May 24, 2017
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All About Pets

Mickey Zeldes
Dental exams for pets
May 19, 2017

We’re looking into getting a dental x-ray machine.  Seems pretty high-tech for a shelter, right?  That’s what I thought but our vet tech has been putting on a campaign for the past year about the need.  She finally has me convinced (almost)! And the Animal Shelter League has offered to cover the cost.  I’ll share with you the reasons.

If you’ve had a dental exam done on your pet recently, I bet you are still reeling from the cost.  They can run $400-600 for just a basic cleaning!  More and more veterinarians are pushing the need for good oral hygiene with our pets; and not just to make money.  It really does make sense once you realize that the mouth is the gateway to the entire innards of an animal.  If the mouth is full of bacteria and disease then that is what is entering the digestive tract and lungs and that affects the heart, kidneys and every other organ! 

There was a time when even an 8-year-old cat would not stand much of a chance of being adopted at a shelter but with an increased life expectation and raised consciousness of saving animals, we are adopting out older and older animals.  In fact, just this year so far we have adopted out cats that were 15-years-old, 16-years-old and a 17-year-old!  But people are not looking for a huge vet bill right away when they take on a new animal, and many older pets need some dental work.  By having the equipment in-house we can do it right at the shelter and send animals home in tip-top shape.  Putting an animal under anesthesia also requires that we do a blood panel so we can also assure the adopter that the kidneys and liver are functioning normally (or close enough for an elderly pet).

You might have heard ads for the new “anesthesia-free” dentals that some groomers are offering.  Be aware of this and know that while it might be an OK supplement to help keep teeth clean between actual dentals, it in no way actually replaces the need to have a full dental done.  In the worst case, the tooth surface could be damaged if the pet is resistant or struggles, but even in the best cases it is just a surface cleaning and does not get anything trapped below the gum line.  The groomer is also not trained to notice signs of gum disease, broken teeth (hairline cracks) and other potentially serious dental issues.  It’s also impossible to do a complete mouth examination on a fully awake animal.  To really get inside and see what’s going on you do need to anesthetize the pet.  A dental x-ray is helpful in determining what is going on below the gum line; which is not visible to the eye.

We recently had a dog in with a pretty messed up mouth.  We don’t know if Sugar damaged her teeth chewing on rocks or if she was hit in the face but several teeth were broken and her mouth was obviously painful.  We did a dental and our tech spent a long time trying to get all the teeth fragments out but couldn’t get it all.  She did a second dental and tried to get more but the dog’s mouth was still sensitive so we sent her out for an x-ray and found that there were still several fragments left under the gums and a couple other broken teeth as well.  This was clearly beyond our capability in-house and we were referred to the dental specialist at VCA Animal Care Center, Dr. Chris Carter.  Fortunately for us, VCA, which is the corporation that owns many vet clinics in our area, is very generous to shelters (a thousand thank you’s VCA!) and Dr. Carter offered to waive most of his fee.  Typically the dental that Sugar required would cost $4,000-$5,000 but they discounted their price so that we could save the dog and ASL stepped up to cover the cost (clearly this was beyond our budget!).  This is just an example of the kind of expense you can run into for dental care.

This case really pointed out the need to be able to ascertain sooner the extent of the issues before we waste time trying to do a semi-repair.  So it looks like we’ll be owning better dental equipment and an x-ray machine soon!

Upcoming Events:

Registration for our popular Kidz ‘n Critters summer camp program for students in 2nd-7th grades is now open.  $125 per camper/$25 sibling discount for a one-week fun camp experience.  Each session is M-F, 8:30-1p.m. and includes a camp T-shirt.