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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stinky breath troubles

My! What nice teeth you have!
February is pet dental health month.  Many veterinarians are taking  time to help you recognize how stinky breath can affect the health of your dog or cat.  It may seem odd, but bad teeth can lead to behavior changes as well.   How does that happen?  There are  different ways that the pain and infection from bad teeth - periodontal disease - changes how your pet behaves.

Can you tell Butterscotch is a little sore today?
First of all remember that the primary way we  know what our pets are feeling or thinking is the way they are act.  That is their behavior.  When we think of teeth problems and our pets, we usually think of eating problems.  If our dog or cat had a sore tooth or painful gums we would first think they would not eat well. Maybe they would whine in pain. Remember dogs and cats only whine when the pain is very severe.  Keeping quiet even when in pain is what prevented them from being a predator's lunch when they were wild animals.  When an animal refuses to eat, the teeth are usually extremely painful so it is late in dental disease not early. In early dental disease, there are  other physical or behavioral changes that can clue us in that something is stinky in the mouth.

Pets like us, will often chew their food on the non painful side when they have a  bad tooth.  So you may not see an obvious problem with eating.  Also, some dogs eat so fast and love their food so much they really don't chew it.  They quickly swallow the pellets  and drink  a bunch of water to digest the food.  Cats tend to graze all day on their dry food so it may be difficult to tell if they are eating less. Very true if you have more than one cat.  Wet food is easier to eat, so eating is not a good indicator for early dental problems in cats. 

Many dogs and cats will have a different odor about their breath as tartar is getting worse and the gums are becoming inflamed.  The odor may be really bad, or just different and it will not be as strong day to day.  This may be a bit confusing to you.  Sometimes you smell something stinky but you can't find what  it is.  You look in the ears, you give your pet a bath but still ugh!  In this case think of the teeth and take your pet to your veterinarian to have an exam.  If your veterinarian has recommended a dentistry in the past, call and make that appointment.

Butter loves chin rubs.
If he didn't - that's a clue
Dogs and cats may react differently than usual to petting around the ears, eyes, or cheeks when there is early mouth pain.  The sinuses which lie under the cheeks, between the eyes and the nose, as well as above the eyes ( just between the ears) can be painful.  You may or may not see sneezing but the bone is inflamed.  This chronic low level pain will not make them whine or cry, but it will make them want to avoid petting.  So if your pet typically loves to have the back of their ears rubbed ( where the TMJ is) but now lets out a little whine or cry, there may be teeth problems especially if the ears look fine.  If your cat is not rubbing it's face marking the sofa or corners like a cat should, there may be pain around the cheeks due to teeth problems.  Cats should facially rub around walls and furniture every few days to keep their facial scent alive in the home.  When this facial marking  does not happen, it may also lead to fighting problems with other housemate cats.

Your dog may not be chewing on rawhide, nylabone or catching a ball.  Does your dog like to chew on things?  It may hurt to chew now.  Often when I find a broken molar, the owner will comment " He stopped chewing on his rawhide a while ago but I just thought he did not like the flavor.  He still plays with his softer toys." Don't feel bad that you may have missed a problem.  It can be difficult to see that broken tooth.  They can only tell you with their behavior.

tartar on the back molars you can't
see that causes pain
 If  grouchiness in your pet  is getting worse, it could be irritability aggression.   Take your pet to the vet! Your pet is not being bad, but is in chronic pain.  This  is an example of irritability aggression.  Chronic pain stimulates aggression directly from the body chemical changes that chronic pain causes. There are changes to the cortisol levels in the body that correlate with the increased aggression. I know first hand how chronic pain and aggression can go hand in hand.

  There was a beloved little dog that I could never examine unless he was held fast and tight.  Even then, if I touched him at, all he would explode shaking, snarling and desperately wanting to bite at anyone who handled him.  He would not even let a groomer cut his hair. One day we agreed to sedate  him deeply for a much needed hair cut and clean his teeth.  The poor little guy - he had multiple deeply infected teeth that  had to be removed because they were infecting his whole mouth. We did not know, because he would never let anyone near his face.  After extracting multiple teeth and a pain reliever, I saw him on a recheck a few days later.  He was wagging his tail and let me pet him!!!!!  I was shocked to say the least.  Removing his painful teeth helped him to be dramatically less aggressive. I was able to do a  full physical after that, and he wagged his tail when he came in for his exams.  I will never forget this case, and it reminds me daily to screen for pain problems when I hear about aggression.

Ranger and I say  hi!
Watch what your pet enjoys, and notice the little things.  When those little things start changing that may be an early clue there are  health problems.  Knowing your pet helps you to keep them healthy in body and mind.