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Dr. Michael Fox, Published March 16 2012

Pet care: Bad breath in pets leads to suffering

Dear Readers: One observation I wish to offer as a veterinarian and from personal experience with my own animals is that when your pets have bad breath, they can suffer and become depressed.

Infection in the oral cavity is the most common cause of bad breath. Inflammation and buildup of tartar or scale, especially around the back teeth, is a major problem and can cause halitosis. These issues may not be visible without opening your animal’s mouth very wide, which he or she may resist. This is one major reason to get an annual veterinary checkup.

Aside from the fact that bacterial infections and inflammatory substances in the mouth can spread via the bloodstream to harm internal organs like the heart and kidneys, smelly, toxic saliva can be inhaled and spread disease into the bronchi and lungs.

Additionally, a sore and infected tooth can mean pain while eating, so animals go off their food, further jeopardizing their health.

Your pet suffers emotionally as well. The stinky saliva that comes with halitosis and poor oral hygiene is repulsive to many people, who no longer like to be licked by their dogs or have their cats close to their faces. Being shunned by their human caregivers is traumatic for most cats and dogs. They do not understand why they are rebuffed when displaying affection, and this can make them depressed.

Such depression is compounded by the animal not enjoying licking and grooming himself anymore. This normal self-care behavior – cats’ routine lick-baths and dogs’ licking their privates – is inhibited when their saliva stinks and they are repelled by it. They stop grooming themselves. This is why cats in need of dental care frequently have an unkempt appearance, and many longhaired cats develop painful clumps and mats of fur all over their bodies. Saliva from healthy animals contains substances that prevent infection and promote healing.

So with these observations in mind, I appeal to all pet owners to be mindful of the need for proper dental hygiene. Become familiar with the benefits of good nutrition, including supplements such as fish oil. Give your pet safe chew toys and chewy treats that are good for gums and teeth. The emotional component of having halitosis is an overlooked aspect of animal care and quality of life, and when stinky saliva is present, it calls for professional veterinary attention and subsequent in-home oral health care.

Dear Dr. Fox: My fiance has a 10-year-old female tabby cat, Lynx, who lived with another cat until three years ago. This summer, my fiance and Lynx moved to a temporary apartment, and Lynx refused to sleep in her cat bed. Instead, she slept under my fiance’s bed. A few months ago, we moved into our house, and Lynx slept in her bed again.

But when we introduced my cat, a docile 10-year-old male, to our home, Lynx became difficult, rejecting all of my fiance’s approaches. She growls and will not allow my fiance to hold her. She hisses at my cat, but shows no further signs of aggression. My cat is very respectful of Lynx and has settled into our home very well. But we worry that Lynx may never come around. – L.M., Naples, Fla.

Dear L.M.: Cats often have difficulty adapting to new environments and, as in your case, are challenged even more by the presence of an unfamiliar animal or person. What is unfamiliar is often perceived as threatening. Cats may react by hiding or hissing and even attacking defensively. Many cats quickly acclimate to new places once they feel secure and know that what they feared is not a threat.

Try Feliway spray or room diffuser – the cat-calming pheromone should help. Your fiance should not force contact with his cat for a while, since he has your cat’s scent on him. It is fortunate that your cat is so adaptable. Check my website, www.twobitdog.com/DrFox, for steps to introduce two cats for the first time, since this may help.

Pet health declining

Pet illnesses climbed in 2011, and fewer pets are receiving routine veterinary care, according to the Banfield State of Pet Health 2011 report and Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study. Data reveal only 24 percent of cat owners and 39 percent of dog owners take their pet to a veterinarian when symptoms occur. Diabetes increased 16 percent in cats and 32 percent in dogs, and ear infections increased 34 percent in cats and 9 percent in dogs. Even preventable conditions such as parasites and dental disease, which rose 10 percent in cats and 12 percent in dogs, are up in 2011 despite advances in veterinary medicine. The precarious financial status of many pet owners caught in the nation’s failing economy certainly contributes to this regrettable situation, but there can be no excuse not to seek veterinary attention when an animal is ill. It is possible to make some equitable arrangement to pay on an installment basis.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.