Beat Boredom with Foraging

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Beat Boredom with Foraging

By: Becky Hodnefield, LVT, Fear Free Certified, Cat Enthusiast

Does your cat also double as your alarm clock?  Does your cat wake you in the middle of the night wanting to play?  Is your cat a source of mischief and mayhem around the house?  If you answered yes, adding environmental enrichment can be beneficial.

Cat Toys

Front 3 are homemade.
The green toy is a PetSafe SlimCat.
The blue toy is a PetSafe Egg-Cersizer.

Cats were born to roam and hunt.  Housecats don’t typically get the chance to do much hunting.  Usually food is set out twice a day in a bowl in the same place and at the same time each day.  Although this may work for some cats, it can lead to boredom and frustration.  It can also cause a heightened relationship with food for some.  Hence the alarm clock cat in the morning. 

Cats stomachs are roughly the size of a ping pong ball.  In the wild they would normally eat 9-16 small, evenly sized meals through out the day…small prey caught at various times throughout the day.  We can help our feline friends with their natural drive to hunt by placing ‘prey’ around the house. 

Foraging toys can be simple, inexpensive, and homemade.  There’s no better time than now while we’re all home and riding out the pandemic!  Not only will it reduce your cat’s boredom, it can also provide some entertainment for the humans in the house.

Cat Toys

Toys can be pre-filled and stored in an airtight container to save time!

Easter is right around the corner, and plastic eggs are in every store.  One or two holes can be made into the larger plastic eggs to create a simple food toy.  Eggs are also beneficial because they provide erratic movement unlike completely round toys.  Other household items that can be used include plastic children’s cups with lids, small square food storage containers, carboard poster tubes, and ice cube trays.  There is also a wide variety of commercially available food puzzles.  Some popular ones include: Catit Food Tree, Trixie Activity Board, Petsafe SlimCat, and Doc and Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Feeder.

If you feed canned food there are options as well.  Canned food can be placed into a heavy coffee mug.  Lay the coffee mug on its side and cats can lick the canned food and scoop it out with their paws.  Many of the commercially available stationary puzzles have little wells where canned food can be placed as well.  Another option is a silicone mat with grooves for canned food to be spread in.  A popular brand is LickiMat.

When introducing foraging to your cat, make it very easy.  First have the egg (or other toy) open with kibble each half.  Then move on to having the egg closed, but several large holes in it.  In the beginning you want kibble to fall out very readily.  As they catch on you can increase the difficulty by having smaller openings and less of them.  Young, food motivated cats may catch on quick.  If you have a 10 year old cat who’s always had food in a bowl, the process may take longer.  Once they catch on you can even hide eggs in different rooms, allowing them to roam and hunt for their food.  The foraging toys can also be pre-filled, and stored in an airtight container to save time.

We’re all getting a taste for the monotony of staying at home, and not getting out of the house.  This is how our house cats live out most of their lives.  Adding in foraging toys can help break up that monotony and keep their minds and bodies active.  For any additional questions or advice call me at Animal Health Clinic!

Check out videos of my own kitties!

Snuffle Mat Video

The Catit Food Tree

Food Puzzle

The Catit Play Food Puzzle


Important Policy Changes- Coronavirus

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To our valued clients:

With COVID-19 in the news and uncertainty in the air, we would like to update you on some policy changes and service options as it relates to you, your pets and our hospital.

  • We will be closed for the next 3 Saturdays, March 21st, 28th, and April 4th, and will reevaluate its continuation after that time.
  • No wellness visits or routine care appointments will be scheduled until April 6th EXCEPT for young puppies & kittens under 4 months of age. We do not want young pets to be exposed to or at risk of disease without proper vaccinations to protect them. Pets that have completed their vaccination series or are adults have more immunity and would be safer if past their “due date”.
  • Since there is minimal client time in the hospital for surgical procedures, we will continue our currently scheduled surgeries. However, future spays, neuters, & dental procedures may be delayed or postponed if not medically necessary.
  • We are asking ALL CLIENTS to wait in your car and call us at 701-237-9310 to check in for your appointment. We will call when your exam room is ready. The goal of this is to decrease the number of people waiting in the lobby at any one time. Please designate a person in your family to bring your pet to the appointment.
  • Our staff has been instructed to monitor their personal health, and are not permitted to come to work if they have a fever or feel ill. We ask the same of our clients. If you have a fever or respiratory illness, have been advised to self-quarantine, or have recently traveled, please do not come into the clinic. Find someone to bring your pet in for you and we will be happy to discuss our findings with you over the phone.
  • In the case where there are no other options, please stay in your vehicle and call us to check in from the parking lot, one of our staff members will bring your pet in for you, and bring them back out to you when done. We will call you while your pet is examined to discuss our findings.
  • Whenever possible, we will encourage you to let us email your receipts or other paperwork to minimize paper handling and transfer of items back and forth.
  • We are happy to take prepayments over the phone before your arrival. In addition, if you aren’t aware of it, we can help you utilize various homedelivery programs to have pet food, supplies, and prescriptions delivered right to your door. Visit this link for our online store.

By following these guidelines, we hope to keep you, your pets, and our staff healthy; so that we can continue to be of service to our patients and community.

Thank you for your understanding.

-Your Animal Health Clinic Family


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COVID-19 and Animal Health Clinic

We would like to share some of what we are doing to keep our clients and employees as safe as possible during these uncertain times of the coronavirus. 

  • With the guidance of the government, CDC, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, we are taking extra precautions, such as extra disinfection of common areas and surfaces. 
  • Please limit the number of family members that attend your pet’s appointment. 
  • If you or someone in your household is ill, please call or email to reschedule your appointment.  
  • We may be limiting or rescheduling routine or elective appointments and procedures.
  • If you would like to limit your time in the lobby, please feel free to make prior arrangements to receive a phone call when your appointment is ready so you can wait in your car. 
  • We are cancelling all academic observations until further notice.

Thank you for your understanding.  Please stay safe!

Please click here and here for links for more information from the AVMA. 

Fear Free Fourth

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Keep Your Pets Safe on Independence Day

More pets go missing on the 4th of July than any other day.  Here are some tips to have a Fear Free Fourth. 
• Ask your vet for an anti-anxiety medication that may be prescribed 
• Drown out sounds with music or white noise machines 
• Minimize light flashes from fireworks by keeping all your lights on to decrease contrast • Block windows or move your pet to an interior room with no windows 
• Thundershirts may reduce a pet’s anxiety 
• Don’t pull your dog or cat out from hiding 
• Don’t take your dog or cat to a fireworks celebration 
• Use pheromones (Adaptil for dogs; Feliway for cats) 
• Make sure your doors & fences are secured 
• Keep party food & beverages out of pet’s reach 



Leash Etiquette & Safety

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I’m the Fear Free Certified Veterinary Practice Manager at Animal Health Clinic.  Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  I am beyond passionate about this issue because my black lab has formed a distrust of other dogs ever since we had several terrifying encounters with an aggressive off-leash dog in our prior neighborhood. My #1 goal is to keep him safe and to protect his emotional wellbeing. It’s also our #1 goal as Fear Free certified veterinary professionals at Animal Health Clinic. I call this an issue and a problem because it is. Not just for me and my dog, but every other pet parent that has a dog like mine. It’s for all the traumatized and injured dogs that we treat for dog bites at the clinic. It is heartbreaking. Please share and spread awareness. It’s a problem that is almost always avoidable.

Off Leash Dogs

  • Common sense isn’t so common. Having your dog on a leash or tie out seems obvious but unfortunately, offenses regularly occur. Please help raise awareness and feel free to print the flyer below. Copies available at the front desk.
    Printable dog leash safety and etiquette flyer.

    Click for printable flyer to distribute.

  • It’s against the law. Many cities, including Fargo, have leash ordinances.
  • Your dog could easily run out into the street and get hit by a car.
  • Your dog could approach a dog that doesn’t want to say hello and get bit or initiate an attack.
  • Your dog could get lost or stolen.
  • Emotional distress. Having an unwelcome interaction with an off-leash dog is very scary for both species. We become conditioned to develop a fear response, which will trigger a fight or flight reaction. Both humans and dogs are affected by this.

Encounters with Leashed Dogs

  • When in doubt, avoid the situation.
    • Cross the street.
    • Step to the side and allow the others to pass.
      • You are taking control of the situation by avoiding a potentially threatening head-to-head encounter with the dogs. Tension in leashes may increase the dogs’ anxiety.
    • Turn around and go the other way.
  • Bring a distracter along with you. A toy or some treats
    are great ways to redirect attention and focus.
  • Keep leashes short. Lock retractable leashes.
  • Retractable or flexi leashes can be dangerous and should
    be avoided. Dogs and humans can easily become
  • Dogs may find certain dogs offensive. Maybe a dog
    made eye-contact with the other dog and they didn’t like
    it. Maybe a dog is picking up on some threatening body
    language from the other dog.
  • You don’t know the other dog. Are they up-to-date with
    vaccinations? Maybe they are painful and will feel like
    they have to defend themselves. Or maybe the other dog
    is fearful of other humans or dogs.
  • Leashes with clear instruction of “NO DOGS” or “NO
    PETTING” are available if you have a reactive dog.
  • Attend positive reinforcement dog training classes to
    learn techniques such as clicker training.

  • Don’t feel obligated that you have to let the dogs meet.
    People sometimes feel like it’s the polite thing to do or
    think that every dog wants to meet every dog.
  • Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed if your dog doesn’t like to meet other dogs. I know it’s easy to feel that way after some of the                                looks we receive after we say “please don’t let your dog get closer.” You are doing a great job and are being a responsible pet parent.

Please contact me if you are interested in having me present this topic at a community outreach program.  I’d be happy to share this message.

Thank you!

Natalie Gruchow, CVPM, SHRM-CP
Level 2 Fear Free Certified

Emergency Pet Evacuation

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Hopefully you will never need it, but if you experience a disaster you will be thankful to be prepared with a pet evacuation kit.  It is a great idea to store your supplies in an easy-to-carry, waterproof container near an exit. The following tips and resources can be found with helpful links by clicking here.

Click this link for a handy brochure: First Aid Brochure

Pet Evacuation Kit

  • 3-7 days worth of dry & canned food. If it’s not pop-top cans, be sure to include a can opener. Remember to rotate this out to avoid outdated product.
  • 2 weeks supply of your pet’s medication. Also, remember to rotate to avoid expired product.
  • Lots of water.  Gallon jugs are great.
  • Water & food dishes.
  • Leash/tie-out.
  • Flea/tick/heartworm preventatives.
  • Latex gloves
  • Poop bags
  • Cats need a litter box & scoop. Easily make one with a shirt box, lined with a plastic bag filled with litter.
  • Extra plastic bags.
  • Towels
  • Blankets
  • Paper towels
  • Disinfectant
  • ID papers including proof of ownership
  • Veterinary records
  • Photo of pet
  • Toys
  • Emergency contact list
  • Extra collar with ID tag already on it
  • Large kennel- If you have to spend time at a shelter, your pet will have to spend lots of time in their kennel. Make sure they can stand in it, and cats need room for their litter box. Make sure to securely label the kennel with your contact info.


PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) Success Story

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By Dr. Heather Mitchell


Seamus is a 4.5 year old, male mini schnauzer that came to our clinic near the end of October 2018 regarding a lameness on the LF leg. He was limping on the leg, he could still jump, but he would vocalize in pain often. X rays of the bone of the leg showed no abnormalities, and we decided to treat conservatively with pain meds and rest.

A few weeks later, Seamus was back, still limping. He did very well on pain medication but when he was off the pain medication for 1-2 days, the limping returned and he would be painful and often not walking on that LF leg.  X rays were performed while Seamus was under sedation. X rays showed no changes from the previous X rays in October. Even under sedation, Seamus was painful upon extension of the L shoulder and during palpation of the supraglenoid tubercle on the shoulder. The supraglenoid tubercle is a normal bony projection on the shoulder bone in which the biceps tendon attaches to. At this time, a tendonopathy or a tendon tear is likely the culprit of the lameness. We discussed treatment options and decided to pursue PRP (platelet rich plasma) and laser therapy.


Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) represents an innovative therapeutic approach to lameness treatment. PRP falls into the category of regenerative medicine. PRP contains growth factors that promote soft tissue healing and stimulates new blood vessel growth, as well as providing long lasting anti-inflammatory effects. A simple blood collection is harvested from the pet and a skilled veterinary technician prepares the sample to ultimately yield PRP. The PRP, is then injected into the area of concern, in Seamus’ case, the left shoulder joint.


For Seamus, I recommended using PRP in conjunction with laser therapy. Laser therapy is a photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy achieved when a sufficient dose of light energy reaches target tissues and cells and results in decreased inflammation, decreased pain, and accelerated healing. Laser therapy can effectively reduce pain and inflammation associated with a variety of acute and chronic conditions, including degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, bone fractures, skin wounds, inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation, gingivitis, muscle strains/sprains and post-surgical incisions. For more info on laser therapy, click here.


Seamus was doing very well at his 3 week recheck appointment. Less than 2 weeks following the PRP injection and laser therapy sessions, the owner was able to decrease the pain medication given to Seamus. At the 3 week recheck appointment, the left shoulder was 90% better and the owner felt Seamus didn’t need any pain medications at all!  The laser therapy sessions were reduced to once per week for the next 3 weeks and another PRP injection was performed 1 month after the first injection.

Approximately 2 months after instituting PRP and laser therapy, Seamus is completely recovered! The combination of PRP and laser therapy gave Seamus’ shoulder joint the proper matrix to promote healing and reduce inflammation.  Seamus was able to maintain complete range of motion of the shoulder joint without the need for prolonged pain medication use. The combination of PRP and laser therapy allowed Seamus to resume normal function of the left shoulder faster and reduce the need for pain medications to control discomfort.

At Home Dental Care

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At home teeth brushing

Dental Home Care

By Dr. Katie Habgood

When it comes to dental disease, dogs and cats are at risk just like humans are, and often times, they are at an even higher risk.  Most humans brush and floss their teeth on a daily basis as well as visit their dentists on an annual to semiannual basis.  Despite this awareness of human dentistry, many pet owners do not realize their pets are prone to the same problems.  Just like in humans, evidence continues to mount that chronic dental disease, resulting in infection and inflammation, can have serious negative impacts on systemic health.  In order for dental care to be successful in our pets, both at home dental care and professional cleanings/COHATs must be incorporated.

Dental home care is preventative maintenance.  The most important thing to remember is that dental home care works best when starting with a disease-free mouth.  Dental home care cannot correct a problem once it has developed.  If a pet’s mouth is already diseased, dental home care such as brushing the teeth can be painful and can lead to your pet becoming sensitive to having his mouth/head handled.


The most important aspect of dental home care is brushing.  Brushing aids in the removal of plaque on the part of the tooth that is visible above the gumline.  Brushing will not address subgingival (below the gumline) disease and will not remove calcified plaque (aka tartar).  Brushing is most effective when performed at least 4 times/week, ideally daily.  The reason for this is because plaque will form on a tooth within hours of brushing the tooth and will start to form tartar within a few days.  Even after we brush our own teeth the night before, our teeth often feel “fuzzy” when we wake up in the morning.  This “fuzzy” feel is biofilm on the tooth which is composed of bacteria that is specifically known as plaque.

It is best to incorporate brushing when your pet is young (8-12 weeks is the best time to start), but brushing can be started at any age.  It is important to start slow to let your pet get used to brushing.  By starting slow and by incorporating lots of positive reinforcement, most pets will actually enjoy having their teeth brushed.  Pick a finger toothbrush or a small soft-bristled brush (an actual pet toothbrush is best because it is designed for the unique shape of dog’s and cat’s teeth but a child’s toothbrush can also be used).  Just make sure your pet doesn’t try to swallow the finger toothbrush!  Next, get a toothpaste from your veterinarian.  Do not use human toothpaste because they contain enough fluoride to be toxic if swallowed daily and some brands contain Xylitol which is an artificial sweetener that is harmless to humans but quite toxic to dogs.

If you would like information on how to brush your pet’s teeth, please contact your veterinarian or you can access many different videos on tooth brushing on YouTube.

Dental Chews and Wipes 

Unfortunately, there are a number of dental products over the counter that claim to be effective for one thing or another yet have no credible evidence to back that claim.  So how does a pet owner know which dental product to choose?  We highly recommend looking for dental products that have been awarded the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance and specifically products that have the seal for helping to control plaque.

The VOHC is an independent body of veterinary dentists who evaluate dental products made for pets to determine whether they are effective for what they claim to be.  It is up to the company who makes the product, though, to seek the approval of the VOHC.  The approval is based on testing and clinical trials of the product.  The VOHC does not perform any research itself therefore the manufacturer must perform scientific trials based on the VOHC standard protocols.  The VOHC will review the data once the company submits their report to them.  If the VOHC is satisfied that the protocols were followed and that the results indicate a significant beneficial effect, the product is granted the Seal of Acceptance.  An example of this is Tartar Shield Soft Rawhide Chews which we carry at our clinic.  Visit to learn more about the VOHC and to see their list of accepted products.  Just like with brushing, it is best to give your pet a dental chew daily.

Other important factors in choosing dental treats are taking into account how hard the product is and making sure your pet is not going to choke on the product.  Unfortunately, there are many products that you can find in pet stores that are way too hard to be chewed.  If you can take the product and can either bend it or take your fingernail and scratch pieces of it off, it is soft enough for your pet to chew on.  Products to avoid include cow and horse hoofs, bones, hard Nyla bones and antlers.  We see too many pets with fractured teeth as the result of chewing on products that are too hard.  Also keep in mind that dental chews must be the proper size for the pet to avoid a choking hazard.

Dental wipes can also be effective in removing plaque but just be sure to wipe the area of the tooth that meets the gumline.  Some animals will not tolerate brushing but will tolerate the wipes.  Wipes are considered the next best thing to brushing and work best when used daily.

Oral Gels, Water Additives and Sprays

Several companies make oral gels that are designed to be applied to the outer surface of the tooth with a swab on a routine basis.  An example is OraVet Plaque Preventive Gel which is designed to be applied once weekly.  OraVet is a wax-like substance that makes it more difficult for plaque to adhere to the tooth.  Just like brushing, this product works best as a preventative in a clean, disease free mouth.

There are several companies who also make products that are designed to be added to your pet’s water to help reduce plaque formation and sometimes freshen the breath.  Sprays can be used as well.  Visit the website to see which products have received their Seal of Acceptance.

Dental Diets

Hard food is ideal over canned food because it can help remove plaque from teeth.  It is a common misconception, though, that simply feeding a kibbled diet will prevent dental disease from developing, especially with cats who tend to inhale rather than chew most of what they eat.  There are a few pet food companies who make special dental diets to help control plaque and/or tartar but just like with brushing, diets should not be used without addressing underlying disease first.

One of the diets we carry is Science Diet t/d.  This product comes in a large kibble size designed to scrub the entire tooth surface when chewed and has been awarded the Seal of Acceptance by the VOHC for helping to control both plaque and tartar in dogs and cats.  This diet is high in fiber which helps prevent the kibble from shattering when chewed, instead allowing the tooth to “sink into” the kibble allowing plaque to be scrubbed away.  Purina also makes a diet called DH which has been awarded the Seal of Acceptance by the VOHC for helping to control tartar in dogs and plaque and tartar in cats.  It is important to remember that these diets are helpful only in cleaning the molars and premolars and not the incisors or canine teeth.

By incorporating at dental home care into your pet’s daily routine, you can greatly improve your pet’s dental health which may mean fewer professional cleanings and decreased tooth loss.  Please contact your veterinarian with any questions regarding at home dental care.

FAQ’s About Dental Cleanings

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Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Care

By Dr. Katie Habgood

Below are some of the most common questions that each of us veterinarians get asked on a weekly basis.  There are several differences between veterinary dentistry and human dentistry.

Dr. Dill during a dental procedure

 Will my pet be able to eat without teeth?

Yes.  When I get asked this question I follow up with a question of my own, “How can your pet eat now with a painful mouth?”  The goal of professional dental care/COHATs is to address and treat underlying disease and pain.  Pets do surprisingly well with little to no teeth.  Depending on your pet, he may choose to eat canned food or dry food.  I have had several pets with no teeth continue to eat a dry only diet.  There are some instances where a veterinary dental specialist can offer a root canal or other more advanced therapy to save the teeth.

My pet doesn’t seem to be in pain so why does he need a dental cleaning/COHAT?

Pets are good at hiding pain and disease, especially cats.  Some pets will stop eating completely when there is mouth pain but that is rare.  Pets have a strong instinct to survive no matter how painful they are.  It is common for pets to compensate for their pain by chewing on the opposite side of the mouth that the pain is on.  Also, cats tend to inhale about 80% of what they chew which makes identifying dental pain even harder.  It may be difficult for pet owners to notice subtle signs of oral pain as well and it is not unusual for pet owners to notice differences in their pets that they attribute to old age.  We often have pet owners tell us how much more energetic and playful their pets have become after removing broken or diseased teeth.

Does my pet really need to have those teeth extracted?  Can my pet have a root canal instead?

Because our pets can’t talk to tell us they are in pain, they rely on us to identify and treat underlying disease.  If there is significant disease to a tooth, extraction is often the only treatment option.  Significant disease includes deep pocketing between the tooth and the gumline, mobility of the tooth, fractures with pulp exposure, discoloration of the tooth indicating pulp/tooth death, etc.  During a professional dental cleaning/COHAT, full mouth x-rays are taken which helps us identify disease below the gumline which might not be readily apparent above the gumline.  This will help us determine if a tooth needs to be extracted.  We are doing your pet a disservice if we leave diseased teeth in place.  The whole goal of professional dental care is relieving your pet of disease and pain and this cannot be accomplished if diseased teeth are left in place.  How would you feel if you had a painful tooth that your dentist addressed only by cleaning the tooth?

There are instances where a root canal can be performed instead of removing a tooth but this is based on the health of the root of the tooth.  If there is already evidence of root disease or abscessation, a root canal cannot be performed and instead the tooth must be extracted.  If a root canal can be performed, referral to a board certified veterinary dentist is needed.  The cost difference between extracting a tooth and a root canal can be significant.  A full COHAT with tooth extraction can cost several hundred dollars while a root canal can run upwards of ~$2700.  The closest board certified veterinary dentist is in the Minneapolis area.

Why must my pet have a professional cleaning under anesthesia when my groomer can just scrape the tartar off of my pet’s teeth and/or brush my pet’s teeth?

First, when tartar (calcified plaque) is “scraped” or scaled off of the teeth, this creates a rough surface to the tooth which actually increases the adherence of plaque and bacteria to the tooth.  This is why polishing the teeth after scaling is so important.  If your groomer is not polishing the teeth afterwards, your pet will be at increased risk of dental disease.

Secondly, when tartar, which is composed of bacteria, is removed from the teeth, small pieces can be inhaled by the patient leading to a lung infection.  When professional cleanings are performed under general anesthesia, the patient is intubated (tube placed into the windpipe) not only to provide oxygen and gas anesthetic support but also to protect the airway from inhalation of bacteria and pieces of tartar.

Lastly, the most important part of cleaning your pet’s teeth is removal of plaque and tartar below the gumline.  This is not possible in an awake animal and is not safe.  Dogs and cats have much longer roots on their teeth than humans, therefore tartar and plaque buildup below the gumline can be excessive.  The scalers we use to clean the teeth are sharp and can cause trauma to a pet that is able to move.  Brushing aids in the removal of bacteria and plaque on the part of the tooth that is visible above the gumline.  Brushing will not address subgingival (below the gumline) disease and will not remove calcified plaque.  Brushing works best as a preventative either before dental disease has developed or after dental disease has been addressed with a professional cleaning/COHAT.  Also, if your pet has advanced dental disease, brushing may be painful.

My pet is older and I am worried about anesthesia.  Is my pet too old to anesthetize? 

Old age is not a disease.  Older pets can be more prone to disease but age alone is rarely a factor when dental care is needed.  Fortunately, anesthesia is much safer now than it was in the past and we always tailor our anesthetic plan to the patient.  Your older pet will have a different anesthetic plan than a younger pet.  Having bloodwork performed before anesthesia can lower the risks of anesthesia by screening for underlying diseases.   Also, all of our geriatric or senior pets have an IV catheter placed prior to anesthesia and a balanced electrolyte solution given in the vein during the anesthetic event.  This helps minimize the risks of complications from the anesthesia by helping to stabilize the cardiovascular system (helps maintain the blood pressure and heart rate).  Modern inhalant gas anesthesia is also much safer than injectable anesthesia which had been used in the past.  With gas anesthesia, the patient has a tube placed into the windpipe to administer the gas and oxygen and to also protect the airways from harmful bacteria.

Why is cleaning my pet’s teeth so expensive and why is your estimate more expensive than *insert name* Veterinary Clinic down the street?

The majority of dental cleanings on people are not performed under anesthesia.  Anesthesia is needed not only for the safety of your pet but also for the safety of the staff members who are working in your pet’s mouth.  As with everything else, the cost of dental care for pets has increased over the years as the quality of anesthesia, monitoring and other services have increased.  One example is dental x-rays.  Performing dental x-rays is the standard of care in diagnosing disease that would otherwise be missed on exam alone.  Dental x-rays allow us to identify disease below the gumline and will help us determine which teeth can be saved and which must be removed.  Our clinic employs several certified veterinary technicians who closely monitor your pet under anesthesia.  In order to monitor your pet safely, we need special equipment like a blood pressure monitor, pulse oximetry, IV fluid pump, esophageal stethoscope, electrocardiogram monitor, etc.  Not all veterinary clinics have dental x-rays or special monitoring equipment which is often reflected in the cost of the estimate.  Lastly, unlike human dentistry, there are very few pet owners who have medical insurance to cover the costs of their pet’s care.

I hope this helps answer some of the more common questions that you may have about veterinary dental care.  If you have any additional questions, please contact myself or one of the other veterinarians at our clinic.

-Dr. Katie Habgood

Professional dental care for dogs and cats

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Lita is a 4-year old Maltese/Yorkie. Before dental.

Lita’s teeth after the dental cleaning.

Professional dental care for dogs and cats

By Dr. Katie Habgood

Dental disease is encountered every single day in veterinary practice and is one of the most common diseases in our companion pets.  More than 75% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 years old have some degree of dental disease.   Left untreated, dental disease can cause a myriad of problems including painful gum disease, tooth root abscesses, and in severe cases weakening and even fractures of the jaw.  Fortunately for our pets, “dental cleanings” or COHATs can be performed not only to address disease that is present but also as a preventative along with at home dental care.  COHAT stands for Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment.

One question often asked is, “Why are you recommending a dental cleaning when I can just brush my dog’s/cat’s teeth at home?”  Brushing works best as an at home preventative before your pet develops dental disease or after a COHAT has already been performed.  Unlike brushing the teeth, which aids in removing bacteria and plaque from the tooth surface that is visible above the gumline, there are many more steps involved in a COHAT.  So, what exactly is a dental cleaning/COHAT?  The first step occurs during your pet’s exam.  Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s mouth as thoroughly as your pet allows to determine the degree of dental disease present and then come up with a treatment plan.  A drop-off appointment is then scheduled for the COHAT.

  • On the morning of your pet’s COHAT, you will first meet with a technician to go over necessary paperwork and to discuss preanesthetic testing. The technician will then set up a pick-up time later in the day for when your pet is ready to be discharged.  If preanesthetic testing is elected, the technician will perform this.
  • Your veterinarian will then perform another exam on your pet and review any preanesthetic tests. A preanesthetic sedative is then given, an IV catheter is placed to administer fluids and your pet is anesthetized.  Anesthesia is needed when performing teeth cleanings.  Anesthesia immobilizes your pet to allow thorough cleaning below the gumline, it provides pain control, it allows placement of a tube into the wind pipe to secure the airway and to prevent bacterial products from entering the airway, and it allows treatment of disease especially when extractions are needed.  While under anesthesia, your pet’s heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygenation and temperature are all closely monitored.
  • A technician then performs full mouth x-rays of your pet’s teeth. This allows us to visualize the roots of the teeth to identify disease that may not be readily apparent above the gum surface, as well as to identify any abnormal bone changes, such as fractures or masses.  X-rays will determine if the teeth can be saved or need to be extracted.
  • Next, the technician will examine each tooth, use a periodontal probe to check for pockets between the tooth and the gumline and chart any abnormalities. An ultrasonic scaler is then used to clean the teeth above and below the gumline.
  • While the technician is cleaning your pet’s teeth, your veterinarian will review the x-rays. Once the cleaning is finished, your veterinarian will perform a thorough oral exam and come up with a revised treatment plan which may include extractions.  If extractions are necessary, your veterinarian will determine what dental blocks are needed.  A dental block is an injectable anesthetic that numbs the area around whichever tooth needs to be removed.  After extracting any necessary teeth, whenever possible, the extraction sites are sutured closed with an absorbable/dissolvable suture.
  • The technician then rinses your pet’s mouth and polishes all remaining teeth. After polishing, fluoride is applied.  Your pet is then allowed to wake up from anesthesia.
  • When your pet has fully recovered from anesthesia, a dental chart is created by the technician, and your veterinarian will create an at home treatment plan. If your pet had any teeth extracted, pain medications will be sent home to administer for a certain amount of days.  Your veterinarian may also prescribe an antibiotic.
  • When you pick up your pet later in the day, a technician will go over at home instructions, including medications, special feeding plans such as feeding a softened diet and at home dental care.

So how often does my dog or cat need a dental cleaning?  It all depends on the degree of plaque and tartar accumulation.  If your pet allows, get in the habit of examining the mouth at least once a month.  If you are noticing red gums, bad breath, yellow or brown material on the teeth, broken teeth, mouth soreness, etc., it is time for a professional cleaning.  Unfortunately, our pets can’t always tell us when a tooth is bothering them!  If you have any further questions about any of the above steps of a COHAT, please contact your veterinarian.