We all know the importance of looking after our own teeth and some of us know the feeling of having a painful tooth and how unpleasant that can be.
What about your pets’ teeth? Are they in good condition? Are they in pain?
Sometimes our pets will give us signs they have a painful tooth, but in most cases we will be unaware they have pain. Dogs, and especially cats will often swallow their food with little or no chewing. If you have ever seen a cat vomit up its food it usually looks exactly like the meal you just fed. A slightly soggy looking pile of biscuits, rather than a ground up brown mush.
In contrast, we humans usually like to chew our food before swallowing. My mum has always told me off for eating too fast, but even so, I am pretty sure I chew my food.
Dental care is not just about treating painful rotten teeth. We all brush our teeth daily to try to prevent serious dental disease developing. Keeping our own teeth and our pet’s teeth clean has greater benefits than just preventing them going rotten.
That brown tartar on the teeth is a mixture of minerals and bacteria. This ultimately causes gum disease. As a result, bacteria is being constantly swallowed, causing gastro-intestinal disease and also absorbed directly into the blood stream, potentially causing other more serious diseases. Having clean healthy teeth and gums is, therefore, good for our pet’s health, not to mention more pleasant when you get a licky kiss in the face.
How do we keep our pets’ teeth clean?
It is possible to brush our pets’ teeth although very few people actually do. To be effective it needs to be done regularly and the pet needs to tolerate having their teeth brushed. The best way to do this is to start as a puppy or kitten and get them used to it early as part of their training. Pets generally don't like our peppermint toothpaste so you should use a pet toothpaste.
Many dental chews are available and can help keep the teeth clean. These also need to be given regularly, ideally daily. Many people are disappointed when they give these dental chews, as the dog scoffs them in a couple of minutes. This is normal; they are designed to be bitten through and chewed up and swallowed, rather than gnawed on for hours.
Diet is also important. Dental biscuits, bones and meat that require chewing can help. Bones can be beneficial, but are also a double-edged sword, as many dogs will ultimately break their teeth chewing bones. I think bones should be uncooked, and too large to swallow. I would not recommend feeding bones your dog can shatter into pieces.
Despite a good diet, some dogs and cats will require their teeth to be cleaned. This is done by your local vet and is very like having your own teeth cleaned except it’s done under anaesthetic. This surprises many people, but the reality is that the vast majority of pets wouldn't tolerate any type of dentistry being done while awake.
If you are unsure about your pet’s teeth get some advice from your vet.
You’re lying in bed at night trying to get to sleep, and all you can hear is thump thump thump of the dog scratching at his body. He may stop for awhile and start chewing at himself instead. Either way neither one of you is getting any sleep.
The first thing you think of is those darn fleas. In many cases you will be right, but not all itchy dogs and cats have fleas. I often get clients saying the flea treatment is not working at all. I ask, “are you seeing fleas?” Often the reply is "no, but he is scratching like mad."
Making a diagnosis for skin conditions in dogs and cats is not as easy as you might think, and I can guarantee that Google images will not help because many skin conditions look the same, despite different causes. I have lost count of the number of clients who think their pet has ringworm because they have a bald circular patch of skin, which is more likely to be a bacterial infection. When we do see ringworm it is usually on the face and legs of puppies and kittens, and is often not circular lesions.
The good news is most cases of itchy skin can be cleared up relatively easily with some medication, and yes, sometimes it is as simple as some good quality flea treatment. The bad news is some of these dogs and cats have chronic skin conditions that may never be cured, only managed. This is especially true for a condition called Atopy which is allergies to environmental allergens such as grasses and pollens.
Auckland seems to have one of the worst environments/climates for allergic skin disease. I have had clients who have gone to live in central Otago and all the skin problems went. Within a month of returning to Auckland the dog’s skin is breaking out again. Now I am not suggesting you move to central Otago to get a good night’s sleep, although with Auckland house prices being so high, it is not that crazy an idea.
Food allergies are another common reason for itchy pets. Dogs and cats are not born allergic to anything, rather they develop these allergies in the first few years of life, often to the very food you have been feeding. The most common food allergen is beef, simply because it is the most common protein source fed to our pets. A food trial is worth doing in these itchy dogs and cats, as sometimes a change in diet can make a dramatic improvement to the skin condition.
What ever you do, don't put up with a sleepless night for you and your best friend. We are always here to help and if we can't solve your problem we can send you to a new specialist veterinary dermatologist that has opened up here in Auckland.
Most of us love our pets and would do anything for them. The question is, would you risk your life to save them? A recent incident in our household put this one to the test.
It all started with a phone call one afternoon at work from my wife Jacqueline.
“Your dog nearly killed me,” she said. This immediately got my attention; one because she was crying and Jacqueline almost never cries, and two, Breeze is only ever referred to as "my dog" when she has done something bad.
Jacqueline started to tell me the story. She had been walking Breeze at Nihotupu Dam, something she did quite often. Breeze decided to try to get to her favourite spot on the other side of the top of the waterfall. What Breeze hadn't factored in was that heavy rains had raised the water levels quite dramatically.
The strong current started to wash her down the river. This is the bit where you have to make that instant decision; do you let your dog go over the waterfall and hope it survives and manages to swim out at the bottom, or jump in and try to save it?
Jacqueline made that instant decision and tried to grab Breeze but the current was too strong. Both were now heading for the waterfall. Jacqueline didn’t panic, due I guess, to her surf lifesaving experience. Instead she put her feet first, grabbed Breeze, and put her on her lap. They went over the waterfall together, Breeze riding her comfortable human toboggan.
The ride was not so comfortable for Jacqueline. Bouncing down the rocks with a 30kg dog in her lap left her arms and legs bruised and bleeding. Luckily, they both managed to get to the bank and out of the water. Breeze apparently enjoyed the game and wanted to carry on. Jacqueline did not. Freezing cold, she painfully hobbled back to the car.
The good news is Jacqueline didn't break any bones and eventually all the skin wounds healed.
At some point, we had the conversation about whether it was wise to try and save Breeze. Jacqueline could easily have bashed her head, passed out and drowned. As much as I love my dog, I love my wife more. I was somewhat surprised by her answer, which I expected to be "I didn't think and just acted." Instead, her response was very calculated; she believed that if Breeze had gone over on her own she was unlikely to have got to the bank, and would have been washed away to certain death. In her mind, it was either risk her own life to save the dog, or let her die.
I must admit I am very happy man to have both my dog and wife in one piece. Would I do the same thing in the same situation? I am not sure. I hope I never have to find out.
A few of you may have been reading my Dad's (Lance Eastman’s) column about boring veterinary things. Well one day he was sick and he asked me to write a column from a dog's perspective. My Dad is now very annoyed as my column was much more popular than anything he has written.
The good news is I get to have another go.
Now many of you know me as the beautiful, clever Golden Retriever that performs a vital meet and greet service at the Blockhouse Bay Vets. What you may not have realised is that I also provide critical services for the Piha Surf Life Saving Club. My mum is a lifeguard and I guess that makes me a dog lifeguard.
One of the great things about Blockhouse Bay is that it is in the city but on the edge, surrounded by bush and beaches. I have been going to Piha on a regular basis now since I was just a puppy. In fact, during that time I have been a fully paid up member of the Piha Surf Life Saving Club.
I am not 100% sure if a dog can be a member but they gladly take my money, and when I say my money, I mean my Mum's money. I am a dog after all.
So what do I do as a dog lifeguard? Well I don't actually swim out and save people. Have you seen the size of those waves? I am not sure why anyone swims there when there is a perfectly flat lagoon with almost fresh water nearby. I am certainly not going in one of those orange boats, no way. In fact the really crazy bit is, I am not actually allowed on the beach so some duties are a challenge.
I spend the days on patrol at the surf tower watching the water for signs of problems. I am not sure what a problem looks like, but every now and then the lifeguards stop eating the muffins my Mum makes, and run down to the water, dragging some person back up the beach. They then return to the muffins and pat me and tell me what a great dog I am.
My other critical role is to entertain the Nippers. Nippers are like puppy life guards.
I really enjoy this role. My only real disappointment is that apart from some very small cameo roles in Piha Rescue, they have not made me a TV star yet.
If you head out to Piha, look out for me and don't forget to swim between the flags.
I can't watch the whole beach.
It seems hard to believe, but it is over thirty years now since I headed down to Palmerston North to start my veterinary degree. At the time, it seemed very high tech and I was amazed at what the clever surgeons could do at the University.
With the passage of time, what seemed high tech, is today old fashioned and out of date.
When I started, vets didn't have computers, the first mobile phones had just come out (and they were huge), digital radiology hadn't been invented, and the idea of getting an MRI for your pet seemed like science fiction.
The development of technology has revolutionised veterinary medicine. In clinic blood analysers enable us to get results in a matter of minutes. High quality digital x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans and MRIs are now routinely used in the diagnosis of our pets’ medical problems.
The other big change is the development of specialists who have done additional training in specific areas of veterinary medicine. In Auckland alone we have specialists in veterinary ophthalmology, dermatology, surgery, medicine, diagnostic imaging, dentistry and animal behaviour.
Back when I started my first job we didn't have access to all these specialists. This meant if you were faced with a complex surgery such as a broken leg, often your only option was to "have a go". I have done many surgeries over the years with the text book next to me following the instructions on how to do a surgery. I must say when you look at the patient in front of you and compare it to the diagram in the book they often don't look at all similar.
This was how vets got good at surgery - by practice. The down side is there is no substitute for experience. Which would you rather have operating on your pet - or for that matter, you? A surgeon who is having a go for the first time, or one who has done the procedure many times before?
I must admit I see cases through the clinic now that I refer to specialists for surgery. I know I have done that procedure a few times in the past but the best outcome is clearly going to occur using an expert surgeon. My main consideration is always going to be what is best for my patient, not what makes me the most money.
The down side to all this technology and specialisation is the dramatically increased cost of veterinary care over the years. I believe a lot of this is client driven. People's expectations are always increasing. Despite how clever we may feel with our fancy diagnostics and new medicines, people always want more. If it can be done to a person, why can it not be done for their treasured pet?
No doubt when we look back in another thirty years we will be amazed at how primitive it seems today. Who knows what we will be doing for our sick pets in 2047?
One thing I can guarantee, you it won't be seeing me in 2047 at Blockhouse Bay Vets.
Those of you who read this column on a regular basis will know it is normally written by Lance Eastman, the local vet in the bay. You may recall that a dog called Breeze once wrote something when Lance was too unwell to write anything.
At this point I should point out that I am a cat called Radish (Yes that is my name, do you have a problem with it?). I live with Breeze and have servants, Jacqueline and Lance, who are both vets. Now, you would think having two vets as household servants would mean I have exceptional care, but this is simply not true; I will come back to this in a minute.
Before I tell you about the abuse I suffer I would like to point out that Breeze is by no means intelligent as she makes out. She wrote an article about the joys of lying in a puddle for crying out loud. When did you last see a cat wallowing in a muddy puddle? I put it to you that the thickest, most stupid cat is still much brighter than the smartest dog, and Breeze is by no means the smartest dog.
Now back to my mistreatment at the hands of my servants. I have a beautiful ginger coat that I am very proud of it. Now, my servants want to brush it but I am not having any of that carry on. I really don't mind the odd dreadlock. It's the Rastafarian cat look I'm going for.
Now comes the cat abuse bit. One of my servants picks me up one day while the other heads towards me. Previous experience tells me that when they gang up on me it is never good news. Sometimes it is to squirt that horrible flea treatment on me but this time they jabbed me with a needle.
I was so angry. I make this very clear but they simply didn't care. The next bit is scary. My eyes get really heavy I need to stay awake but I simply couldn't.
I have no memory of what happened next but when I awake my entire coat has been SHAVED OFF. I looked like some kind of weird poodle, it was humiliating, and a little draughty in places.
I am sure what my servants have done must be illegal. They drugged me without my permission then shaved off my beautiful coat.
For any cats reading this article, if you are taken to the vet clinic and meet my treacherous servants, then explain that this behaviour is unacceptable. The best way to do this is, when they give you a pat with that condescending "who’s a nice kitty cat," bite that hand with all your might. Us cats must stick together.
I would say the same for the dogs but we all know dogs can't read.
Think Before You Buy
Having a new puppy or dog join the family is an exciting time. When I was a child all I ever wanted was my own dog. I pestered my parents relentlessly for them to get me a puppy. I made promises about brushing it every day and taking care of all its needs. They eventually caved and I got my first Golden Retriever puppy, Amy, at age eleven.
Like most children I didn't keep my end of the bargain and had to be nagged to brush Amy, and Mum ended up feeding her. I did, however, love that dog. I lived on a farm and Amy was my constant companion.
As a young adult I really missed having a dog, but as I planned to travel the world I knew it would not be possible. When I finally settled down and knew I wouldn't be doing anything but work for at least fifteen years (that sounds so depressing) I decided it was time for another Golden Retriever.
It therefore surprises me when I see people who get dogs that haven't really thought it through. We often get overseas students who get a puppy. Some take them home with them at the end of their studies, but many do not.
I have lost count of the number of people who tell me the dog is actually their son or daughter’s but they now live overseas. There is nothing wrong with Mum and Dad taking over care of your dog, but I think it is only fair to ask them first, rather than expecting them to do it.
I guess what I am saying is, a dog is a big commitment. You need to think not only can I meet those commitments now, but also for the rest of its life. A situation that I find really tough is when an elderly client's dog passes away. They often tell me they won't get another as they won't outlive the dog. This makes me very sad as I know how important having a companion like a faithful dog can be to the wellbeing of an elderly person.
Like the student leaving their dog for their parents to look after, I think the same can occur the other way around. If you are worried about not being able to look after a dog when you become too elderly, then ask if your children would be willing to take on the care. Possibly joint ownership with a friend or neighbour might work. You could even consider rescuing an older dog.
Having a dog as a companion is a truly awesome thing. It is, however, important to think about your situation now and for the lifespan of that dog, and how you will go about meeting those needs for that period.
I think it is human nature to want to love and care for our family, whether they be our fellow humans, or our furry companions. I think one way we show love is to feed our family and enjoy watching them enjoy the food we have prepared.
I am pretty sure my wife loves me, although sometimes I think she should get a medal for putting up with me. How do I come up with this conclusion? Well she loves to feed me. After a long day at the clinic I will sit down to a hearty bowl of soup and bread for dinner. This would probably be sufficient for most people but then comes out the roast chicken with gravy. I know she will be offended if I say I am full so I eat this also. Then as I sit there in my bloated state she brings out the chocolate cake she has made specially.
When I tell her I am trying to lose weight and get fit, she tells me I look great and that she doesn't like skinny men. Now before I cause mass outrage among women who think I am an ungrateful git, and men who would change places in a heartbeat, I would like to say I am not complaining. I love my food, and my protests are very feeble.
The point I am making is we often show our love through food. This is exactly the same for our pets. They have that stare, the look in their eyes that says "don't you love me?" How could you possibly refuse them a few chips or the end of your sausage roll? Once you have fed them they look so happy like you are their best friend in the world. If you still have some more chips, they then go back to the sad eyes look again and the process is repeated.
If we enjoy feeding our pets and they enjoy eating the food, does it really matter if they are a little chubby?
Sadly, it does. A study was done in America some years back comparing two groups of Labradors. One group was fed a third less than the other group. The ones fed less, and consequently leaner, lived two years longer. Two years is a very long time for a dog that on average only lives to twelve.
The study also showed the heavier dogs had much greater levels of arthritis.
As a vet I find getting people to diet pets immensely depressing. In most people’s minds love=food. Telling someone to feed their pet less is telling them to love it less.
I think doing what is required to optimise the chances your pet has a long, happy, pain free life is the true way to show love. I said I find getting people to diet their pets depressing. The reason for this is most people don't comply. Even if most of the family are onboard there is usually one saboteur who thinks everyone else is being mean. For those cases where everyone is motivated, watching a pet transform from a lethargic obese animal to a fit, active, happy pet is very rewarding.
Puddle Wins Bay “Best Landmark” Status
My name is Lance Eastman and I am the local vet here in Blockhouse Bay.
I first started working in the Bay in 1997 and tried to escape overseas for awhile but eventually ended up back where I started.
I did return with a Scottish wife, Jacqueline who is also a vet and my business partner at the clinic.
I have been writing articles on matters related to pets for over ten years now. Sometimes I run out of ideas and get my dog "Breeze" or my cat "Radish" to write something for me. Most people prefer to read these articles over what I write but it can be hard to motivate your pets to write sometimes.