Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dr Liz's Dental Discussion - Give your dog a bone, or not.

It is not unexpected that with any discussion that involves pet owners and bones,  it can sometimes get argumentative.  The "give your dog a bone" movement is far stronger than I, and their followers are often so passionate to the point of intolerance of alternate points of view.
(graphic photo alert at the end).
Do you hear what I am saying?  

What drives their passion is the love of our animals, and the absolute desire to do the best they can for them.  As a vet and animal lover, I am the same.  On this, I hope we can agree.

But... and there is a but, in my corner, it comes with a willingness to maintain an open mind, and a preparedness to change my opinion when there is new information or knowledge.  There is a published myth that those who are critical of giving bones, do so because they lack understanding of what it is all about.  I absolutely do understand the theories behind giving bones, and those theories of the benefits  are flawed.  They fail to recognise that the damage bones causes is greater than their benefits.

I won't deny that there are some benefits to giving bones to dogs, but do they outweigh the damage that they can cause?

As a new graduate, in the early 1990's, I was one of the many vets who recommended chicken wings, chicken drum sticks, strips of skirt steak, and bones. I shudder now to think of the harm I caused through the advice I gave. 
In recent months, I have read the medical histories of a few pets who have transferred to my area, with the vet writing " tartar on back teeth, bones advised" or words to that effect.  These same pets whom have had dental procedures with me, have teeth with a small amount of tartar, but the gums are red, swollen and puffy.  But, when we performed dental radiography, we found endodontic disease.

Endodontic disease is hidden dental disease.  It occurs at the base of the tooth, and is not visible to the naked eye.

I stopped recommending bones for dental care, the day I started performing dental radiographs.

This "aha" moment or epiphany came when I realised that my advice was contributing to enamel damage or worse, a fractured tooth, which allowed bacteria to enter the tooth via the pulp cavity, and cause disease. 

When I knew the damage my advice had caused, I stopped saying "give your dog a bone".  I also stopped looking at tartar  occurs on the teeth as disease, and started recognising dental disease for what it truly was - the disease under the gum in the periodontal space (periodontal disease), and the disease at the end of the tooth (endodontic disease). 

I am not saying that we ignore the tartar on the teeth - this does need to be addressed too, but only with an anaesthetic, examination and dental radiographs do we know that the  mouth is healthy.

Of course, no one wants to subject their pet to an unnecessary procedure. As a vet, I don't want to do this either. 

But, I am sure you and I are on the same page, when we say that we do not want our animals to be in pain either.  And if you give your pet a bone, it is entirely likely that at some stage in their life, even with pristine clean teeth, they will have dental disease (of the endo kind).

It devastates me to have to extract teeth damaged beyond repair in an 11 month old dog, like Oscar. Here is a photo of what we found when he came in for desexing (for increased aggression and food resource guarding).  This would've been painful. The owner thought she was doing the right thing, in giving her dog a bone (or two).

Oscar's painful tooth! No wonder he wouldn't let me near his mouth.

This is what it looked like radiographically

This is what it looked like after we resected back the gum.
We extracted this tooth completely, and Oscar has made a full and complete recovery.  His temperament has improved too, I am told!

This can happen to any dog or cat who chews on bones or any other hard object.  It is these cases where the owner will often be in denial that their pet has a dental problem due to their age.

But breaking of teeth, isn't the only problem bones can cause. They often can cause pets to choke to death, or cause severe constipation.

Let me introduce you to the internals of "Rex", an absolutely beautiful, very patient Schnauzer, who had trouble pooping. 

 You see the colour of his poop on the xrays is the exact same colour as his bones - and this is because Rex ingested alot of bones - raw bones.  He ingested bones daily for a few days to keep his teeth clean. 

Use a toothbrush not a bone.

Fortunately, five days in hospital, multiple enemas, and alot of praying, Rex made a full recovery and went home - and the owner now chooses brushing as a way of keeping his teeth healthy, and not bones.

These are just two of the many cases we have seen, and I am a solo vet in a small practice.  How many pets are out there suffering silently? 

When you come into see us, we will ask you "How do you keep your pet's teeth healthy?", and hopefully you will say "I brush my pet's teeth daily. No bones for us"  Woo Hoo! Awesome!

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi, and we don't like arguing with clients over issues like this, but please understand your pet's health is always on my mind.  If you choose to give your dog a bone, be aware that there are consequences to that action.

Every Day is Pet Dental Month at Russell Vale Animal Clinic, so if you have any questions or concerns at all, please sing out.  We are always here to help you, whenever you need us.