Food allergies are a serious problem for many people in the United States. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, food allergies have increased from 3.5% in 1999 – 2001 to 5.6% in 2011 – 2013 for children and teens. The reactions differ from rashes and hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis. For those with severe allergies, leaving home is risky as they never know where or when an exposure may occur. The table in the waiting room might have dust from peanut butter crackers on it or the tongs used for the lettuce at the salad bar might have been used for cheese or nuts before being placed back into the lettuce bowl. Even the backyard poses a threat from squirrels that drop shells and pieces of nuts onto the patio.
For allergy sufferers, even everyday activities like going to work or school can be stressful events – that is unless they have a 4-legged early warning system at their side! Humans have trained dogs to detect all of kinds of things from drugs to explosives to people buried in avalanches. Now, dogs are being trained to find allergens. Reporter Lisa Ward described an allergy alert dog named Rex who lives with a little girl who is allergic to peanuts. Before Rex joined the family, trips to public places like amusement parks were off limits. Now, they are able to go worry-free because Rex’s highly sensitive nose will tell them when peanuts are present. He has found peanuts on the playground and even the doctor’s office. It has given the family the freedom to live a normal life, visiting public places free of worry.
Although almost all dogs have the ability to detect allergens, not all are mentally or physically cut out for the work. Candidates must be healthy dogs who are calm, well-behaved and comfortable in a variety of situations. Training starts with basic obedience before progressing to scent work. These dogs are trained with methods similar to those used for drug and bomb sniffing dogs. When the offending scent is detected, the dog is trained to sit and point their nose toward the allergen. The allergy sufferer leaves the area and the dog receives a reward, usually a food treat or playtime with a favorite toy. Like all scent trained dogs, allergen dogs receive regular training to maintain their skills. This is another great reason to love dogs.
Ward, Lisa. “In Search of Food Allergens, Consider Sending in the Dogs.” WALL STREET JOURNAL, Tuesday, February 17, 2015, P R5.
Transitioning an outdoor cat to life in the great indoors can be challenging. The cat may try to dart out an open door or protest all night when the rest of the family wants to sleep. Remember, this is a stressful time for both the cat and their new family. In my experience, the process of transition takes up to three weeks. So please be patient as this is a large adjustment for the cat. Here are my tips for transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor life:
1) Provide several different places for the cat to hang out. Create a high perch to give the cat a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. There should also be a sleeping area that is cozy and secure. A box in a quiet corner of a room or a grocery bag behind a living room chair work well. In between these two levels, provide several different places where the cat may look out the window. Try to keep them out of direct sunlight to prevent skin cancer.
2) Give the cat a lot of exercise to burn off energy. Provide a variety of toys that allow them to bat, swing, claw and attack the toys. Many cats love toys on strings. I recommend at least 15 minutes of active play twice a day. My goal is to play until they simply can’t anymore. Usually, a cat’s first burst of energy will last about 10 minutes, they take a 2 minute break and then they can play for another 5 minutes. I do not recommend lasers for cats. These can lead to frenzied play syndrome because the cat can never catch and kill the dot (see my earlier blog for more details on this topic).
3) Redirect the cat away from the door with a special treat. Place a treat such as a piece of cooked chicken in another room before exiting. Also, pretend to leave by picking up keys, walk to the door, place your hand on the knob several times until the cat is bored with your actions.
4) Hide treats around the cat’s environment to allow them to hunt for food.
For really determined escape artists, and some cats are, a motion detector spray canister may be placed at the door. Please only use these canisters as a last resort to prevent escape. Try to redirect instead of scare the cat as it is much better for their psychological health.
I know some people believe cats belong outside. I understand the sentiment but have to be honest, life in the outdoors is fraught with danger. For cats who are not spayed or neutered, the issue of pet overpopulation also raises concern. Most animals who live in the wild have a tough life and die a rough death. Many people find that giving a cat a forever home, even if indoors, is the best gift the animal can receive.
Why does tartar seem to accumulate after a dental cleaning in dogs and cats? Before the cleaning, it took several years to form. After the dental, it returns in several months.
The answer is age. As dogs and cats age, they experience several changes that accelerate the formation of dental calculus and disease, namely decreased flow of saliva and immunity in the mouth. On top of that, damage accumulates from prior years. Even the most thorough scaling and polishing cannot undo all the damage that was done. Rough surfaces give bacterial in the biofilm of the mouth a perfect place to stick.
The key to prevent recurrence of periodontal disease is consistent home care. Daily teeth brushing is the cornerstone. If your pet resists the brush like mine do, I recommend C.E.T oral hygiene rinse swabbed along the gum line. Even my feral cat, Kalani, will allow me to swab his gums. When he comes to me for attention, I get him purring then lay him on his side. I gently open his mouth and swab his gum line then repeat the process on his other side.
According to a veterinary dentist, Steve Holmstrom, DVM, DAVDC, the biofilm (bacteria) accumulates on teeth in 20 minutes after a scaling and polishing. Soft plaque develops in 6 to 8 hours. If left alone, the soft plaque calcifies into tartar in 3 to 5 days. The reason why plaque and tartar accumulate on teeth is that the surface does not slough. The epithelial cells that form the surface of gums slough regularly.
Despite the above issues, it is still vital to get regular dental cleanings for your pets. Dental pain is very severe and anything we can do to prevent periodontal diease, tooth loss and maintain gum health is part of truly loving our pets. Just as with humans, staying on top of dental health is a major element of assisting the entire health of our furry friends.
When a dog or a cat loses a tooth, the space can be filled with a dental implant. Veterinary dentists are replacing missing teeth with implants just like human dentists do for people. For working dogs that use their mouths to apprehend suspects, retrieve prey or pick up keys for people with disabilities, dental implants allow them to continue their work. Dental implants have been placed in wild animals allowing them to catch prey and return to their natural environment.
But dental implants are not for every dog or cat. Successful implants require strong bone to hold the implant. Most of the dogs and cats I see lose teeth due to periodontal disease. Bacteria release enzymes that work over time to destroy the structures that hold teeth in place. Periodontal disease is classified into four stages based on the amount of support loss. More information may be found at my post, “Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats”. If the bacteria are not removed from around the implant, it will suffer the same fate as the tooth it replaced.
Before placing implants in a dog or cat’s mouth, I recommend an honest evaluation of home care. Will daily brushing be possible with the family’s routine? Will the dog or cat allow it? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then a simple extraction would be better for the pet. Remember, implants can become infected leading to pain just like happens to some teeth.
Tannenbaum, J. et al, “The case against the use of dental implants in dogs and cats.” J. Am Vet Med Assoc. December 15, 2013;243(12):1680-5.
Ask a veterinarian what is the most common dental problem in dogs and cats and they will immediately answer periodontal disease. According to veterinary dentist, Dr. Jan Bellows, 85% of cats and dogs 4 years and older have periodontal disease. This painful disease leads to tooth loss with time. Here is how it works:
Stage1: Plaque sticks to teeth which contains bacteria, mucin and sloughed epithelial cells. If not removed, minerals salts in food form a hard calculus on the crown of the tooth. The calculus irritates the gums causing gingivitis.
Stage 2: The calculus at the base of each tooth changes the pH of the area below the gum line. Now bacteria can live there causing early periodontitis. The cementum, periodontal ligament and alveolar bone which support the tooth suffer.
Stage 3: The periodontal disease is now established with destruction of 25 to 50% of the supporting structures. As my friend Dr. Bates likes to say, “the tooth is circling the drain in stage 3.” Even with aggressive treatment, many of these teeth will progress to stage 4.
Stage 4: When more than 50% of the support structures are lost, the tooth is in advanced periodontitis. Removal is the only option now to make the dog or cat pain free.
(Severe dental disease in a cat)
Bellows, Jan. “The Dental Care Series: Periodontal Disease in Pets.” VIN Published 6/14/2002, Reviewed/Revised 5/9/2007.