BRUSH UP ON DENTAL HEALTH by Pauline Larsen

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We all know that we need to take care of our teeth so that plaque and tarter buildup doesn’t cause bacteria that can migrate into our bloodstreams, resulting in serious health problems. The same is true with our pets. Along with good food, exercise, and lots of love, regular brushing of their teeth is one of the most important things we can do for them. Poor dental health isn’t just about your dog’s teeth and gums. Over 80 percent of them are affected by dental problems including serious periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, which affects their overall well- being.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month with the “ Pets Need Dental Care Too” campaign. Remember what your teeth looked and felt like this morning when you got up? That rough, thick feel to the surface of the teeth after going only overnight without brushing. Can you imagine not brushing your teeth for a couple days…or weeks…or years?

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Dogs depend on healthy teeth and gums for survival. Like their caregivers, they are susceptible to bacterial plaque, tarter, cavities, and tooth aches. Periodontal disease, caused by bacteria and their toxins, if left untreated, will damage the teeth, gums, and supporting tissues. They can also spread through the bloodstream to other organs, including the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart. Since dogs cannot brush their own teeth, it is the responsibility to the caregivers to keep their teeth and gums in tiptop shape. According to recent surveys of dog caregivers, almost all confirm that they would proactively do anything to help their dogs live longer, healthier lives, but fewer than l0 percent recognize dental care as one of the top health concerns for dogs. Very few recognize the importance of brushing their dog’s teeth.

Symptoms of periodontal disease include brownish or discolored teeth, tarter buildup at the gum line, swollen, bleeding, or receding gums, irritability, decreased appetite or reluctance to chew, eat, and drink, pawing at the mouth, rubbing the face on the ground, and persistent bad breath.

To help your dog keep a healthy, lifetime grin, humans need to practice preventative care.

  • Don’t dismiss doggie breath. A dog’s bad breath is often an early warning sign of dental problems.
  • Pay attention to your dog’s eating habits. If she is reluctant to eat hard kibble, it could be due to a tooth ache.
  • Provide fresh water daily. Bacteria can escalate inside bowls containing water that is more than a couple days old.
  • Treat your dog to a raw baby carrot or two every day. Raw carrots help scrub plaque away as well as provide vitamins and fiber.
  • BRUSH her teeth…no, we are not kidding! The idea of brushing your pet’s teeth daily can be a bit daunting at first, but it’s the best way to keep gum disease from getting started. If you have never done this, start off easy. Begin by handling his mouth for a couple minutes every day for a few days. Stroke around his face, and then reward him with praise and maybe a carrot! For the next week, work toward getting your dog comfortable with having his mouth handled . Don’t even try to brush….next week’s Paw Prints will cover basic tips for actual brushing.

Please don’t be one of the majority of caregivers who will become discouraged …as Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. “ With patience (and carrots) , you’ll eventually have a dog who happily lets you mess with his mouth!!

Larsen can be contacted at Paw Prints, Box 373, Newell, Iowa 50568 or by e-mail at plarsen@rconnect.com

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“Cold Weather Favorites” by Pauline Larsen

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Bitterly cold temperatures, snow, ice, and chilling winds have hit us hard in Iowa, so this week’s favorites are cold weather  gear.  Just because dogs have fur coats doesn’t mean that they can endure bitterly cold weather.   No dog should be kept outside when the temperatures drop below freezing.

Most of you know that I am not a fan of clothing for dogs ….however, with the frigid, blustery weather we have been experiencing,  your dog might appreciate a sweater or coat…not for appearance, but for warmth.   Veterinarian Arnold Plotnick insists that when the temperatures drop below 40 degrees, short coated and toy breeds need a sweater or coat, and should be outdoors only long enough to relieve themselves.  Dogs bred for cold climates might enjoy a  longer walk, but prolonged exposure to cold weather, especially accompanied by high winds, can lower any dog’s body temperature,   resulting in hypothermia, or frostbite.   We often hear, “Dogs are animals.  They’re meant to be outside.  They’ll be fine.”   Not true!  If you see a companion animal shivering outside in the cold, please don’t ignore him.  Perhaps the caregiver doesn’t even realize the dangers, and a neighborly offer to help make the situation better might be gratefully accepted if you don’t sound accusatory or belligerent.  If the “good neighbor” approach is unsuccessful, it may be necessary to notify the authorities.   A dog’s life might depend on your intervention.

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All dog coats and sweaters are NOT EQUAL…actually the majority of them are almost worthless.    I have two very favorites: the first is an inexpensive anti-pilling fleece  coat that combines warmth, style , and durability at a surprisingly affordable price.  Fido Fleece coats have  collar- to -tail Velcro closing which makes  them easy- on and easy- off.   They cover, warm, and protect the dogs vulnerable underside,  and come in a wide array of styles and sizes.    For details on these coats, go to   www. petsafe.net ….just type in Fido Fleece , or call toll free 800-933-5595.

My very favorite  dog sweater is the amazing  ThunderSweater, a new product from the same company that makes the ThunderShirt, a coat  designed to ease  a  dog’s fear and anxiety, using the same concept as wrapping a human baby snuggly in a blanket, or “swaddling”, a common practice for helping to calm an upset or cranky baby.  It works with humans, and it also works with canines to comfort and calm.  The Thundershirt has helped families, veterinarians, and trainers increase an animal’s self-confidence, providing comfort in situations that were once stressful or frightening.     I am a fan of the Thundershirt because it can be adjusted to fit almost any dog, and most dogs are happy and comfortable wearing it.  It is great for alleviating stress, and also for warmth on chilly days.  The ThunderSweater consists of a regular ThunderShirt  made of a sturdy, stretchy fabric, over which a cable-knit sweater layer is fitted using snaps.    The attractive sweater layer is thick and well-constructed, and the snaps that attach it to the ThundersShirt underneath both hold strong when snapped, and release relatively easy for removal.   Once the garment is on and fitted properly, it looks good and it stays put.   It is certainly better made than most dog coats on the market, and the sweater layer in particular is impressive.  (Yes, it is a bit spendy, but purchase of the Sweater includes both the under Shirt and the Sweater, and because of the high quality workmanship, it will outlast several of the ill- fitting  cheapies that most dogs find uncomfortable)    The only problem with this gear is that, even with the visual instructions provided in the packaging, it may be a challenge to put on the dog the first time, and removing the sweater or putting it on the base layer  can be confusing, but if you are really serious about a great cold weather garment for your dog, check out the ThunderSweater by calling 866-892-2078 or going to ThunderWorks.com and type in ThunderSweater.   The ThunderSweater provides added warmth when needed, while continuing to provide all the calming benefits of ThunderShirt.  It’s well worth the cost!

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Just a brief mention  (I am running out of allotted space, as usual J) about dog boots or booties.  You will find dozens of them in pet stores and catalogs…many of them are really cute, but ineffective (and most dogs resist wearing them)  If you really want dog boots,  I recommend  Ruffwear Bark’N Boots Grip Tex which are easy to put on, easy to secure, provide continued comfort, and they stay on the paws…they really do.   If you google “Ruffwear dog gear”, you will find several companies offering this product, but again, most dogs resist boots…I recommend rubbing Bag Balm (or just plain Vaseline)  on the dog’s foot pads, and washing the paws after a trek outdoors.

Remember your dog is part of the family and deserves to have a safe, healthy, comfortable winter.

Larsen can be contacted at Paw Prints, Box 373, Newell, Iowa 50568 or by e-mail at plarsen@rconnect.com

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