Return That Unconditional Love With Good Health Care

FOCUS ON PETS

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February is National Pet Dental Health Month, Have a Heart for A Chained Dog Month, and then there is Spay Day USA on Feb. 22.

Remember to make your valentines for chained dogs and bring them to the Payson Humane Society. Also, report any chained dogs you happen to know about to the PHS. These dogs and their owners will get a valentine and some information about responsible pet ownership between Feb. 7 and Feb. 14.

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Erich behaves very well while Piper McMurry gives his teeth a good brushing. Regular brushing with a soft toothbrush and pet toothpaste stimulates the gums and helps prevent dental disease.

Stepping back for a moment, I want to address some reactions to the column which appeared Jan. 11 dealing with the importance of providing training for small dogs. A couple of people complained that I was unusually harsh with this little guy. One wrote a letter to the editor about it. I am sorry that I upset people. He was not a puppy, but about one and a half years old. I do not abuse dogs. However, unless you had this dog in your home, crying all night, it is hard to imagine just how frustrating it can be. In writing about it, I did over dramatize it a bit.

When he cried was when he was in the kennel. Even if I was standing right next to him, talking softly to him, he screeched. The only way to get him to stop making noise was to take him out. In that case, he becomes the winner and crate training

fails. I did slap the top of the crate with a rolled-up newspaper. A friend of mine who specializes in training small dogs told me that Chihuahuas are very strong willed and that I should use the spray bottle. Neither of these treatments worked.

I am sad because I think this dog was tough on the outside, maybe due to his transient life, but inside, he was a cuddler and a sweetheart. I wish I had him back.

All dogs need basic obedience training and discipline. I so often compare it to the needs of children. All dogs need to be trained to spend time in a kennel. We never know when an emergency will arise and our dog will have to be in someone else's care. The security and self-confidence we have given him will determine how well he does in a new environment. But with his own little home, a kennel, the transition will be so much easier and more comfortable.

Because his owner moved to the Valley and is unable to keep him with her, this dog is now in another foster home. Because he is not trained and disciplined, I worry that he will be harshly punished when he cries all the time and urinates in the house. I worry about him going from home to home

and never having that security he desperately needs so that he can let his guard down. I hope he is getting loved.

Moving forward, many people think it is ridiculous to brush a dog's or cat's teeth. Can you imagine what it would be like to never brush your teeth? Yuk.

According to an article in PetCare News, February 2004, oral disease begins with bacteria. Microorganisms join with saliva and food debris between the teeth and gums to form plaque. The bacteria grow and combine with calcium-salt deposits to turn the plaque into tartar. If not removed, this develops into periodontal disease.

According to Keith Stein, DVM, "Periodontal disease is the most common disease in veterinary medicine, but it's also the most preventable."

Bad breath and bleeding gums are the most noticeable signs of the disease. Periodontal disease can lead to gum recession, root exposure and damage to ligaments that hold the teeth in place and the jawbone. Pockets of infection can develop that are very painful. This infection can enter the bloodstream causing heart, liver or kidney disease, especially in older pets.

Prevention and treatment of periodontal disease includes a thorough dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar. "Only a very thorough and complete prophylaxis will rid the oral cavity of the disease, which is essentially an out-of-control bacterial infection," continues Dr. Stein. Proper treatment must be performed under general anesthesia. For routine tooth care, brush your pet's teeth with a pet toothbrush and paste. Human toothpaste or baking soda can be toxic.

Also, the right food and treats result in better tooth health for dogs, just as they do with us.

When beginning an at-home teeth cleaning program, start slow. Begin by rubbing the dog's or cat's front teeth with your finger until he tolerates it well. Then put a little toothpaste on your finger and rub the teeth.

Eventually, add a toothbrush, but take your time. Concentrate on the back teeth first. Most -- 80 percent -- of plaque and tartar form on the outside surface of the teeth.

If the pet allows it, brush the inside surface also.

For good dental health, dogs and cats should eat hard food. A little canned food is OK but make sure they have plenty of crunchy kibble. Hard rubber or nylon chew toys are great for preventing plaque.

It is kind of like flossing your own teeth. Once you get into the habit of brushing your pet's teeth, it becomes automatic. February is a great time to begin an oral hygiene program for your pets.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry AZ 85544.

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