Most canine dental disease is a result of deposits on the teeth. Second in occurrence is inflammation of the gums. Teeth may be misshapen, break off or not fit properly; the ‘bite’ should just overlap so as to give a scissors effect rather than meeting like a pair of pincers. A faulty bite also results from the upper or lower jaw projecting forward too much or too little (overshot and undershot respectively).
Teeth may lose patches of enamel while they develop; the resulting so-called distemper teeth may be an aftermath of any serious disease in puppyhood. Although such teeth are unsightly, they do not cause the dog much inconvenience.
Dogs develop temporary (milk) teeth soon after birth; they are replaced by permanent teeth by the age of six months. A temporary tooth may still be present alongside the canine tooth for a considerable period after it would normally be lost, but this does not distort the mouth. However, food debris may become lodged between the temporary and permanent tooth, and the former is best extracted. Although temporary teeth have only the shallowest of roots, they can remain securely in place and extraction is under light anaesthesia.
Deposits on teeth are common. They begin as plaque, a thin deposit of cells visible only with appropriate staining techniques. Bacteria, dead cells from inside the mouth, and other debris become solidified and calcified through saliva. This visible, solid deposit is known as Dental Calculus, Scale, or Tartar, and forms first at the base of the tooth. It can reach quite large proportions, larger than the tooth itself, and may cause irritation of the gums infective material trapped between the calculus and the gum contributes to periodontal disease. Calculus may also act as a mechanical obstruction to jaw movements. preventing the dog from eating properly or closing its mouth.
Dental deposits may form rapidly; most frequently encountered in old age, they can also he seen on temporary teeth. Eventually the gums recede to such an extent that the whole tooth may be shed.
Advanced techniques using ultra-sound are employed to remove dental deposits under general anaesthesia. After descaling, the teeth are cleaned and polished to slow down the rate of subsequent deposition, but prevention of calculus formation is more difficult than might be expected. Hard abrasive foods, such as biscuits and bones, may help to prevent or slow down build-up, but regular cleaning with a toothbrush and a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide is probably just as effective.
Dogs rarely get caries (cavities) in their teeth. When these do occur they can be filled with dental amalgam, but more usually the affected tooth is removed.
Three main areas of the ear are subject to disorders. The outer, visible part, including the earflap and canal as far as it can be seen, often sustains injuries. Cuts on the flap tend to bleed freely and provoke head shaking, resulting in more bleeding. Blood blisters may form in the ear flap.
Inflammation of the ear canal up to the ear drum is known as Otitis externa and can result from parasitic mite infestation (Otodectes cyanotis). It is often accompanied by excessive accumulations of wax which, in Poodles especially, may get trapped in the mass of hair within the ear. While soothing creams, olive or almond oil may be gently applied to the visible part of the ear, it is very unwise to introduce anything into the main ear canal. itself. The temptation to poke cotton buds into the ear must be resisted as the result is almost invariably a worse mess than before. Professional help is required as it is for disorders deeper in the ear, beyond the ear drum.
Middle-ear disease (Otitis media) is always a serious matter; it is usually painful, disorienting, and the dog may lose his balance as well as his hearing. Dogs hold their heads on one side, and a purulent discharge may pass through the ear drum or seep out elsewhere; urgent attention is needed.
Inflammation of the ear is known as ottis, as Otitis externa when the ear canal up to the ear drum is inflamed, and as Otitis media when it concerns the inner ear parts. Many if not most cases of Otitis externa start with a proliferation of an ear mite (Otodectes cyanotis), and complications may be caused by an excessive accumulation of ear wax. In addition, bacterial or fungal infection may make the whole ear a purulent mess. Breeds with a good deal of hair in the ear canal, such as Poodles, or with heavy ear flaps, such as Spaniels, are especially prone to infection of the ears due to poor aeration; they become an ideal medium for bacterial growth. Foreign bodies, particularly grass awns, are the cause of many other instances of Otitis externa. Home treatment probably causes as many problems as it helps, and the temptation to poke solid objects, such as cotton buds, into the ear must be resisted. At most only that part of the ear which is clearly visible should be cleaned; a few drops of warm olive oil will loosen any wax. Otitis media usually shows as incoordination, circling, overbalancing after head shaking, some pain particularly on handling, and sometimes an un-pleasant discharge. This is an urgent matter for the veterinarian.
Diseases of Gums
Inflammation of the gums can result from heavy deposits on the teeth (see Dental Diseases) or general infections in the mouth (Leptospirosis). Some- times objects like pieces of wood or fragments of bone may become lodged between the teeth and cause local gum inflammation. Other causes are conditions which affect the whole animal, particularly kidney failure and lead poisoning. If inflammatory conditions become purulent infections, there may be enough pain to prevent eating; a highly offensive odour indicates the need for veterinary attention. Glossitis Inflammation of the tongue may be accompanied by gingivitis or generalized inflammation (see Stomatitis). Glossitis on its own may be caused by penetrating or encircling objects, such as needles, fish hooks, pieces of bone or metal, and constricting material such as rubber bands and pieces of thread and fishing line. Lacerations of the tongue can occur as a result of a traffic accident or when a puppy becomes involved with metal objects. The tongue heals rapidly, and horrific-looking injuries often do well after surgical intervention. The other common cause of glossitis results from swelling of the salivary glands, usually because the ducts are blocked. The swellings may become large and look unsightly, but response to treatment is usually favourable.
The area of the gum which surrounds the base of each tooth is called the periodontum. Inflammatory disease is commonly seen at this site, often associated with dental deposits and gingivitis. Advanced cases show recession of the gum margin, loosening and eventually shedding of the tooth. Treatment consists in cleaning up mouth infections and in improved dental hygiene.
Hair Related Problems
Dogs shed some hair more or less continuously, heaviest in spring and autumn when the new coat is grown. Regular grooming will help to keep the coat in good condition with the minimum of excess hair shedding. Some dogs shed large amounts of hair without apparently thinning the coat. This aberrant form of moulting is possibly due to hormonal disturbances or to inadequate intakes of essential fatty acids or zinc. Environmental factors, such as the even temperatures of centrally heated rooms, may also be a factor. Thorough bathing with a dog shampoo containing zinc, and a little corn oil, usually improves most non-specific hair-shedding conditions. Moving the dog’s living quarters into a cooler room may also help. If such measures prove ineffective, the dog’s hormonal state will need clinical investigation.
Bad breath or halitosis may be due to infective conditions in the mouth, or more generalized illness. Mouth infection is usually associated with dental deposits, gingivitis and periodontal disease, all of which require skilled attention. Bad breath can also be a symptom of a more complicated disease, such as chronic gastritis and kidney failure. A dog’s breath may be highly offensive from eating rotting material or its own feces (copraphagia). Careful investigation may be necessary to distinguish between local infection, generalized disease, and the transient passage of offensive material.
Inflammation of the whole mouth (Stomatitis) may accompany generalized infections. It may also be a result of an electrical burn or of a dog taking in irritant material by mouth. Stomatitis is a frequent accompaniment of advanced kidney disease. Severe inflammation of the mouth requires urgent treatment as the dog will have great difficulty taking in food or water. Once established, infections in the mouth can become obstinately resistant to treatment; foreign bodies should be removed and irritant chemicals diluted with water. Live power supply near a dog with electrical burns must be switched off.
Small outgrowths on the skin can be a nuisance in two ways. In old dogs, the tips of the warts may be knocked or chewed off, causing bleeding. Warts inside the mouth, usually in younger dogs, may proliferate to the extent that they interfere with eating. Warts (papillomata) are nearly always related to a specific virus infection, but can progress to bacterial infection. Viral warts may disappear quickly, oth’ers may have to be removed by surgery and secondary infection treated with antibiotics. In most cases,external warts are. easily removed under local anaesthesia, but they are likely to recur.
Inflammation of the tonsils is usually associated with infection, general or localized. A dog with tonsillitis clearly has a sore throat, and the area behind the tongue is inflamed, sometimes ulcerated. There is loss of appetite, inability to swallow, a good deal of retching, and often high fever. Tonsillitis usually responds well to antibiotic therapy; any generalized disease must be treated at the same time. Occasionally tonsils are the seat of more chronic infection; the focus for this and the tonsils must be removed.
Any fluid from the nose of a dog is a matter for concern. Local infections are the most obvious cause; Kennel Cough may have secondary bacterial infection resulting in a purulent or mucous nasal discharge, and Distemper may have similar symptoms, with heavy encrusting of the nose itself. Other virus infections are characterized by clearer discharges.
Discharge from only one side may be due to injury or a foreign body, such as a grass awn, which has penetrated the nasal chambers. A simple but persistent nasal discharge may require much investigation to establish the cause.
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