Is it time to get my pet’s teeth cleaned? aka. I can’t take my pet’s breath for one. more. day.

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

Teeth CleaningIt’s happened to all of us.  You get home and your furry friend greets you and gets his face in your face and you smell it.  The breath that knocks you over.

In this profession, we often have to have a hard stomach.  There are a lot of gruesome and unpleasant things that walk through our door, things that are hard to see and make our hearts stop for a second.  Situations that involve gloves and masks and eye protection.

I’m a parent and a veterinarian; I can handle vomit and drainage and diarrhea.

But MAN, some pets can walk in here and blow me away with their bad breath.

Clients will say, “Doc, I can’t hardly watch TV with Sophie anymore; her breath is too bad.  I give her biscuits and Greenies and she eats dry dog food, I don’t know what else to do, she wants to greet me but I can’t let her lick me with that nasty mouth.”

Most bad breath is a result of bacteria and food buildup on the teeth, which over time hardens and cements itself to the tooth enamel.  This is called tartar.  Tartar can continue to build and build, adding layer upon layer, typically on the outside of the teeth.  Gums can become swollen and red and sore.  In more severe cases, bacteria starts to work its way up the tooth, starting an infection between the tooth and the gums.  As this happens, the ligament that holds the tooth in gets broken down and the tooth loosens, eventually causing discomfort and falling out.  In other cases, the tooth root itself can become infected and a tooth may need to be pulled under general anesthesia.  Worst case scenario:  bacteria that gets into the bloodstream and causes systemic or heart valve infection and teeth that are painful causing a dog to stop eating.

Go ahead, take a break and brush your teeth.  It’s okay.

Sometimes, more rarely, the bad breath can result from an infected tumor in the mouth or tonsillar swelling or other miscellaneous problems; a good oral exam by your veterinarian would be a good idea to specifically diagnose your pet’s mouth issues.

I can tell you that the same rules apply to your pet as they do to human teeth; often they need to be mechanically cleaned with a special tool that pulls tartar off the teeth.  Then the teeth are polished.  Veterinarians need to have a pet under general anesthesia for this procedure; some pets need antibiotics and pain management along with this treatment, much like we would if we had a tooth pulled at the dentist.

Once the teeth are clean, then we try to be aggressive about keeping them clean!

Number one way to keep yours and your pets teeth clean:  BRUSH THEM.  Use separate toothbrushes.  (This is a joke.  But seriously.)  Also separate toothpaste; the fluoride that is in our toothpaste will upset a dog’s stomach.  Use a small child’s toothbrush and dog toothpaste, we like C.E.T. toothpaste at our clinic.  Just like us, the more often the teeth are brushed the less likely there is buildup that hardens into tartar.

Number two:  Feed your dog dry dog food.  If you can, it is worth it to buy a quality dog food that has been proven to help prevent tartar buildup.  Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on this.  I can tell you that the right food can prevent or really increase the amount of time between dental cleanings.  Definitely worth the investment.

Number three:  Feed snacks that are teeth-friendly.  If you’re not sure whether to purchase a product or not, look for a VOHC label.  This is the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval.  The VOHC is made up of a group of veterinary dentists that are experts and endorse certain products if they meet certain standards for slowing down tartar deposit on teeth.  This is the seal:


I can tell you from experience that some breeds are more prone to tooth problems than others (i.e. small pure-bred dogs) and may require yearly or even semi-annual teeth cleanings.  This is okay and can be normal for your dog.  The main thing is to try to fix any current problems and prevent new problems before they occur.

And make it fun to watch Jeopardy with your bestie (beastie?) again.

Websites that are good sources of information on this subject:


Heinz 57 Dogs: The Good, The Bad, And the…More Good.

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

ImageMy favorite dog in the whole world is Layla, our golden retriever mix.  She is a 37 pound ball of fur.  She chases her tail and herds like a border collie.  She fetches like a retriever.  She has the loyalty of both breeds.  Once upon a time her pure-bred mama got together accidentally with a stray; her owner never even saw the male.  So she’s a Heinz 57, a mixed breed dog, a mutt.  She has a beautiful temperament and now that she’s seven years old she is at that sweet spot where she’s no longer a puppy but hasn’t shown any signs of age yet.  She is a loving companion.

Knock on wood, Layla has also been incredibly healthy.  Most would attribute that to the fact that she is a mixed breed dog.  The technical term for this is hybrid vigor.  This means that genetically speaking, she is less likely to develop those diseases that we know are passed down through bloodlines.

Diseases that we see daily that we know have a genetic component include allergies, ear infections, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and conformation issues.  These diseases often result from inheriting two non-dominant genes, one from each parent.  This more often occurs when two pure-bred animals are bred together.  Mutts would typically be heterozygotes (one dominant and one recessive gene) and hence not express the problem.

You might be saying, back up the nerd truck.  And talk English please.

Ok let’s do a simple example.  If dad has brown eyes and mom has blue eyes, how likely is it that baby will have brown eyes?  Or blue eyes?

If you remember from high school biology, the Punnett Square:

Punnett Square 2

Punnett Square 1So in these diagrams “B” represents the dominant gene (brown eyes).  “b” represents the recessive gene (blue eyes).  We use the square to try to predict what offspring parents could have if bred together.

When a dog is “BB” genetically, they show the dominant trait.  For example, brown eyes are dominant and dogs with “BB” coded for their eyes have brown eyes.

When a dog is “bb” genetically, they show the recessive trait.  In this eye example, an animal with “bb” coding would have blue eyes.

When a dog is “Bb” genetically, they show the dominant trait.  This is because dominant trumps recessive.  In this example, an animal with “Bb” coding would have brown eyes.

To put it together, if an offspring inherits a “B” from dad and a “B” from mom, they are “BB” or brown-eyed.  If an offspring inherits a “B” from dad and a “b” from mom, they are “Bb” or brown-eyed.  If an offspring inherits a “b” from dad and a “b” from mom, they are “bb” or blue-eyed.

This is a very simple example and a lot of traits are more complex than this, but you get the picture.

The bottom line is, a lot of genetic diseases tend to show up when the animal inherits two recessive genes for the trait, like the blue-eyed “bb” individuals in the above example.  Most mutts have largely dominant genes, making it less likely for them to carry two recessive genes for the same trait.  This means that they are less likely to ever show those recessive traits.  They are more likely to be carriers for genetic disease than to actually have it themselves.  This whole concept is known as ‘hybrid vigor’.

This does not mean that a mixed breed dog will never have a genetic disease, it just means that they are less statistically likely to.

With that in mind I would highly encourage you to consider the next time you are pondering adding another heartbeat to your household the merits of a lovely mixed breed dog.  More likely to be healthy and long-lived and often in need of a good home.

But you can’t have our happy accident.  She was free to a good home when she was a pup.  And today she’s worth more than I can say.

Why does my pug snore louder than I do?

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

Pugs on Couch The alternate title for this blog was “Why can’t I hear the news with my pug on my lap unless the TV volume is turned up to 11?”

We could be talking about any of those short-nosed breeds:  English and French bulldogs, Boston Terrier, Pug, Boxer, Pekingese and Shih Tzu.  These pooches have been bred over time to have shortened noses, causing several different problems that all contribute to the same effect.  Mildly affected animals  will snore or snort, especially with exercise.  Severely affected animals will have significantly loud breathing which can lead to serious difficulty in breathing and even to respiratory crisis.

We often get asked, “what exactly is the reason behind the snort?”  and “do you realize how many times my pooch wakes me up at night?” and “do you sell earplugs here?”


The short-nosed (the true term is ‘brachycephalic’) dog will have small nostrils, which makes it difficult to pull air into the nasal cavity.  Over time, this can cause further damage inside the skull and in the back of the throat as a dog has to continually pull air hard to physically get it into his lungs.  Friction between tissues that in a ‘normal’ dog would never touch can cause thickening of the tissues and permanent deformity (almost like a callous).  These changes make the airway even smaller and more difficult for your sweet puggy puppy to move air in and out of her lungs.  This kind of work to breathe can make it difficult for more severely, chronically affected dogs to get enough air to exercise.

English BulldogWhat can be done do to help?

There are surgical options for some patients that can involve widening the nostrils and resecting tissue inside the throat that occludes the airway.  This is generally performed by veterinary surgeons at specialty clinics.

What can I do at home?

1.  Provide daily exercise for your pup.  Gradually work up to a 30 minute walk every day or lively game of fetch.  We recommend working with your veterinarian to find a regimen that is appropriate for your pup and your lifestyle.

2. Promote healthy eating habits to prevent weight gain.  Obesity will exacerbate breathing problems seen with these breeds.

3.  Regular examinations can help your veterinarian to work with your family to develop the best care regimen for your pet’s individual needs.

4.  Be attentive to any change in your pet’s breathing patterns, difficulty breathing, coughing, and lack of energy.  These problems can worsen as a dog ages and may need to be managed differently in later years of life.  It can be life-threatening in severe cases and monitoring the severity of the condition in your pet will help you make informed decisions about your pet’s care.

5.  Watch for gastrointestinal signs like vomiting and regurgitation that can be related to the brachycephalic syndrome.

Remember that while the snoring and noise that these breeds make are often cute and endearing, they can also be uncomfortable and even life-threatening in severe cases.  These animals are special with wonderful personalities and attitudes and make awesome companions BUT it is up to us to be aware of their special needs and keep on top of their health to make their lives happy and long.