Dental care is a priority for most humans. We have our regular dental cleanings, and make sure problem teeth are addressed as soon as possible.
But pet dental health is often left unaddressed. Many pets suffer from dental pain or disease, which can go unnoticed by their owners for many years.
This can be especially true in our senior pets, many of whom have serious dental issues lurking under the surface. Because many people believe bad breath is normal for senior dogs, this tell-tale sign of underlying issues is commonly left untreated.
But one of our patients, Dempsey, is living proof that senior dogs don’t have to have smelly breath, and that treating dental disease can lead to a happier overall life for dogs.
Dempsey was rescued by EVC client Dawn Highhouse when he was 10 years old. Dawn loves adopting senior dogs, and has brought many of them to EVC.
“There is something about the old guys that speaks to my heart,” Dawn said. “His photos and piercing gray eyes were striking, but it was his description that won me over. He was described as being an “old soul,” the kind of dog that calms everyone when he comes into a room.”
But as with many senior pets, Dempsey came to Dawn with some medical issues that needed to be addressed. Dempsey was bowlegged, seemed stiff when he walked, had a heart murmur, and had a lump on his midsection. Most noticeable, however, was his need for dental care.
“It was hard to tell how bad (his teeth) were because he wouldn’t let me near them, which was a clue in itself, but also his breath was bad enough to knock over a horse,” she said. “It smelled earthy and rotting. I frequently referred to it as his “goat farm” breath, because it reminded me of a petting zoo in the sun.”
Dawn knew that Dempsey’s bad breath and mass needed to be addressed, so she scheduled an appointment to have him examined at EVC by Dr. Tittle.
“When I get a new fella, I take a few days to get to know him and then I set up a wellness appointment at Eastown,” Dawn said. I love watching (Dr. Tittle) with dogs; she knows exactly how to get on their level.”
After examining his teeth, Dr. Tittle confirmed Dempsey’s dental disease.
Dental disease is a serious condition that can lead to several other health issues if left untreated. Besides causing loss of teeth, pain and difficulty eating, dental disease can cause damage to the heart and kidneys. Dental disease is graded on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being minimal and 4 being severe. Dempsey’s teeth were a definite grade 4.
There was no doubt Dempsey’s teeth would need to be addressed. Furthermore, the lump on his belly turned out to be a type of tumor that required removal.
Because Dempsey has a heart murmur, special precautions would need to be taken for his surgery.
“The heart murmur made me nervous about putting him under anesthesia,” Dawn said. “But I knew we had to do it. I could tell he was in pain because of those teeth, and the tumor sealed the deal.”
Because of her extensive experience with complicated dental procedures, Dr. Happel was chosen to perform Dempsey’s surgery.
A thorough cleaning was performed on Dempsey’s teeth, which then allowed Dr. Happel to evaluate each tooth for signs of damage or infection.
Dempsey’s teeth before the cleaning
Dempsey’s teeth after the cleaning
After the procedure, Dr. Happel called Dawn to inform her that Dempsey’s dental disease was so advanced it necessitated the removal of 8 teeth.
While any surgical procedure has its costs, Dawn said she never doubted how badly Dempsey needed the dental, or how great he would feel afterwards.
“It’s expensive and it can feel risky having an older dog under anesthesia,” Dawn said. “However, if you have ever had a toothache or a cavity, you know why this matters. Our pets put up with chronic pain with such class.”
Besides having better breath, Dempsey’s life improved greatly in other ways after his procedure!
“Without all the pain he regained years of his life,” she said. “Instead of being like John Wayne, he is more of a canine Paul Newman. He plays, he smiles, he runs and prances around my yard. He lets me look at his teeth and now loves to give me kisses. He’s a whole new dog!”