How is Your Pet’s Dental Health?

Do you think “Ew, ick!” when your tabby exhales as he comes close to your face to look in your eyes?  Does your schnauzer-mix have “dog breath”?  Both are good indicators that a dental check-up and cleaning for your pet is a wise idea.


February is National Pet Dental Health Month.  We’ve talked about ways you can keep your dog’s teeth as clean as possible at home in our post on Dry Food and Dog Teeth.  Today, Dr. Frank and one of our veterinary technicians answer questions about having a professional dental cleaning for your cat or dog done at your veterinarian’s clinic or hospital – the benefits, how it is done and other questions about dentals.

We love to go to the dentist ourselves, don’t we?  Yep, one of our favorite things to do.  But, admit it – Doesn’t your mouth feel SO much better after the hygienist cleans your teeth?  Exceedingly better than after you brush your teeth, no matter how fancy a toothbrush you have.

Consider giving your pet the gift of fresh breath and super-clean teeth by taking him to your vet for a dental cleaning in February.

Q: What are the benefits of a dental cleaning?

Dr. Frank:  I’d say the top three benefits of a clinic dental cleaning are:

  • Fresher breath!
  • Healthier body by preventing serious disease or illness that can start in the mouth
  • The opportunity for your vet to thoroughly check all of your pet’s teeth, which can save teeth.  This is difficult to do when the pet is awake and can be particularly hard to do with wide-awake cats.


Q: What are the risks of not getting a dental cleaning?

Dr. Frank:  Infections in the gums such as gingivitis and periodontal disease (disease affecting the tooth or jaw) can lead to a variety of seemingly unrelated health issues such as liver disease, diabetes, kidney disease or other life-threatening conditions.  And let’s not forget the obvious – undetected problems with the teeth or gums can lead to tooth loss.

Q: What does a dental cleaning entail?

Dr. Frank:  In our clinic, as in most veterinary practices, our veterinary technicians perform dental cleaning procedures.  So we decided to ask Kelsey Pritchett*, one of our technicians, to answer this question.  Any problems the technician finds during the cleaning is brought to my attention.

Kelsey:  Ideally dental cleanings on dogs and cats are preventative maintenance just as with people.  The mouth is the doorway to our internal organs and if it is unhealthy it sets the stage for the rest of the body to follow suit.  A thorough dental cleaning is one way to prevent oral disease that could contribute to other diseases down the road.

A meticulous dental cleaning is done in our practice under general anesthesia. That way we are able to really see all surfaces of the teeth and inspect them well for any signs of disease.

We remove the large bulks of tartar and then, with an ultrasonic scaler and a hand scaler, we clean the crown of the tooth.  We then measure the sulcus depth, where the gums meet the tooth, to check for any pockets that can house bacteria.  We make a note of the general condition of the gums and if there are any abnormal teeth.

If there are deep pockets that cannot be remedied or if a tooth is loose which means that the disease process has gone too far for us to save the tooth, we, with the owner’s permission, remove the diseased tooth.

We finish our cleaning by polishing all surfaces of all of the teeth.  This is a very important step in the process as it allows us to smooth out any grooves in the enamel of the teeth to prevent bacteria and tartar build up in those areas.

We make a detailed report of any teeth that were abnormal and what was done about them so that next time we go in to clean the pet’s mouth, we can monitor areas we were previously concerned about.

For additional details, read the full article written by Kelsey.

*Note: You can find information about Kelsey’s training and background on Our Exceptional Staff page.

Dr. Frank:  We put the pet on IV fluids during the procedure to help flush anesthetic out of their system and we give the pet a supportive vitamin cocktail.  We also suggest to our clients the use of plant botanicals after the cleaning to help decrease plaque and tartar buildup.

Q: Some holistic vet clinics advertise they do teeth cleanings with no anesthetic?  Do you do that in your clinic?  If not, why not?

Dr. Frank:  No, we do not.  In our area, this is a 3rd party service which only offers the service at one location per zip code.  It is important to realize that the cleaning is not performed by the your pet’s regular doctor or the doctor’s staff, it is performed by people who may not have seen your pet before.

Although dental cleaning without anesthetic can have some benefits compared to nothing at all, without anesthetic, meticulous checking of each tooth and the gums can be extremely difficult, as mentioned above.

In our practice we have seen a few cases of pets needing teeth extracted within months of having the dental service without anesthetic performed.  In our clinic, if the dog or cat has gingivitis that is not too severe, we can even apply a time-release antibiotic in the gumline, eliminating the need for the owner to give follow-up medication at home.

Q: How often should my pet get his teeth cleaned?

Dr. Frank:  It is important to have your pet’s teeth checked by your vet at least annually, every 6 months for older pets.  I do this (as do most vets) as part of the annual or 6 month wellness exam we encourage our clients to schedule for each pet.  At that exam your vet will recommend a dental cleaning if he or she sees a need.

Whether or not your dog or cat will need a dental annually, semi-annually or not at all depends on a number of factors including breed, diet and genetics.


Click Here for an AVMA video with instructions on teaching a dog or cat to accept tooth brushing.  The vet also explains the risks of periodontal disease in pets.

Pets and the Holidays

The holidays are upon us – time with family and friends, times of giving and cozy fires, times of cooking and shopping, times of rushing, anxiety, tension and stress.  For us and our pets.


Though not many of our pets actually have to brave the shopping malls with us, they are there when we bring home bags from that mall. 

They are there when we worry over whether our mother-in-law will like what we bought her, when we wonder if we’ll ever get Chanukkah cards sent. 

And our pets are there when we leave the Christmas gift wrap and ribbon out on the table, bring in a tree and decorate it with lights and tinsel.

Try to take some time to relax with your dog or cat during this holiday season, it will help your stress level as well as theirs. 

To help your pets stay healthy and happy this month, here are some things to keep in mind as you go about your holiday activities.    


Rule of Thumb – If it’s not good for you to eat or for your stomach, keep it out of reach of your cat or dog.  It won’t be good for them either.  That includes ornaments, ribbons, tinsel, pine needles.  If you’re not eating the mistletoe, please make sure Fido or Kitty can’t accidentally snack on it when you’re not looking.  

Some Specifics (from the AAHA website

Electrical cords:

Holiday lights mean more electrical cords for kittens and puppies to chew.  Be sure you have cords secured and out of the way.


Lighted candles should never be left unattended.  That is even more important if left at kitty’s eye level or within puppy’s chewing zone.  An exuberant tail or a swat of a paw can easily upset lighted candles with hot wax.  Anchor candles securely and away from curious faces and feet.

Holiday plants:

Holly and mistletoe are extremely poisonous when eaten, as are lilies. The lovely poinsettia is not poisonous, but its milky white sap and leaves can certainly cause gastric distress. The best approach is to keep holiday plants out of your pets’ reach.

Holiday tree:

Make sure your tree is well secured. If you have a tree-climbing cat or a large dog with a happy tail, anchor the top of the tree to the wall or ceiling using strong cord or rope.  

Clean up dropped tree needles frequently, ingested pine needles can cause intestinal problems.  Also, preservatives often used in the water in a tree stand can cause gastric upsets, so be sure it is inaccessible or not used.  And it’s important to avoid aspirin additives in the tree water.


Sharp or breakable ornaments, dreidels and even aluminum foil should be kept out of reach.  String objects, especially tinsel and ribbons should be kept away from pets.  That can be difficult during present opening times, but these things are as hard on your pets’ digestive systems as they would be on ours if we ate tinsel, string or ribbon.


Please refrain from giving cooked bones to your pets, even if they beg… Cooked bones can splinter while being chewed.  For healthier alternatives to cooked bones, please see our previous posts on bones.
Why not cooked bones?, Are raw bones ok for my pet? and Feeding raw bones in multiple dog households

Stress and company:

With everyone coming and going, watch out for open doors and sneaky pets.

Make sure your pets have updated collars and tags on in case of escape.  A microchip and two forms of ID on each pet will help if your pet escapes. 

Ask guests to keep an eye out for pets under foot and remind them that sometimes your normally friendly dog or cat may be less than willing to deal with enthusiastic children and rooms full of unfamiliar people. 

Provide a special quiet place with a blanket and fresh water for your pets to retreat to when the festivities get too stressful.

Zoey and Grandpa de-stressing together


Lesser Known Holiday Pet Safety Tips:

Please do not allow guests to feed your pets human food.  There are many holiday foods, including gravies, chocolate and alcohol, that can cause mild to severe illness in your pet.  Sometimes the food is fine, but the stress of guests around can cause a digestive problem.  It’s best to keep your pet’s diet as consistent as possible.   

Reduce stress by keeping meals and exercise on a regular schedule.  When pets are stressed by holiday activity or during travel, they may require more water.  Dogs typically pant more when they feel stressed.  Keep fresh water available for them to drink.

Natural Products for Pet Stress:

There are many safe and natural stress relievers to choose from.  If you have guests or will be gone a lot; if you are bringing your pets with you as you travel; or if you are stressed and you are concerned your pets may start to reflect your stress… Here are a few options we have available at our clinic:
(For people outside of the Seattle area, check with your local vet, natural pet store or health food store for these products.  Or we can mail items to you – call the clinic for information on purchasing from us.)

  • HomeoPet® Anxiety, TFLN (thunder, fireworks or loud noises) or Travel Anxiety – Homeopathic drops that can be dosed either directly into the mouth, in water or put on a treat or on food.  These are safe for both dogs and cats and can be used for general anxiety, travel anxiety or loud noises.
  • Composure Chews – Tasty treats for dogs and cats containing thiamine, L-Theanine and a Colostrum Calming Complex.  They can be given frequently throughout the day and the dosage can be significantly increased during times of increased stress.  These are recommended to be started several days in advance to build up in their system.
  • Harmonease® – Chewable tablets for dogs made of plant extracts shown to stop typical stress behaviors such as spinning, lick granuloma and cowering.
  • D.A.P. and Feliway® – Pheromone products for dogs and cats. These products reassure and calm your pets using familiar pheromones.  They come in a spray, room diffuser or pet collar.
  • Thundershirt – According to some experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin, pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system of both people and animals.  This product is a gentle, constant pressure “shirt” that wraps around your dog to reduce anxiety.  This pressure has a dramatic calming effect for 80% of dogs. 

Another natural option available in many good pet stores and most health food stores is Rescue Remedy, a Bach Flower Essence.  It is a natural stress reliever that many people keep on hand at home and in travel kits.  It can often help both people and animals recover from travel fatigue and stress.  Put a few drops in the water bowl or portable water container.  For very stressed pets, rub a drop on their ear or put a drop on the towel in their crate or carrier.  

There are other quality flower essence brands your local stores may carry.  Sam’s, a top quality pet store in Monroe, carries Pet Essences® flower essences for pets.  Alaskan essences is another brand recommended by several highly respected dog trainers in the Seattle area.

If you suspect your pet has eaten something toxic or inappropriate, call your veterinarian, veterinary emergency clinic, and/or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center‘s 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-888-4-ANI-HELP.

Food and your pet – Food Energetics

My apologies for the gap since our last info-rich post.  As the clinic gets busier during the summer months, we’ve needed to adjust timing a bit.  The good news is, this post has a boatload of great information for you.  And we’ll be working very hard to post more frequently going forward – Yea!

Two of three cuties at their appointment

Most of us know our pets can have mild or severe food allergies.  Your new kitten gets diarrhea every time you feed him a canned food with salmon in it, though that doesn’t happen with the same brand that contains only chicken.  Or your Saint Bernard has the same problem every time you feed her a dry food or treat with corn in it. 

And many of us know how we personally feel different when we eat different foods – eating a salad gives you more energy, while eating a salad calms your best friend down.  But few of us know how to determine what foods may affect our pets in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. 

Today Dr. Frank answers questions on Food Energetics, a fascinating topic he is passionate about.  Continue reading

Raw Bones for Dogs question

Is Sasha, our client’s cute-as-a-button Chihuahua, waiting for her raw bone?  She looks very hopeful, doesn’t she?  From our post on dry food and dog’s teeth we received the following comment and request for suggestions from one of our blog readers: 


“I am interested in the information re the raw bones. But, I am very cautious about having raw bones in the home. Basically – I don’t. So, how can I give these to my four dogs as I do not want to incur any aggressive behavior either. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.”

We thought Dr. Frank’s response may be of interest to many of you with multiple-dog households, so his reply became our post today. 

Dr. Frank:  Bones are great for cleaning your pet’s teeth and they can be a good outlet for dogs that need to chew.  Continue reading