your patience the last 3 weeks as you got a chance to review the problems of dental disease and your pets. Hopefully, all of our readers will now be well versed in the benefits of preventive dental care for dogs and cats.

This posting is actually the 100th issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats to be published since we started back in May 2008. And, I feel it would only be fitting to dedicate this issue to my mom.



Rest In Peace

Monday, March 8, 2010


Due to ongoing family concerns back in Pennsylvania, Desperado and Helpful Buckeye are still a little bit out of the loop as far as publishing a new issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats. For that reason, this issue will be a continuation of our review of Pet Dental Disease. Enjoy!

1) Helpful Buckeye has received a lot of e-mails about our continuing series of articles on dental health care of dogs and cats. Most of you have become more aware of how widespread dental problems can be. There are still two weeks remaining in National Pet Dental Health Month and there are just enough questions and answers from Dr. Brook Niemiec left to take care of the next two issues of Questions On Dogs and Cats. Dr. Niemiec, you will recall, is the board-certified veterinary dentist, in San Diego. Here is the second portion of those questions:

Why is it important to have my pet's teeth cleaned regularly?

ANSWER: There are two main reasons for routine cleanings. First, they help prevent periodontal disease. Second, and possibly more importantly, a cleaning allows for a COMPLETE oral examination. Only with general anesthesia can most oral health problems be noted. This includes screening for oral cancer, broken teeth, cavities, and in cats, tooth resorption. Finally, general anesthesia is required for periodontal probing, which is the method of diagnosis of periodontal pockets.

My dog eats hard food. Isn’t that like brushing his teeth?

ANSWER: NO! This is a myth, which came about from the surface of the teeth being slightly cleaner in pets fed dry food. Typical dry food does not protect against periodontal disease. This relates to the root cause of periodontal disease, which is subgingival plaque (plaque below the gumline). Supragingival (above the gumline) plaque accumulates and causes local changes in the gum tissue that allow attachment and growth of subgingival bacteria, however after this has occurred; supragingival plaque has little to no effect on periodontal disease. Traditional dry foods break apart at the tip of the tooth and have little to no dental benefit. There are specially formulated and processed dental foods that effectively clean a pet’s teeth as the pet chews and are an excellent adjunct to routine tooth brushing. Look for the VOHC Seal of Acceptance on the dental food you choose.

How do I brush my pet’s teeth?

ANSWER: Start with a soft toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste. The malt flavor from Virbac appears to be the favorite of my dog and cat patients. Do not use human toothpaste, as it contains detergents that may cause stomach upset. Go slowly and be very positive, using food treats if necessary. Place the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gumline. Brush in a circular motion, with a firm stroke away from the tooth. Try to reach all tooth surfaces, but concentrate on the outside surface.The hardest part is getting started. It’s best to start young, because the earlier you introduce brushing, the easier it will be for your pet to accept it. I recommend handling your pet’s mouth from the time you bring him home. For puppies and kittens, introduce the brush at around 6-7 months. Be consistent; animals like routines, so if you make it a habit it will be easier on both of you.

My veterinarian has recommended a dental cleaning. What is involved?

ANSWER: The first step is to place the patient under general anesthesia. Anesthesia-free dentistry is NOT recommended (see below, Why does a dental cleaning have to be done under anesthesia?), and is even illegal in some states. Don’t be fooled by “sedation” dentistry. In my opinion, sedation dentistry is more dangerous than general anesthesia for two main reasons. First, in sedation dentistry (or any other anesthesia-free dentistry), the trachea (windpipe), and therefore the lungs, are not protected from the particles generated during a dental cleaning. These particles are full of bacteria and, if inhaled, can result in pneumonia. The other difference between anesthesia and sedation is the length of effect. Most practices today employ relatively short-acting agents to put the patient under anesthesia, and then a gas to keep the patient under anesthesia. If a problem occurs under anesthesia, the veterinarian can turn off the gas and the patient will recover quickly. But under sedation, the effects generally do not go away until the drug is cleared by the system, which can take too long. General anesthesia is very safe today, thanks to advances in anesthetic drugs, training and monitoring equipment.A true dental prophylaxis consists of several steps, some more critical than others. The required steps that must be performed include:
Supragingival scaling: This is the removal of the plaque and calculus above the gumline (what you can see).
Subgingival scaling: This is the thorough cleaning of the area under the gumline to remove disease-causing bacteria. It is typically performed by hand and is time consuming, but it is the most important step of a dental prophylaxis.
Polishing: Scaling slightly roughens the teeth. This promotes plaque and calculus attachment and reduces the lasting effect of the cleaning, so the teeth are polished afterward. There has been some controversy about this in human dentistry, due to the loss of enamel with many cleanings over time. However, in veterinary dentistry, with relatively fewer cleanings in an animal’s life, this is not a concern.
Sulcal Lavage: Cleaning and polishing results in debris being caught under the gumline, which must be thoroughly rinsed out.
Oral exam, periodontal probing and dental charting: This is a critical and often misunderstood part of the dental prophylaxis. There are teeth that cannot be thoroughly examined in a pet who is awake, when periodontal probing is not possible. With the patient under anesthesia, the mouth is thoroughly and systematically examined, and all findings are noted on a dental chart. Any diseased teeth or tissues are then properly treated.

OK, since this is the last Sunday in February, National Pet Dental Health Month, Helpful Buckeye will present the third and final portion of the questions and answers from Dr. Brook Niemiec. Dr. Niemiec is the board-certified veterinary dentist from San Diego. For the final questions and answers about pet dental health:

Why does a dental cleaning have to be done under anesthesia?
ANSWER: It is impossible to do a thorough cleaning and definitive oral examination (including periodontal probing) on a pet who is awake. Your veterinarian can provide the appropriate pre-anesthetic protocol and treatment plan to provide your pet with the best care.

When is a pet too old to have a dental cleaning?
ANSWER: NEVER. Healthy pets, even when they’re older, handle anesthesia quite well. Age does increase the possibility that the patient will have some degree of organ malfunction, and those with systemic problems will be at an increased risk. Therefore, we recommend pre-operative testing on all patients prior to anesthesia. The important organs include the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. Recommended tests include a complete blood panel and urinalysis in all patients. Thyroid testing and thoracic radiographs are recommended in all patients over 6 years.

As a pet owner, what can I do at home to prevent periodontal disease?
ANSWER: The gold standard of home care is tooth brushing. To be effective, however, it must be performed at least three times a week; daily brushing is ideal. See How do I brush my pet’s teeth? (above) for directions. Another form of home care consists of rinsing with an antiseptic agent. CET® Oral Hygiene Rinse (Virbac) is an excellent antiseptic rinse for veterinary patients. The active agent (chlorhexidine) impregnates the teeth and gums, and its antibacterial effect lasts up to six hours. Additionally, Maxiguard® (Addison Biologics) has been shown to decrease gingivitis. It is also very palatable, making it an excellent choice for feline patients. Both of these are excellent ways to decrease gingivitis and periodontal disease in your pet. It may be challenging for some pet owners to make the commitment to daily tooth brushing for their pets, or to teach their pets to tolerate handling of their mouths. When frequent brushing is not practical, feeding an effective dental food provides a convenient solution. There are numerous products touted as “dental” foods or treats. Pet owners must be careful, as these typically only clean the tip of the teeth, not the areas that are necessary for control of periodontal disease. Of the dental foods available, only Hills® Prescription Diet® t/d® is clinically proven to reduce gingivitis, plaque and calculus. A combination of brushing and feeding the right dental food is best for oral disease control.

What should I look for when I examine my pet’s teeth?
ANSWER: Look for anything that appears abnormal. The first sign of periodontal disease is redness of the gums. No matter how minor it seems, if this is present, disease is present. The pet needs veterinary care in order to treat the disease and avoid all the problems associated with it. (See above, Is dental disease really a big deal?) If periodontal disease is not treated early, advanced signs of disease include swelling of the gums, calculus on the teeth, receding gums, and mobile teeth. Any of these is a sign of advanced periodontal disease, and immediate medical attention is required. Other things to watch for include swelling or masses, broken or worn teeth, and discoloration of the teeth. Any of these things should also be brought to the attention of a veterinarian right away.

What should a pet chew on?
ANSWER: There is a fine line between being too easy to chew up and swallow, and being too hard, possibly damaging the teeth. Many commercial chew toys are far too hard and can break the chewing teeth. There are two guidelines I recommend using:
If you cannot make an indentation in it with a fingernail, the treat or toy is too hard.
If it would hurt to hit yourself in the knee with it, the treat or toy is too hard. Pets who are prone to quickly swallowing large pieces of chew toys should be monitored during their use, to avoid an obstruction.

This concludes the 3 weekly installments of questions and answers about pet dental health. The AVMA has provided this review of pet dental care:

Dental Care

Pets At Risk: Bad Breath Isn't Funny Anymore
Frisco caught the guest by surprise in the living room. He planted a big, breathy smooch on her face. "Ugh! Dog breath!" The room erupted in laughter.
It wasn't so funny the next day when Frisco had his yearly check-up. The 2-½-year-old dog was diagnosed with gum disease, and he was in danger of losing a tooth if he didn't begin a regular dental care program.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, Frisco's case is not unique. Studies show that more than 80 percent of dogs by age three and 70 percent of cats by age three show some signs of gum disease. Bad breath could be an early warning sign of the dangerous gum disease gingivitis.Pets Need Dental Care, Too!
During National Pet Dental Health Month each February, pet owners are reminded that dogs and cats need good oral care. An educational campaign to consumers, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Dental Society with an educational grant provided by Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc., helps pet owners understand the importance of regular dental care for their pets.
Particularly at risk are small dog breeds, such as Pekingese and Shihtzu. Experts say these breeds are more likely to develop tooth problems because their teeth are crowded into small mouths. This can create a haven for plaque buildup.
Cervical line lesions (CLL) are the most common dental disease of domestic cats. Studies show that about 28 percent of domestic cats that veterinarians examine have CLL. Because the lesions often begin beneath the gumline, owners usually are unaware that there is a problem until the tooth is seriously damaged. Prevention is the key to helping pets maintain good oral health. The American Veterinary Dental Society recommends that pet owners follow three important steps:
Visit Your Veterinarian
Just as dental visits are the cornerstone of a human dental program, visiting a veterinarian is the key to ensuring the health of your pet's teeth. A veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your pet as part of the dental evaluation.
Start a dental care routine at home
Removing plaque regularly from your pet's teeth should be part of your pet's home dental care routine. Ask your veterinarian about the procedure for brushing your pet's teeth. Dog owners also may feed specially formulated dietary foods that help reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar from teeth when the pet eats. Your veterinarian can offer more information on dietary options.
Get Regular Veterinary Dental Checkups
The family veterinarian needs to monitor the progress of your pet's preventive dental care routine much the same way a dentist monitors your teeth. Regular dental check-ups are essential.
Once a pet's teeth display the warning signs — bad breath, a yellow brown crust of tartar around the gumline, pain or bleeding when the pet eats or when you touch its gums — gum disease may already be present. For a professional dental check-up, call your veterinarian today!

Monday, March 1, 2010


This is the second part of our review on Pet Dental Health. Enjoy!

In last week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, Helpful Buckeye introduced the topic of Pet Dental Health with the reminder that the month of February is devoted to being more aware of this very common health concern for dogs and cats. Our readers were presented with pictures of the normal dentition of both dogs and cats. Dental disease is considered to be the most commonly diagnosed health problem affecting both dogs and cats, with about 70-80% of dogs and cats showing signs of gum and/or dental disorders by 3-4 years of age.

Puppies and kittens generally have their adult (permanent) teeth in place by 6 months of age. During the 3-4 months the puppy and kitten (deciduous) teeth are being replaced by the adult teeth, most pet owners will be dealing with the chewing desires of a teething youngster. Most puppies and kittens won't be able to do serious damage around the house while teething, although some of the larger-sized puppies can produce a lot of destruction. Generally, providing an acceptable chew toy will alleviate this problem. Sometimes, stricter measures might be necessary, such as confinement away from any valuable furniture, etc. The good news is that this period only lasts a few months...the bad news is that it lasts a few months!

A second problem associated with the transition from "baby" teeth to adult teeth is the retention of certain deciduous teeth beyond the normal time frame. This most frequently involves the canine teeth (fang) and the incisors. These retained deciduous teeth generally need to be removed as soon as possible in order to allow the permanent teeth to finish erupting properly. A retained canine tooth:
Removal of these retained deciduous teeth is usually not a complicated procedure, although it does require anesthesia.

Other structural problems of the teeth include broken teeth and worn-down teeth. Broken teeth usually result from some type of trauma, such as a blow to the mouth, but they can also happen as a result of extreme chewing on metal cages, etc. Worn-down teeth usually are seen in dogs that are constantly chewing on something that doesn't provide any give at all. There was a school of thought that included chewing on tennis balls on this "no-no" list. However, recently, several board-certified veterinary dentists have relaxed their thinking a bit on this matter...from The USA Today: Broken or worn-down teeth should be examined by your veterinarian to determine what, if anything, needs to be done.

The real problems involving teeth and gums is the build-up of plaque and tartar on the teeth and along the gum lines. As the gums become inflamed from the accumulation of tartar and bacterial populations under the gums, this is the gingivitis stage. Your dog or cat will show a reddish tinge along the gum line in the affected area:

If you see this, an examination is in order. Not doing anything about this gingivitis allows the disease to progress to periodontitis, which involves destruction of the supporting tissues of the teeth (gums, bone):

If either one of these advanced situations is evident, then more extensive work will need to be done on your pet in order to get the teeth back toward a more healthy oral environment. The toxins produced by the bacteria involved in gingivitis and periodontitis begin circulating in the blood and can cause severe damage to many organs, including the kidneys and heart.

A thorough examination of your pet's mouth should be part of every routine visit you make to your veterinarian, beginning at the puppy or kitten stage. Your veterinarian will use that opportunity to explain proper care of the teeth and gums, while also pointing out any areas that need further attention.

Severe gum and tooth problems can almost always be avoided or minimized by taking appropriate preventive measures. If your veterinarian finds something that requires further attention, anesthesia will most likely be needed. Cleaning a dog or cat's teeth is actually very similar to the human process, except for the anesthesia (which also accounts for a good portion of the cost). Your pet may well have to be placed on antibiotic treatment both before and after any dental procedure.

Once teeth cleaning has been accomplished, it is imperative that some form of home dental care be instituted. Whether you are beginning this on your pet in its early years or after the onset of dental/gum problems, you must remember that a lot of pets don't feel comfortable with someone doing things in their mouth. It can be much more successful if you gradually get your pet used to having its gums massaged and rubbed over a period of weeks rather than starting out with the toothbrush on day 1. Sometimes, a layer of clean gauze over your finger will suffice in getting your pet to feel at ease when you rub it along the gums. Try this by pulling out the cheek and inserting your finger rather than cranking open the jaws. Most dogs and cats will accept this better. Be gentle and repeat the process. Give appropriate praise and some type of reward. Good friend Charlene has found a soft "exfoliation" glove at Target that does this nicely. After your pet has become used to being worked on this way, you can make the move to a soft pet toothbrush, along with pet toothpaste. Daily brushing would be ideal, but realistically, 2-3 times per week would also be nice.

Don't won't be lucky enough that your pets will be able to do this themselves!

Even with proper home care of the teeth, your pet may still need periodic teeth cleaning by your veterinarian. That's another reason why regular check-ups are so need to stay ahead of any of the more serious complications. You should also have regular conversations with your veterinarian about the proper food, snacks, treats, and chew toys that would be best for dental health for your particular breed of dog or cat. As a parting suggestion, you might want to check with your veterinary hospital or clinic to see if they are offering any price reductions on dental procedures or products during National Pet Dental Health Month.

A lot of you sent in comments and/or questions after reading the column last week about the various dental problems experienced by dogs and cats. Obviously, dental disease is a common difficulty faced by our pets as they mature. Being more aware of the dangers presented by periodontal and gingival disease can not only help you keep your pet's teeth where they belong, but also help you provide your pet with better health as they age.

All of you have enjoyed the experience of smelling your pet's breath, especially when it just about knocks you over! From The New Yorker:

Some of the odor does arise from what the pet has been eating, but that part of the odor is not long-lasting. The real underlying cause is most likely the damaged, infected tissue resulting from gingivitis and periodontitis. Sometimes this odor is so strong and pervasive that Helpful Buckeye and his former partner could smell it when the dog or cat came in the front door of the hospital! There are only a few other distinctive odors which can get your attention from a distance: the bloody diarrhea associated with parvovirus in the dog, a nasty ear infection, and an abscess that has just opened up with drainage.

If any of you have the new "scratch and sniff" monitors, you can scratch the screen right now to sample the odor. Otherwise, walk over to your sleeping dog or cat, raise their upper lip, and take a sniff. The really sad part of this story is that most, if not all of it, can be prevented. Regular attention to your pet's teeth at home, coupled with periodic teeth-cleanings by your veterinarian will keep periodontitis and gingivitis to a minimum, thus reducing the odor level. If you really have to struggle to smell anything offensive in your pet's mouth, you have accomplished a lot...and you will, more than likely, have your pet live longer while enjoying better health!

Starting with today's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats and continuing next week, Helpful Buckeye will provide you with a list of "Frequently Asked Questions" about dental care for your pets. This list was composed by Dr. Brook Niemiec, a board-certified veterinary dentist, in San Diego. This is the first portion of those questions:

Is dental disease really a big deal?
ANSWER: Dental disease is a HUGE deal. Periodontal (gum) disease is the number one diagnosed problem in dogs and cats. By the age of just two, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease. In addition, 10% of dogs have a broken tooth with pulp (nerve or root canal) exposure. This is extremely painful until the nerve dies, at which point the tooth becomes infected! Infectious oral diseases affecting the gums and root canals create systemic bacteremia (bacteria in the blood stream, which can infect other parts of the body). Periodontal inflammation and infection have been linked to numerous problems including heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, emphysema, liver disease, osteoporosis, pregnancy problems and diabetes. Therefore, oral infectious diseases are known as “the silent killer.”In addition to systemic effects, oral disease can also cause inflammation to the eye, resulting in blindness. Furthermore, jaw bone loss from chronic infection can lead to a jaw fracture known as a pathologic fracture, and these have a very hard time healing. Finally, infectious oral disease can result in osteomyelitis (an area of dead, infected bone), nasal infections and an increased risk of oral cancer.Speaking of oral cancer, the oral cavity is the fourth most common place for cancer. Unfortunately, by the time that most are discovered, they are too advanced for therapy. Early treatment is necessary for cure. That’s why you, the pet owner, need to check your pet for oral growths on a regular basis. Anything suspicious should be shown to your veterinarian promptly.In cats, a very common problem is feline tooth resorption lesions, which are caused by normal cells called odontoclasts eating away at the cat’s own teeth. Approximately half of cats over 6 years of age have at least one. They are similar to cavities in that once they are advanced, they are VERY painful and can become infected. They are first seen as small red areas along the gumline. Other oral problems include bacterial cavities, painful orthodontic problems, dead teeth (which are commonly discolored), and worn teeth. Almost every pet has some form of painful or infectious oral disease that needs treatment. Unfortunately, there are few to no obvious clinical signs. (See below, What are the warning signs of periodontal disease?) Therefore, be proactive and ask your veterinarian for a complete oral exam, and perform regular monitoring at home.

What is periodontal disease?
ANSWER: Periodontal disease is defined as the destruction of tooth attachment (periodontal ligament and jaw bone), caused by bacteria. It begins when bacteria form on teeth in a substance called plaque. If plaque is not removed immediately, two things occur. First, the plaque is calcified by the minerals in saliva to become calculus (or tartar). This is the brown substance on teeth that many people mistakenly equate with periodontal disease, but the truth is that calculus does not result in periodontal disease. The other thing that occurs with chronic plaque formation is that it will start to move under the gumline. Once the plaque gets under the gum, it starts causing inflammation, which is called gingivitis. Gingivitis is the initial, reversible form of periodontal disease. If this inflammation is not controlled, the bacteria within the gingiva change to a more virulent type. These more virulent species create more severe inflammation. Eventually, the body responds to this inflammation. Part of this response is bony destruction, which continues until the tooth is lost. However, in most cases periodontal disease causes problems long before this happens. (See above, Is dental disease really a big deal?)

What are the warning signs of periodontal disease?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, there are no obvious outward signs of periodontal disease until it is VERY advanced. The earliest sign is inflammation (redness or swelling) of the gums. This is generally accompanied by buildup of plaque and calculus on the teeth, but unless you are looking for these changes (see above, Is dental disease really a big deal?), they are not noticeable. As periodontal disease progresses, the infection will worsen. The next signs within the mouth are receding gums or loose teeth. This increased infection may result in bad breath or blood on chew toys; however, this should NOT be relied upon for diagnosis. If your pet has bad breath or you see blood on toys, it is almost a sure sign of advanced periodontal disease requiring a trip to the veterinarian. Late signs of periodontal disease include nasal discharge (blood or pus), eye problems, facial swelling or a jaw fracture.