Thursday, April 26, 2012

When To Euthanize A Pet Dani McVety

How will I know it’s time?
Dr. Dani McVety
April 2012

I’ve heard from countless pet owners that the death of their pet was worse than the death of their own parents.  This might sound blasphemous to some, but to others it’s the cold truth.  Making the decision to euthanize a pet can feel gut-wrenching, murderous, and immoral.  Families feel like they are letting their pet down or that they are the cause of their friend’s death.  They forget that euthanasia is a gift, something that, when used appropriately and timely, prevents suffering both for the pet and the family.  Making the actual decision is the worst part of the experience and I’m asked on a daily basis, “Doc, how will I know when it’s time?”  It’s time to shed some light on this difficult discussion.

An interesting trend that I did not expect when starting my hospice practice is that the more times families experience the loss of a pet, the sooner they make the decision to euthanize.  Owners experiencing the decline or terminal illness of a pet for the first time will generally wait until the very end to make that difficult decision.  They are fearful of doing it too soon and giving up without a good fight.  Afterwards, however, most of these owners regret waiting too long.  They reflect back on the past days, weeks, or months, and feel guilty for putting their pet through those numerous trips to the vet or uncomfortable medical procedures.  The next time they witness the decline of a pet, they are much more likely to make the decision at the beginning of the decline instead of the end.  

Pain in animals is another important topic that all pet owners should be well versed on.  It’s the main topic I discuss during my in-home hospice consultations.  Myself, and many other professionals, believe that carnivorous animals, such as cats and dogs, do not hide their pain… it simply doesn’t bother them like it bothers humans.  Animals do not have an emotional attachment to their pain like we do.  Humans react to the diagnosis of cancer much differently than Fluffy does!  Fluffy doesn’t know she has a terminal illness, it bothers us more than it bothers her.  This is much different than prey animals like rabbits or guinea pigs, ask your veterinarian for more information.  If you’re interested in learning more about pain and suffering in pets, grab Temple Grandin’s book “Animals in Translation” and read chapter 5.  

               When discussing the decision to euthanize, we should be just as concerned about anxiety in our pet as we are about pain.  Personally, I feel that anxiety is worse than pain in animals.  Think about the last time your dog went to the vet.  How was his behavior?  Was he nervous in the exam room?  Did he give you that look that said “this is terrible!”?  Now think back to when he last hurt himself.  Perhaps scraping his paw or straining a muscle after running too hard.  My dog rarely looks as distraught when she’s in pain as she does when she’s anxious.  It’s the same for animals that are dying.  End stage arthritis makes up about 30% of my cases.  These animals begin panting, pacing, whining, and crying, especially at night time.  Due to hormonal fluctuations, symptoms can usually appear worse at night.  The body is telling the carnivorous dog that he is no longer at the top of the food chain; he has been demoted and if he lies down, he will become someone else’s dinner.  Anti-anxiety medications can sometimes work for a time but for pets that are at this stage, then end is certainly near.  

               As a veterinarian, my job is to assist the family in the decision making, not do it for them.  There is not one perfect moment in time in which to make that choice.  Rather, there is a subjective time period in which euthanasia is an appropriate decision to make.  This period could be hours, days, weeks, or even months.  Before this specific period, I will refuse to euthanize since there is clearly a good quality of life.  After this period, however, I will insist on euthanizing due to suffering of the pet.  During this larger subjective time, it is truly dependent on the family to make whatever decision is best for them.  Some owners need time to come to terms with the decline of their pet while others want to prevent any unnecessary suffering at all.  Everyone is different and entitled to their own thoughts.  After all, pet owners know their pet better than anyone, even the vet!  

Blog by:
Dr. Dani McVety
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice

Dr. Dani helps families in the Tampa / St. Pete area. She also consults for veterinary clinics and industry on end-of-life care for our companion animals.

Posted by:  Mary Gardner, DVM

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nutrition for Pets with Cancer Lap of Love

Nutrition for Pets with Cancer
Marguerite E. Voorhees DVM PhD DOM

There is significant quality research today to show that pets with cancer can benefit significantly from a nutritional plan that supports health while inhibiting the growth and spread of cancerous cells.

For my patients with cancer I work to help caregivers make healthful upgrades to their pet’s nutrition, but I discourage sudden or dramatic changes.  Changes that are too sudden can overwhelm the animal and make them weak or cause vomiting, loss of appetite, or diarrhea.  These can become more or less serious consequences, depending on the stage of the cancer and the particular complications. 

It is very important that the pet continue to eat and maintain weight, so changes are made gradually in a series of upgrades through a hierarchy of levels of nutrition that run from kibbled or canned (better) high to low carbohydrate commercial foods to homemade cooked foods and even to raw foods depending on signs and symptoms and what the animal is willing to accept and capable of digesting.

Most commonly, I recommend conversion as soon as possible from a commercial diet to a homemade cooked diet with high protein, moderate fat, and low carbohydrate levels.  Caregivers are guided to select and prepare wholesome ingredients in appropriate proportions usually in the form of a stew.   A crockpot can make this super easy.  Homemade cooked diets are generally very palatable, digestible, nourishing, and therapeutic.   

Many clients enjoy preparing fresh home cooked meals for their pets as a way to express their caring which adds all the more nourishment to the food.  
Depending on the tolerance of the cancer patient for nutritional supplements these may be added in gradually and may include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, probiotics, antioxidants, and beneficial spices and herbs. 

A well-designed plan for improved nutrition for your pet with cancer should be formulated under the guidance of a veterinary professional.    If you are interested in improving the diet of your pet with cancer, please be sure to ask your veterinarian for help. 

Lap of Love also has a wonderful Pet Nutrition Specialist, Jodi Ziskin,  that performs phone consultations to clients interested in learning how to home cook for their pets:  CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!

Blog by:
Dr. Marguerite Voorhees
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
Dr. Marguerite helps families in the Sarasota and North Fort Myers area.

Blog posted by Mary Gardner, DVM
Photos of Neo - Dr. Gardner's doberman who had cancer and was on a home cooked meal

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dana Lewis Lap of Love Raleigh Dog Walk

Dr. Dana Lewis' recap of the 
K9 3K Dog Walk in Raleigh

Dr. Dana Lewis and Myrtle
 The Wake County SPCA in Raleigh, NC is awesome!   They are a no kill shelter that I have been involved with for many years.  I have fostered puppies and kittens for them.  I have volunteered to spay and neuter SPCA adoptees and locally owned pets at their Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic. They even have a Pet Loss Support Group!  I gladly support them in their fundraising efforts! 

Today they had their 13th Annual K9-3K Dog Walk at Moore Square 
and it was a huge success!

 My Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice booth was one of 46 businesses attending and supporting the walkathon.  The goal was to raise $280,000 for homeless pets and they were up to over $247,000 (88% of goal) and STILL have donations coming in from local businesses that were adding part of today’s proceeds to the pot.  They had over 3,000 walkers-how awesome is that?!?!?   I hope they realize their goal so that they can continue their work finding homes for homeless pets!

The event had microchipping courtesy of CareFirst Animal Hospitals and a scavenger hunt sponsored by them that was great fun!  There was a ½ K Senior Walk for aged friends, and dogs with health issues that restricted them from the big walk.  The SPCA Pit Crew (a group of volunteers shining up the image of “pit bulls” and helping them find homes) was well represented by a bunch of lovely volunteers and their pit bull buddies, wearing racing flag bandanas.  They were adora-bull.   

 The dog contests were a big hit including largest dog, smallest dog, best dressed, most spots, and best howler (which would have been best judged when the fire trucks went by, sirens blaring, setting off dozens of dogs at once!).  Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care was in charge of the animal and human first aid station and they did a demo on animal CPR, which was well attended.  And let’s not forget about the beer garden sponsored by Wild Blue, and the food vendors-locally sourced, vegan, or humanely-raised food.  Deeelicious!
A big Irish Wolfound stopped by to visit!

JUST IN - they reached their goal and made over $280,000 today!!!

For those of you who helped make the walkathon a success, you are a superhero to the homeless pet whose life you saved.  Thank you.

Dr. Dana Lewis
Dr. Dana assists families with Pet Hospice and Euthanasia in the Raleigh North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle, as well as Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.)

Blog posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner

Animal Assisted Therapy Program HSBC

Pet Power…Therapy Animals (Just the Right Medicine)

Marni BellaviaManager, Animal Assisted Therapy Program Humane Society of Broward County

The Animal Assisted Therapy program uses volunteers and their companion animals to provide social therapy to comfort children and adults with special needs or those experiencing life’s stresses. The benefit of using pets is that animals, in general, and companion animals more commonly, are regarded by many as “man’s best friend.” Animals provide people with unconditional love and non-judgmental acceptance and companionship. They serve as catalysts for social interaction and as bridges to interpersonal communication and attachment. It’s no wonder people love their pets so much!

When our program was first established, it served the elderly residents of nursing homes in Broward County. Today, our program is well known in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties and we have expanded to help the abused, neglected, physically and mentally ill people of all ages and genders. Our program includes teams that visit over 100 facilities such as senior retirement homes, hospitals, hospice, mental health facilities, children’s facilities, foster homes and group homes along with Broward County Public Schools and Broward County Public Libraries.

The use of animal therapy to assist people with special needs is not a new concept. There is increasing evidence and statistics that show that the emotional and psychological benefits of pet companionship have physiological counterparts as well. Pets improve not only the intangible “quality of life” but also improve human heath. There have been many studies documenting that petting and caring for animals, particularly those with whom a bonded relationship has been established, can reduce blood pressure, slow heart rate, and improve survival rates from heart disease. Animal Assisted Therapy is being used in a wide variety of settings to help people with acute and chronic illnesses. Let’s take a look at some our wonderful Therapy Programs.

Wags & Tales Reading Program

The Wags & Tales Reading (W&T) Program is a research based reading motivation program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The scope of the program is to demonstrate how certified Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) dogs and their handlers can be instrumental in improving the literacy skills of children in an effective, unique, and most importantly, fun manner.

The premise of the W&T program is that children will find reading to an animal less intimidating, a special time for them that is helpful and fun and will create a positive environment in which learning is facilitated. Certified AAT dogs and their handlers visit students at selected schools and libraries to help strengthen reading skills.

In the year 2000, the W&T program began in just one library in Broward County and has now been expanded to include 24 libraries across the county as well as several Broward County Schools. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 children each year are reached through our reading program with our library partnership and an estimated 150 or more children with our school partnership.

This program encourages children to read out loud, improve their literacy skills in a non-judgmental fashion which promotes learning. Each time a child sits down to read to one of our therapy dogs, the response is overwhelming. The children feel this special time with the dog provides them with the motivation to become better readers.

Each certified therapy team receives specialized training prior to placement in the program. The volunteer / dog team must take a series of classes, including specialized training classes, in order to be considered for certification in this program.

Hospital Visits
Our AAT teams visit patients in almost every hospital in Broward County. We visit various floors to bring the joy of our pets to those who are ill or recovering in the hospital. One of our participating hospitals, Coral Springs Medical Center, has seven AAT teams that visit their pediatric ward. The AAT teams stop by the patients’ rooms and help to reduce the stress and anxiety of the children. Many times when the children need to have blood drawn, the dogs are right there beside them so they can pet the dog and have a distraction while their blood is being taken. The interactions between the dogs and the patients are remarkable. Janice Zack, Certified Child Life Specialist says, “We see this time and time again with the patients. Pets reduce stress, lift spirits, and promote healing in a comforting way.”

Our volunteers and companion animals visit their assigned facility and give those residents and patients an opportunity to pet the animal, learn about the proper way to care for a pet, socialize with one another and tell loving stories about their beloved animal friends. AAT visits can be as basic as “meet and greet” or as structured as working on specific goals with individuals under the supervision of a trained staff member. The type of visit depends on the need of the facility.

Currently, we have over 100 dogs, 4 cats and one bird certified in our AAT program. So, you want to be a volunteer? Here’s what you need to know.

You and your companion animal must meet the following minimum requirements in order to be considered for this program:
• Handlers must be at least 18 years old
• Handlers must have owned their animal for a minimum of one year
• Animals must be one year or older to participate
• Animals must be spayed or neutered
• Animals must be current on vaccinations
• Animals must be non-aggressive in all situations towards humans and other animals
• Animals must be social, friendly and interested in people
• Animals must be well-behaved (i.e., walks well on a leash without pulling, doesn't jump up, adheres to basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, come and heel)

If you are not already a volunteer, you will first need to attend the Humane Society of Broward County’s Volunteer Orientation. Volunteer Orientation is scheduled through our Volunteer Services Department at 954.266.6814.

Once you have completed the Volunteer Orientation, you will be required to attend a 2 ½ hour AAT introductory class without your animal. This class will teach you all about our Animal Assisted Therapy Program and what skill requirements both you and your animal must possess in order to be considered for our program.

After the AAT course is completed, you and your animal might require further training. Training is determined by the type of program you and your animal will be participating in, and what skill sets you and your animal have or need to have in order to participate. AAT Obedience Training classes are held at the Humane Society and are scheduled once a week for 6 weeks. The Manager of the AAT program will decide if you and your animal require further training before being evaluated for the program.

If further training is not required, you will be scheduled for your evaluation. The meeting, inclusive of the evaluation, will take approximately 1 ½ hours. Evaluations are conducted at the Humane Society.

Volunteers will need to provide a copy of their animal’s updated veterinarian records showing all vaccinations have been administered at the time of the training class and/or the evaluation.

If you have multiple pets, the requirement is one pet per handler. You may have multiple pets evaluated and, if they pass, you will be required to bring only one pet per visit. You may rotate your pets as necessary. If you have multiple pets and more than one handler, each pet and handler may be evaluated separately for the program.

Currently, the certification fee for this program is either $80.00 or $100.00 depending upon which option best fits your needs. The certification fee covers the cost of the materials and equipment you will need as a volunteer in this program. The certification fee is tax deductible and non-refundable.

If you are interested in joining our AAT program, please contact the Humane Society directly at 954.266.6856 or email us at

There are other organizations such at the Delta Society and Therapy Dogs, Inc. that are national. 

Posted by: Mary Gardner, DVM
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In Home Euthanasia

Friday, April 20, 2012

Senior Pets and Children-Lap of Love

Senior Pets and Children

As our pets age their behavior towards family and other children sometimes change.  The once sweet, loving, would never hurt a fly senior pet may suddenly become aggressive towards the children they have grown up with. 
Photo credit:

There are several factors that need to be considered when your senior’s attitude takes a turn for the worst.  It could be something as simple as hearing loss to the more complicated pain that comes with aging.  When a pet becomes “hard of hearing” or deaf they may be startled when a child approaches.  As most children are moving quite quickly, the first and very natural response is for the pet to snap and growl or hiss and scratch.  Typically it does not lead to injury but it certainly gets everyone’s attention.  The same response can occur when our pets lose their vision as well.  Being both blind and deaf can make a pet that much more anxious towards children.   A painful pet may defend itself because it cannot get up and out of the way fast enough.

To secure the safety of our senior pets and children there are a few simple things to remember.  Ask the children to approach slowly and quietly.  This will allow most pets to assess the situation and react appropriately.  It is best for smaller dogs and for cats to remind the kids that they can be “a little grouchy” when picked up and to just pet them gently where they are resting.  For pets that sleep very soundly ask children to just avoid contact completely as they will most likely be startled no matter what.   

Painful pets just need a little help.  Speak with your veterinarian about special diets, glucosamine and/or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) or other pain medications.  If your pet is more comfortable they are less likely to be aggressive and may even act a few years younger!

Blog Written by:
Holly Kiernicki, DVM
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In Home Euthanasia

Dr. Holly services the great Dallas, Texas area including: 
~ Frisco ~ Denton ~ Allen ~ Fairview
~ Dallas ~ McKinney ~Celina ~ Little Elm
~ Plano ~ The Colony ~ Carrollton ~ Heath
~ Prosper ~ Richardson ~ Rowlett ~ Wylie
~ Garland ~ Mesquite ~ Rockwall ~ Highland Park

(Blog Posted by Mary Gardner, DVM)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bear vs the Splenic Tumor

This is a story about Bear - a sweet Labrador from Lighthouse Point, Florida - and his spleen!

This past February I received a call from a very lovely family - they were concerned about their dog (yellow lab) Chelsea who had bad arthritis.  They knew the time was coming soon when they had to say goodbye to Chelsea and they wanted to have everything prepared for when that day came.  The week that I was to help Chelsea.... the family cancelled 3 times.  Not an uncommon thing because I know how difficult this time was for them. 

But on March 9th 2012, I finally met Chelsea - she greeted me at the driveway and led me to her front door like she was bringing home a new friend.   I met her mom & dad and then my eyes laid upon Bear.  A big yellow lab that was also rescued by this wonderful family.

Bear didn't get up much and if he did - he sort of waddled.  What I noticed however was that Bear's abdomen (his belly) was REALLY round and big.  Bear's mom could tell I was looking at it and was slightly embarrassed saying that she 'knew he was getting fat'. :-)    She said his belly has been getting bigger for weeks.

(see pic to the right - his belly was so big his legs splayed out when he sat) 

However - this was not 'Bear just getting fat' and I had my suspicions about what it actually was.  But that night was about Chelsea.  As Chelsea started to get sleepy and I listened to some great stories about her life.... Bear kept his distance and laid on his bed. But his big ole' belly was still just making me nervous.

As delicately as I could - I encouraged Bear's mom to take him to the vet's office ASAP.  I knew she was upset already about Chelsea and I didn't want to make her panic about Bear as well.  But if it was what I thought - then we needed him at a vet's office soon.

Bear after surgery

Well - Bear's mom did as I suggested and she brought him first to Dr. Gregg Kuehnel at Pet Vet Animal Hospital who referred him to Coral Springs Animal Hospital where, after reviewing his symptoms and tests, confirmed my suspicions of a splenic tumor.  Bear was rushed to surgery and his spleen was removed .... but this wasn't any ordinary spleen... this one had a big tumor on it... and when I say BIG... it was over 16 pounds!  That is heavier than any bowling ball I ever used. That is like two babies! 

Dr. Jehn from Coral Springs did the surgery and he said that it was in his TOP 3 largest splenic tumors he has ever removed.  And all 3 of the families were the same... thinking that their pets were just 'getting fat'. "This is not uncommon', says Jehn. 

Here is a picture of Bear's spleen after surgery! WOW!

A walk with mom after surgery

 I'm happy to report that Bear is doing GREAT!  He has made a full recover and is bounding down the street like a young man.   His tumor was benign and he is going to be fine.

Now - what the heck is the spleen for and what is this tumor all about?  

Well... the spleen sits just below the stomach on the left side of the body. Its consistency is similar to that of the liver. It is involved in the immune system acting as a central processing plant for immune complexes acting like a huge lymph node.  Plus, the spleen is a site of red blood cell production. The spleen is also responsible for taking older red blood cells out of circulation, destroying them and recycling the iron and proteins in them. 

It is a really cool organ that I personally think does not get enough attention. There are a lot of red blood cells working their way gradually through the spleen at any given time, effectively making the spleen a storage area for blood. If a dog has a severe hemorrhage and needs extra blood, the involuntary muscles of the spleen contract, squirting forth a fresh supply of blood. 

(Read more about the spleen on this great page:

So in short - it is a very 'bloody' organ... and when something goes wrong in that organ - it is not good. 

Bear had a large nasty - yet benign - tumor growing on his spleen and if that had ruptured, Bear would have bleed internally - and would have died. 

Karri Miller, DVM - Lap of Love's Oncology Consultant sheds some more light on splenic tumors; "Dogs can develop primary cancer in their spleen and metastatic cancer in their spleen.  The rule of thumb in dogs developing primary tumors in the spleen is that 66% of them are malignant.  Of those that are malignant, 66% of them will be hemangiosarcoma (malignant tumor of blood vessels).  Other malignant tumors that can affect the spleen include:  lymphoma, histiocytic sarcoma, fibrosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, etc.  Most of the malignant splenic tumors can behave in an aggressive manner where follow up treatment is recommended.  A visit with an oncologist would be recommended to discuss the treatment options after removing the spleen for dogs affected with malignant splenic tumors."

"Dogs that have benign tumors usually have a hematoma (large blood clot), hemangioma, and reactive lymphoid hyperplasia.  Surgery to remove the spleen in these cases can save the dog from a splenic rupture in the future.  Once the spleen is removed, no other treatment is needed." Miller says.

I'm so glad that Bear is doing well and his tumor is benign.  I know that my being at their home that night may have brought a lot of tears as they said goodbye to Chelsea but it also led to Bear's survival.  And now Chelsea is protecting her brother from above. 

Posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and Euthanasia
Broward, Miami Dade, Palm Beach Counties including North Miami, Aventura, Hollywood, Davie, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Weston, Davie, Ft. Lauderdale, Plantation, Pembroke Pines, Tamarac, Wilton Manors, Lighthouse Point, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach, and Jupiter. 

Thanks to Bear's family for allowing us to share his story to help others!
Thanks to Dr. Gregg Kuehnel at Pet Vet Animal Hospital/West Boca Veterinary Center  & Dr. Jehn at Coral Springs Animal Hospital

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dental Care for Dogs and Cats

Dental Home Care
“Perio” means around, “dontal” means tooth:  Periodontal disease is disease around the outside of the tooth. The crown of the tooth is the part we see, and the root of the tooth is the part we cannot see that is in the socket and is held there by periodontal ligaments. The tooth receives nutrients from blood vessels inside the pulp chamber of the tooth. Periodontal disease takes place inside the socket in which the tooth is seated.  Pets have the worst dental hygiene in the home:  they do not brush their teeth, or floss, and this goes on for years. 

A full 85% of pets have periodontal disease by age 3 years.

We all have a set of baby teeth that come in and fall out to make way for adult teeth. The nerves, vessels, and dentin of our teeth are covered by a hard coat of enamel. The enamel is bathed in saliva and quickly is covered by plaque (bacteria mixed with saliva). If we do not regularly disinfect our mouths and brush away the plaque, the plaque will mineralize into tartar (also called calculus – gritty material that the dental hygienist scrapes away). Tartar, being solid and gritty, blocks oxygen from bathing the outer tooth and thus changes the nature of the bacteria that can live around the tooth. The bacteria that can withstand the oxygen-poor environment (anaerobic bacteria) are more harmful to the bone and tissues of the gum. The periodontal ligament becomes damaged, the bone around the tooth is literally eaten away, and the gums become sensitive. Eventually the tooth is lost and, if the bone damage is severe enough, the jaw can actually break. Worse still, the bacteria of the mouth can seed other areas in the body leading to infection in the heart, liver, kidney or virtually anywhere the bloodstream carries them.
This picture shows a normal mouth. The teeth are clean and white and there is no redness or swelling in the surrounding gums. 

With gingivitis, the gum is clearly red and swollen (there is also yellowish brown tartar extending down the length of the tooth). 

 The third picture shows the third stage of periodontal disease where up to 50% of the bone attachment is lost. Notice the exposure of the tooth roots. 

Gingivitis is reversible. Bone loss, once it starts, is not reversible.

It is a good idea to become comfortable opening your pet’s mouth and looking inside. Lift the lip and look at the teeth, especially the back teeth. Open the mouth and look at the inside of the teeth and at the tongue. If you have pets of different ages, compare what you see inside.

Regular Professional Cleaning

Dental health requires periodic professional cleaning whether the mouth in question belongs to a person, a dog, a cat, a horse, or some other animal. Home care of the tooth is never perfect and periodically tartar must be properly removed and the tooth surface properly polished and disinfected. The professional cleaning performed at the veterinarian’s office is similar to what a person receives at their dentist’s office:
  • Gross (visible) tartar is removed with instruments.
  • More delicate tartar deposits are removed from the gum line with different instruments. 

  • Periodontal sockets are probed and measured to assess periodontal disease.
  • The roots are planed, (meaning tartar is scraped from below the gum line) until the roots are smooth again.

  • The enamel is polished to remove any unevenness left by tartar removal.
  • The mouth is disinfected and possibly treated with a fluoride sealer or plaque repellent.
  • Professional notes are taken on a dental chart, noting abnormalities on each of the dog’s 42 teeth, or the cat’s 30 teeth.

It is important to note that a “non-anesthetic” teeth cleaning is not comparable to the above service.
It is not possible to perform the “six step” cleaning in a pet without general anesthesia.
Cosmetic cleanings do not address periodontal disease where it occurs: under the gum line. 

Home Care Products

Toothpaste and Brushing
Just as with your own teeth, nothing beats brushing. The fibers of the toothbrush are able to reach between teeth and under gums to pick out tiny deposits of food. A toothbrush acts as a tiny scrub brush for the closest possible cleaning.
Notice the shape of the canine and feline brushes and how they conform to a pet's mouth. You can use a human toothbrush but you will probably find it difficult to manipulate in the pet's mouth. Never use human toothpaste for a pet as these contain ingredients that are not meant to be swallowed. Animal toothpastes come in pet-preferred flavors (chicken, seafood, and malt) in addition to the more human-appreciated mint and all are expected to be swallowed. Don't attempt to clean the inner surface of your pet's teeth. Natural saliva cleans this surface on its own.  Do try to perform dental home care at least once daily.

Dental Wipes, Rinses and Pads
Some animals, especially those with tender gums, will not tolerate brushing but are more amenable to disinfecting wipes or pads. These products will wipe off plaque deposits from the surface of the tooth and, though they lack the ability to pick food particles out of the gum socket, they are probably the next best thing to brushing and, like brushing, these products are best used daily. 

Dental Treats
For many people, doing anything inside their pet’s mouth on a regular basis is simply never going to happen. Fortunately, all is not lost: chewing on a proper dental chew can reduce plaque by up to 69%. This may not be as good as brushing but it certainly beats doing nothing. There are many products available for both dogs and cats. 

Not all chews are alike. Chewing provides abrasion against the tooth removing plaque and tartar. Some chews and biscuits include the ingredient hexametaphosphate, which prevents the mineralization of plaque into tartar. 

A treat that has been proven to remove plaque from teeth. The new formulation came out mid-2006 and is available in both canine and feline treats. Both are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, a group that awards its seal of approval to treats and diets showing scientific evidence of plaque and tartar retardation.
(Dog and Cat Greenie Dental Chews)

Dental Diets
There is a common misconception that simply feeding a kibbled diet will protect teeth from dental disease. Consider what it would be like to attempt to replace brushing your own teeth with eating crunchy foods and it is easy to see how ineffective this method would be. When it comes to pet foods, much of the kibble is swallowed whole and not chewed at all.

But with Hill’s Tartar Diet (T/D) the kibbles are very large, which means the pet must chew them before swallowing them. These diets are high in fiber, which means the kibbles do not shatter when chewed but instead the tooth sinks into the kibble allowing plaque to be essentially scrubbed away. The large kibbles may pose an acceptance problem for the pet, leading the owner to use them as treats or mixed with other kibbles. The smaller the percentage of the diet these kibbles represent, the less benefit will be reaped. It is also important to realize that these diets are helpful only in cleaning the molars and premolars (i.e. the chewing teeth) and do not help the fangs or incisors. (There are original and small bites for dogs, and also a version for cats.)

Chew Toys
Use your judgment with chew toys. A chew toy must be easily bent or dented or it will break teeth.  A chew can be readily swallowed in a large chunk and lead to intestinal obstruction.  A pet with diseased teeth may break teeth on a hard chew.  Cow hooves and bones are not appropriate chew toys as they are too hard and readily break teeth.  Pig ears are well loved by most dogs but have been known to have bacterial contamination, nor do they help clean teeth.

See a list of the VOHC’s currently approved products:

Photos are from the American Veterinary Dental Society and the American Veterinary Oral Health Council,, and 

Dr. Dana Lewis
Dr. Dana assists families with Pet Hospice and Euthanasia in the Raleigh North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle, as well as Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.)

Blog posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner