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The Importance of Dental Health

Just like in people, pets need yearly dental health examinations, cleanings, and treatments to prevent dental disease. Dental disease is the number one diagnosed problem of dogs and cats under 10 years of age. It is also the most under-treated disease of dogs and cats.

Approximately 60-70% of the patients that come in for an annual wellness examination will have dental disease. Less than half of those patients will have their disease treated. Why? Dogs and cats hide their dental disease until it is too late, and changes become non-reversible. We as owners often do not realize the huge impact dental disease is having on their systemic health, their lifespan, and to their quality of life. It is much easier to treat and prevent dental disease during early stages, than in later stages when the pet is showing clinical signs. Annual dental health assessments are crucial to keeping your pet happy and healthy. A comprehensive dental health examination must be done under anesthesia.

What are the Signs of Dental Disease?

  1. Tartar (plaque) and Gingivitis: During your pet’s annual examination your veterinarian will be able to briefly evaluate the surface of the teeth. Plaque is laid down by bacteria, so the presence of plaque is directly proportional to the level of superficial dental infection occurring in your pet’s mouth. Gingivitis is an indicator of inflammation, pain, and infection. Tartar and gingivitis on the surface may mean additional infection below the surface, and a thorough examination of each individual tooth under anesthesia is warranted.
  2. Bleeding gums: This likely indicates severe gingivitis and pain.
  3. Dropping food from the mouth, chewing on only one side of the mouth, refusal to eat: These signs could all be evidence of severe oral pain and advanced dental disease. These pets should be evaluated immediately.
  4. Facial swelling: This could be a sign of a tooth root abscess – a deep infection of the bottom of the tooth.

The Facts:

  • Dental disease has been linked to a variety of health problems including microscopic changes to the kidneys, heart, and liver. It has also been associated with poor diabetic control.
  • Poor oral hygiene has been shown to lessen the lifespan of dogs and cats by as much as 5 years.
  • Early intervention is important! There are four stages of periodontal disease. The first two stages are REVERSIBLE and can be completely corrected with proper veterinary dental care and intervention. This includes scaling/polishing of the teeth under anesthesia and evaluating below the surface with dental x-rays.
  • Periodontal disease stages 3 and 4 are NON-REVERSIBLE. Bone loss, infection, and gingival recession all cause severe pain and inflammation. This must be corrected immediately to prevent anorexia, weight loss, and systemic disease.
  • Good dental care includes BOTH home oral hygiene protocols as well as yearly veterinary evaluation. Brushing teeth daily and providing dental chews can help decrease the progression of plaque and tartar formation, however it does not completely prevent it, as plaque begins forming only SIX HOURS after cleaning. Once plaque has solidified, it cannot be removed by brushing alone, and must be removed by a veterinarian. Home care also only treats the surface of the teeth. Veterinary evaluation includes dental radiographs, to assess the underlying bone and structure of each tooth, and scaling to remove any plaque that has built up.

How to Help Your Pet:

  • Brush those teeth! Click here to see a video of Dr. Gagne brushing her dog’s teeth. It’s not as hard as you think! Be sure to use toothpaste intended for animals.
  • Understand what stage of periodontal disease your pet is at. Discuss with your veterinarian when your pet should have a professional dental cleaning to slow dental disease.

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What To Expect During Your Pet’s Oral Assessment

Dental Preparation and X-Ray Equipment

Before the Oral Assessment Begins:

  1. Every patient receives an IV catheter for maintaining the hydration of your pet under anesthesia with IV fluids and for the administration of anesthetics to be simple and painless.
  2. The patient is anesthetized with a protocol specific to their individual needs. We take everything into consideration when choosing a protocol that is right for your pet including: their age, health status, breed, and any other specific factors for your pet. We also use the safest inhalant gas anesthetic (sevoflurane) available in veterinary medicine.
  3. Each patient is intubated for their dental health examination. This allows us to control their anesthetic depth to ensure it is at the safest level and to protect their airway during the procedure.
  4. Patients are monitored by a Certified Veterinary Technician throughout their procedure. They use both their advanced training, as well as the latest monitoring equipment to ensure your pet is safe the entire time. A second Certified Veterinary Technician or trained Animal Assistant is dedicated to helping the veterinarian with the procedure.

The Oral Assessment:

  1. Adult dogs have 42 teeth and adult cats have 30 teeth. Each tooth is individually assessed! We record missing teeth, note any large fractures, and if any teeth feel loose teeth. We also look at something called “probing depth”, which evaluates for presence and severity of infection below the gum-line. Dental x-rays are obtained of each tooth to evaluate for conditions below the surface including: tooth root abscesses, resorptive lesions (cats), sub-gingival fractures, and bone loss surrounding the tooth.

Before Dental Cleaning

After Dental Cleaning


  1. Based on radiographs, superficial assessment, and probing depth, if a tooth is unlikely to heal from the severity of its disease then it is extracted. We utilize the best equipment and technology to remove affected teeth as atraumatically as possible.
  2. Each individual tooth is then scaled and polished. Scaling involves removing the adhered plaque/tartar from both the exposed surface of the tooth and the sub-gingival (below the gum-line) surface of the tooth. Specialized pet toothpaste polishes and cleans the surface of the teeth to make them smooth, shiny, and remove any remaining debris.
  3. Teeth are sealed with a tooth sealant. This will help decrease the build-up of plaque in your pet’s mouth for a short period of time.

Post-therapy Care, determined on a patient-by-patient basis:

  1. The pet may be sent home with antibiotics if there is evidence of severe dental infection. In some cases, antibiotics may be administered during the dental examination directly at the source of infection below the gum-line.
  2. If the pet had extractions or if their gums were very inflamed, and possibly painful after scaling/polishing, then they will receive an injectable pain medication. They may also be sent home with a few days of pain medication.

Remember: The best way to prevent and manage dental disease is with a combination of home care protocols and annual veterinary dental health assessments.

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Treadmill Workouts for Dogs

Treadmill workouts can be an excellent supplemental exercise to outdoor walks/runs for a variety of reasons. For instance, treadmill exercises can be great during the long, cold days of winter, rainy/snowy days, or the heat of summer. Treadmills are also a great tool for senior dog owners or owners with disabilities. Treadmill exercises are great for older dogs, dogs with arthritis, hyperactive dogs, obese dogs, or dogs recovering from injury in which they need a controlled surface and speed to build their fitness level.

My dogs Ziggy and Lola both absolutely love running on a treadmill and because I have two treadmills side by side, they often run with one another or at the same time as me.

Training your dog to use a motorized treadmill will require patience and persistence. It is very important you review the following links provided in regard to how to train your dog to use a treadmill if you think you may want to try treadmill training with your dog. Improper training or use of a treadmill can cause your dog to become injured. There are treadmills specifically made for dogs but you can also use a human treadmill. Just ensure that it is the appropriate size/length for the safety of your dog.

Never clip your dog onto the treadmill and walk away! Remember, don’t confuse a treadmill with an exclusive alternative to regular, daily walks outside.

Also remember to speak with your veterinarian before starting your dog with treadmill training.

Resources regarding dogs and treadmills:

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Heart Disease and Grain-Free Diets or Exotic Meat Diets

Recently, a correlation between dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is a fatal heart disease, and the feeding of grain-free, boutique, or exotic meat diets has been recognized. There currently is no consensus on why these diets are causing DCM. The main suspected factors include breed-related genetics and taurine (an amino acid) deficiency.

Breeds affected include Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, English Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, and Portuguese Water Dogs. In many of the cases, taurine blood levels were low. Some dogs with low taurine associated DCM did improve on taurine supplementation but others did not.


Signs that you may observe in DCM are the same as congestive heart failure and include weakness, difficulty breathing, poor gum color, and wheezing. When these signs present, the DCM may be advanced and not treatable. Left untreated DCM is fatal.

Chest x-rays and heart echocardiograms can detect DCM earlier and there is a blood test for taurine (but remember not all diet related DCM cause a low blood taurine level).


The earlier caught, the better.

  1. For dogs without cardiac clinical signs that appear healthy, changing the diet is the simplest and most conservative action until more definitive information relating to this emerging pattern is discerned.
  2. Consider an echocardiogram and testing taurine concentration in plasma and whole blood, especially if you do not wish to change the diet as a preventive measure without more information.
  3. If heart failure is identified, change the diet and consider taurine supplementation regardless.
    • Repeat the echocardiogram in 4 to 6 months to assess resolution of the myocardial failure.
  4. If taurine concentration is low, change the diet and initiate taurine supplementation.
    • Repeat the taurine level test in 4 to 6 months.
  5. If you do not wish to change the diet or perform an echocardiogram, test your pet’s taurine concentration (plasma and/or whole blood).
  6. If you are unwilling to change the diet and are unwilling or unable to afford an echocardiogram and taurine analysis, we recommend supplementing with taurine. Safe doses are approximately 250 mg per day. Overdosing may lead to issues and should not be done.

What to Do Now

If you have questions or concerns, please call us at Weare Animal Hospital (603-529-4999) and Hopkinton Animal Hospital (603-487-6447) to discuss this issue. We are happy to schedule an appointment for consultation and any testing for your pet.

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Outdoor Fun with Your Dog, by Dr. Peel

Interested in some fun outdoor plans for you and your dog for the weekend? Here are some tips from Dr. Peel.

Exercise is very important for the health and well being of all dogs. Some dogs need activities that are both very physically demanding as well as mentally challenging. Others may be couch potatoes but equally need and require regular exercise as well. As an owner of five dogs ranging in activity level, age, and size (from 65lbs to 5lbs), I must ensure they all have regular exercise to keep them healthy as well as mentally and physically stimulated.

A well-stimulated and exercised dog is much less likely to get into trouble with behavioral issues such as chewing on furniture, digging in the yard, or escaping your yard. In addition, the lack of appropriate exercise is a major contributor to the pet obesity trend and the serious devastating diseases that accompany overweight pets. Furthermore, regular exercise strengthens the body organs such as the muscles, lungs, heart, and joints which not only help prevent injuries, but also improve the overall wellbeing and potentially life expectancy of your best friend as well.

Here are a few exercises and activities I routinely enjoy with my dogs.


Walking is a great exercise for both you and your dog and really helps to strengthen the bond between the both of you. I often walk all of my dogs at one time (yes, from the 5lb yorkie to the 65lb boxer mix) without any issues. However, it is important all dogs are trained to walk well on a leash alone with you before you walk several dogs at one time. Make sure you always use a leash unless you’re in a safe, fenced-in area.


If you’re a hiker, consider getting a lightweight nylon backpack for your larger dog. Ziggy, my 65lb boxer mix has his own backpack to carry his and my food/water for the hike. If you have a small dog, you may want to consider carrying her in a small special bag if she gets too tired during the hike as I do with my small pups.

For more information about hiking with your dog, visit: Hike With Your Dog and American Hiking Society.

Running or Jogging

Dogs can be amazing running partners although it is important you are both in similar athletic condition. Otherwise, mismatches can be exhausting for both of you. Also be sure you have a dog whose type and temperament make him suitable as a running partner. Ziggy (boxer mix) and Lola (sharpie mix) are my two running partners and we always enjoy a good run together. However, Yoshi (my cockapoo) doesn’t quite enjoy running for long periods of time and he would quickly tire out.

It is also important you consult a veterinarian before your dog starts running as different health conditions can be contraindicated for a strenuous activity such as running (heart disease, arthritis, young/old age, etc).


Swimming is another great exercise for dogs. This is an activity that is low-impact so it doesn’t stress the joints of older or arthritic dogs. Swimming also works many different muscles at the same time. Not all dogs are natural swimmers so may do best in shallow waters. It is okay for dogs to swim in chlorinated pools as long as they are bathed afterwards to remove the chlorine from their fur/hair just as you would do after swimming. Swimming in lakes and rivers can also be an enjoyable activity. Make sure your best friend is always supervised while swimming.

Also remember certain diseases can be contracted by swimming in these water sources (parasites, bacterial infections, etc). This is one reason why a leptospirosis vaccination as well as regular fecal tests are highly recommended to protect your best friend.

Some dogs may also enjoy swimming in the ocean, but this is only advised for strong swimmers. The ocean carries itself certain risks such as strong currents and salt water. It can be life threatening and even fatal for dogs to drink excessive amounts of salt water so make sure you prevent your dog from drinking ocean water.

I advise all dogs to wear a life jacket while swimming (even strong swimmers). Ziggy loves to swim and is an excellent swimmer. However, he often enjoys swimming so much he becomes exhausted and thus he has his own life jacket to keep him safe when he is tired and in deeper waters.


Many dogs have a lot fun and enjoy a simple game of fetch. Fetch is an activity that gives your dog needed exercise, strengthens the bond between the both of you, and promotes the habit of him returning to you. You can always switch the objects of fetch from balls, frisbees, stuffies, or whatever your dog’s favorite toy is. Fetch can be played outside or even indoors on a rainy or snowy day if you have the space that allows for it.

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