Protect Your Pet: Provide Proper Doggy Dental Care

Did you know that 80% of dogs over the age of 4 have some form of dental disease?

As with people, the main culprit is a build-up of plaque, which eventually hardens into tartar, leading to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontal disease.

The result? A bacterial invasion of the gums and tissues supporting the teeth, damaging them and ultimately causing tooth loss. This bacteria can also invade the bloodstream, potentially damaging the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver.

Did you know that, as responsible owners, you can lower your dog’s risks by following a program of conscientious oral care.

Before you start, have the vet examine your dog’s mouth for signs of hardened plaque and/or dental disease. If your dog suffers from either condition, once the dental disease is treated and/or the plaque professionally removed, your home care program can begin.

Ideally, you should begin caring for your dog’s teeth while he’s still a puppy. Brushing his teeth is the most effective way to control plaque by breaking it up before it hardens into tartar.

Choose only those toothbrushes, tooth pastes and oral gels designed especially for pets. For the more difficult ones, there are “rubber finger brushes.” If your dog refuses to accept any of these “tools,” use your own finger. It’s the act of brushing or rubbing which provides the most benefit.

Brush your dog’s teeth at the same time every day. Begin slowly, praising him often, stopping if he becomes agitated, then beginning again. Increase the amount of brushing time slowly, day by day.

If your dog absolutely refuses to have his teeth cleaned, add specially formulated antiseptic oral rinses (although they’re more effective when combined with cleaning) to his water.

Dogs love to chew, and this has the added benefit of helping to keep their teeth clean. There are dozens of specifically formulated oral care products for them, including dental chews, chew toys and treats.

There are also special dental diets shown to reduce plaque and/or tartar build up. They work by physically cleaning the teeth more efficiently than regular kibble (theirs is less likely to crumble upon chewing) or by the addition of chemicals to prevent the hardening of plaque into tartar.

Weekly inspections of your dog’s entire mouth can also help avoid both dental disease and costly and invasive medical procedures in the future. Ensure that your vet includes a thorough examination of your dog’s mouth, gums and teeth in each annual check up.

Be alert to such problems as bad breath, drooling, red or puffy, bleeding gums, yellow tartar crusted along the gum line, discolored, broken or missing teeth, bumps in the mouth, and changes in chewing or eating habits.

If you’ve been neglecting your dog’s dental health up to now, it is never too late to start.

 

PUPPY PROOFING IS NOT JUST FOR PUPPIES

A puppy-proofed home is a pet-safe home whatever the age of your new dog. Before that first front paw crosses your threshold for the first time, your home must be a health zone, not a hazard zone. Be especially attentive to the sensibilities of former puppy mill dogs or “outside” dogs. They may never have walked on wooden floors, carpets or tiles, or been exposed to so many new and unfamiliar sights before.

Begin the process of pet-proofing by walking through your home, room by room, searching methodically for things a dog might climb, knock over or pull down, and either secure, remove or store them. Keep all trashcans behind closed and latched doors and wastebaskets (covered if possible) out of sight. Ensure that all heating/air vents have covers. Snap specially designed plastic caps over electrical outlets. Tie electrical cords together and tuck them out of reach.

Install childproof latches to keep inquisitive paws from prying open cabinet doors in kitchens and bathrooms, and always keep the toilet lids closed. In bedrooms, keep all medications, lotions and cosmetics off accessible surfaces such as bedside tables. Store collections – from buttons, bottle caps and coins to matchboxes, marbles and potpourri – on high shelves, while keeping breakables on low surfaces to an absolute minimum.

Most chemicals are hazardous to dogs and should be replaced, wherever possible, with natural, non-toxic products. A partial list of toxic chemicals includes: antifreeze, bleach, drain cleaner, household cleaners and detergents, glue, nail polish and polish remover, paint, varnish and sealants, pesticides and rat poison.

Many indoor plants, however pretty, can prove poisonous to a dog. Since dogs are, by nature, explorers – not to mention lickers and chewers – protecting them from harm is essential. A partial list of such indoor plants includes: aloe, amaryllis, asparagus fern, azalea and rhododendron, chrysanthemum, corn plant, cyclamen, Dieffenbachia, elephant ear, jade plant, kalanchoe, lilies, peace lily, philodendron, pothos, Sago palm, schefflera and yew.

Seemingly harmless “people” food can potentially be lethal to dogs. A partial list of these includes: alcohol, avocado, chocolate, caffeinated items, fruit pits and seeds, grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, and all products containing the artificial sweetener, Xylitol.

Although prevention is the key to your new dog’s well being, accidents can and do happen. The truly protective pet parents are prepared pet parents and know to keep a list of vital numbers handy:

  • Veterinarian
  • 24-hour veterinary emergency clinic
  • ASPCA Poison Control: 1-888-426-4435
  • Pet Poison Help Line: 1-800-213-6680

Hopefully, these are numbers you’ll never use. And as long as you remain vigilant, both you and your new best friend can rest, assured.

THE JOYS OF ADOPTING A SENIOR DOG

How many times have we humans heard the expression, “You’re only as old as you feel”? And why is it that some days, despite our actual age, we feel younger than we are, while other days, we feel older, much older?

So it is with our canine companions. What constitutes a senior in one breed may be an adult in another – with plenty of room for peppiness in both. Although most veterinarians agree that a dog is considered “senior” around the age of 7, what matters more is the size, not the number. Small dogs mature slower, tend to live longer than large dogs, and become seniors later in life. Dogs weighing less than 20 pounds may not show signs of aging until they’re around 12. Fifty-pound dogs won’t seem older until they’re around 10, while the largest dogs start “showing their age” at around 8.

But if wisdom comes with age, so do benefits. And in the case of those lovingly dubbed “gray muzzles”, the benefits of adopting a senior dog are many. Think puppy at heart without the puppy problems. Because in adopting a senior dog, you CAN judge a book by its cover. What you see is what you get: a mature animal whose physique and persona are fully formed — no baby teeth to gnaw on your furniture, no yappy energy to wear you out – allowing you to see, within moments, if yours is a mutual match or not. Although, as with everything else, there are always exceptions to the rule, opening your home to an older dog means opening your heart to an experience akin to instant gratification.

Calmer than their younger counterparts, older dogs are house trained and have long since mastered the basic commands of “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “come.” And contrary to popular belief, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Dogs are trainable at any age, and older dogs are just as bright as younger ones, with a greater attention span, making them that much easier to train. Older dogs are loyal, loving and experienced companions, ready to walk politely on leash with you, run gaily off leash (with good recall) in the dog park, and play frisky games of fetch with your new tennis ball or their own, well-worn one.

Less demanding of your attention than younger dogs, they are content with their own company for longer periods, then will lavish you with all of their adoration and affection when it’s cuddling time. Due to their lower energy level, senior dogs are easier to care for and make superlative companions for senior people. They also make friendly and gentle playmates for children — particularly if they were once some other family’s cherished pet.

One common misconception about older, adoptable dogs is that they are “problem dogs”. And yet, most of them have lost their homes, not because of their behavior or temperament, but because of changes in the lives, lifestyle or circumstances of their original owners.

Sadly, for many senior dogs awaiting adoption, age IS seen as a number, even if that number is only 5, and even if that same dog has 10 years or more to live, to love and be loved. More difficult to adopt than younger dogs, and just as deserving of a permanent home, they are all too often overlooked and for all the wrong reasons.

Senior dogs seem to sense when they receive a second chance at the rest of their lives. And anyone wise enough to adopt one, will not only reap the benefits, but will be the lucky recipient of a love as unconditional as it is enduring.

 

BE SPECIAL: ADOPT A DOG WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Their bodies may be imperfect, but their spirit remains intact.

So it is said about the special needs dog. Although caring for one can be challenging, more and more people are opening their hearts and their homes and adopting them. For this reason, more and more dogs who might otherwise be euthanized are being given a new “leash” on life.

Experts stress the importance of not viewing special needs dogs as “handicapped.” Although they have certain limitations (including partial paralysis, three leggedness, blindness or deafness), they’re not “aware” of them, and can be as active and affectionate as any other dog.

Adopters of special needs dogs insist the rewards outweigh the work. Many use social media to share their experiences, to interact with owners like them, and to encourage others to adopt. They don’t see these dogs’ medical or physical problems as a shortcoming, and don’t believe it makes them any less of a dog.

Those interested in adopting a special needs dog should first fully inform themselves about that dog’s condition, limitations, and maintenance. This includes meeting with their vet, requesting a tutorial on administering medications, and asking if they will make house calls. If not, they should ask to be referred to someone who will.

The quality of life for special needs dogs has been greatly enhanced by the growing number of products available to their owners. There are pet diapers, no-slip boots, orthotic braces, prosthetics, and front, back, combination and amputee harnesses. Ramps, pet steps, pet stairs and pet carts. Adjustable pet wheelchairs that can accommodate dogs weighing up to 180 pounds. And because partially paralyzed pets frequently get carpet burns when out of their chairs, there are washable, heavy-duty “drag bags” to protect their back ends.

Sadly, dogs who are blind or deaf have been characterized as aggressive, unpredictable, untrainable, prone to other health issues, and even a shorter life span. Studies, however, have proven otherwise. They have shown that despite their obvious deficiencies, these dogs are generally quite healthy and capable of living long, otherwise normal lives. And that, whether blind or deaf, they are no more aggressive, unpredictable or untrainable than sighted or hearing dogs.

Blind dogs are trained through the use of both sound and scent cues. By relying on their highly developed sense of smell, their noses let them know where and what things are, and when combined with their owners’ reassuring voice and touch, helps them live as normally and comfortably as possible.

They quickly learn and “map out” their surroundings, and for added protection, have their own “go to” place, created by putting their food and water bowls, doggie bed, kennel, and several favorite toys (squeaky toys or ones with bells inside are best) on a distinctive mat, and never moved. A carpeted runner or large area rug provides them with safe play area because the traction is good and the edges clearly discernible.

Sharp edges on furniture can be padded with bubble-wrap or foam pipe insulation to help prevent injury. Any stairways should be baby-gated, and a textured mat laid before each one to alert the dog to the gates’ proximity. And all outside activities, from pottying to playing, should be done either in a securely fenced yard or securely on leash.

Deaf or hard-of-hearing dogs are trained through the use of sign language or hand signals with treats as reinforcement. Vibrations are also used, such as walking with a “heavy foot” if their attention is elsewhere, and stomping close to their bed or near their head to waken them rather than touching and startling them. Lights can also be used as a teaching tool to get their attention, but, of course, this works best as night.

Since they bond instantly with their owners, placing their trust and safekeeping in their hands, deaf dogs always look to them for guidance and follow where their owner leads. As with blind dogs, all outside activities, from pottying to playing, should be done either in a securely fenced yard or securely on leash.

Because there is nothing inherently “wrong” with them, deaf dogs can do almost anything hearing dogs do. Many of them excel at agility and obedience, and make excellent therapy dogs.

As the owners of special needs dogs readily agree, their own lives have been irrevocably changed. By the sweetness and determination of the animals they adopted. By the smiles they elicit and the kisses they distribute. And most importantly, by the inspiration these dogs provide, not only for them, but for everyone around them.

Forever Home: Now What?

Be an informed adopter and make your new dog’s entry into your world as pleasurable as possible.

If this is your first dog, establish yourself with a vet or register your new dog with your established vet. Then apply for the appropriate licenses, etc., required in your area.

Remember that a dog’s true personality may not reveal itself for several weeks. Therefore, these first few weeks require an atmosphere of calm and patience, not anger or punishment.

Knowing your new dog’s established schedules for meals, pottying, walking and exercise beforehand are essential to maintaining his/her sense of continuity.

Once you arrive home, bring your new dog to his/her designated pottying place.

Spend time letting your new dog get accustomed to the place, and if he/she potties, reward him/her with praise and a treat.

Repeat this (whether your dog potties or not) to reinforce it, but be prepared for accidents. Even a housebroken dog will be nervous in, and curious about, new surroundings.

Your new dog may also pant or pace excessively, suffer from stomach upsets or have no appetite at all due to the sudden changes in his/her life.

Give your new dog the same food that he/she ate before.

After 30 minutes, remove the food whether it’s been eaten or not. Do not allow your new dog to “graze.”

(If you want to switch brands, wait a week. Begin by adding one part new food to three parts of the old for several days. Then add half new to half old for several more days, followed by one part old to three parts new until it’s all new food and the transition is complete).

Learn the commands your new dog already knows and don’t attempt to teach him/her any new ones for awhile.

Walk your new dog slowly through your home allowing him/her plenty of time to sniff around and become familiar with all of its sights and smells.

If needed, teach your new dog proper house manners from the start — calmly and patiently. Reward good behavior with praise and treats for positive reinforcement.

Introduce your new dog to the other members of your household one by one. Unless you know that the dog enjoys approaching new people, instruct everyone to sit, silent and still, on a couch or chair and ignore him/her.

Allow your new dog to approach them, sniffing, whether it takes several seconds or several minutes. Only when he/she is relaxed should they begin to pet him/her lightly and gently.

Children in particular should be closely supervised to ensure that they follow these same guidelines.

Show your new dog his/her place to sleep and place a few treats around the area as added incentives.

Give your new dog some quiet, alone time to get used to his/her space while you remain in the room for reassurance.

For the first few days, remain calm and quiet around your new dog, allowing him/her to settle in comfortably while you become familiar with his/her likes and dislikes, quirks and habits.

Begin the routine you want to establish (according to your own lifestyle) for your new dog’s pottying, eating, walking, playing and alone times, and maintain it — calmly but firmly.

Initial resistance is to be expected, but remain firm – without impatience or anger – while your new dog gradually becomes accustomed to his/her new schedule.

To make the process as pleasant and reassuring as possible, spend quality time with your new dog, stroking him/her or brushing his/her coat, while talking gently and soothingly to strengthen the bond and trust between you.

If you want to change your new dog’s name, begin by saying his/her new name and giving him/her an especially good treat (chicken works well) or a belly rub. This will teach your new dog to love the sound and respond to it. Repeating this numerous times a day will speed up the process.

Limit your new dog’s activities to your home, potty and exercise areas, keeping away from neighbors and other dogs, public places and dog parks.

Invite a relative or friend over to meet your new dog. Hand them treats and tell them to be calm and gentle in their approach unless your new dog calmly approaches them first.

Gradually accustom your new dog to being alone by leaving your home briefly then returning, repeating this several times over a period of a day or two and gradually increasing the alone time from a few minutes to a half hour to an hour. This way he/she won’t feel abandoned. When you return, walk in calmly and don’t fuss over your dog until he/she has settled down.

If your new dog whines or cries, don’t cuddle or console him/her. It only reinforces this behavior. Instead give him/her attention and praise for good behavior, such as resting quietly or chewing on a toy instead. And treats always work wonders.

Slowly begin introducing your new dog to your neighbors and other dogs, closely monitoring his/her reactions, especially towards the dogs.

Bring your new dog to the vet to introduce them to each other, address any health or behavioral concerns, and get a new rabies certificate. For any behavioral issues you can’t resolve on your own, ask your vet for the name of a professional.

Remember that making your new dog the newest member of your family is a process, and that consistency is the key.

Your reward? A loving and happy companion, and the satisfaction of knowing that you have saved his/her life.