Summer Noise Phobias

Lovely weather, summer holidays and a relaxed atmosphere make summer everyone’s favorite season – everyone except for dogs with noise phobias. Fireworks and thunderstorms create unexpected loud noises, frightening to many dogs and cats as well. The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center see dogs and cats injured and lost over the Fourth of July weekend as a result of their noise phobias.

Signs of noise phobia:

Destructive behavior

  • Scratching/digging at door or wall
  • Chewing
  • Loss of housebreaking

Anxious behavior

  • Clinging to owner
  • Drooling
  • Hiding, especially cats
  • Panting
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Dilated pupils

Abnormal behavior

  • Skipping meals
  • Jumping out of windows/running out of doors
  • Shaking
  • Loss of training, i.e., not responding to commands

Home Remedies
Consider trying home remedies for noise phobia. One of my patients with thunderstorm phobia calms down if her owner wipes her fur down with a dryer sheet. Dryer sheets may decrease the buildup of static electricity caused by the impending thunderstorm. I suggest the unscented ones, since dogs don’t like smelling like an ocean breeze. Anxious dogs may feel calmer during storms or fireworks if you apply a dab of lavender oil to their ear tips. The lavender oil fragrance has calming properties and is available at health food stores and on the internet.

Noise Phobia Products

  • Along the lines of the antistatic dryer sheet is the Storm Defender Cape which has a special lining to diffuse static electricity.
  • The Thundershirt is a snug fitting dog T-shirt which some of my dog owners have used for anxiety related to car rides, veterinarian visits, as well as thunderstorms.
  • An interesting product I found is dog ear muffs, but I don’t have personal experience with them.

For additional tips on managing fireworks phobia in dogs read a previous blog, "Fireworks and Your Dog."

If you need professional help managing noise phobias in your pet, a behavioral consult with a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists can help set your dog or cat on the road to recovery.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Keeping Your Cat Young

For those families adding a feline member during Adopt-a-Cat Month this June, keeping your cat young and in good health is a priority. Here are The Animal Medical Center’s top six tips to achieving purrfect health and maintaining a long life for your feline family member.

1. Give your cat a routine. Research has shown changes in feeding schedule or in caretaker can result in “illness behaviors” such as having a poor appetite, vomiting and not using the litter box. Basically, cats don’t like surprises.

2. Provide your cat with an interesting environment. Cats need climbing structures where they have a good view of the room and a window with an outdoor view. The perch should be comfortable for resting. Leave a radio on tuned to quiet music when you are away.

3. Encourage your cat to hunt. Not outdoors, but indoor hunting. Use food dispensing toys such as the FunKitty line. Keeping your cat’s brain active by having her “hunt” for her food will keep her engaged and active longer.

4. Cats may have a “hands off” personality, but when it comes to healthcare you need to be hands on, and the hands should be those of your cat’s veterinarian. Visit your cat’s veterinarian for routine health checks at least once a year and twice a year if your cat is 10 years of age or older.

5. Clean your cat’s teeth regularly. The American Veterinary Dental College and the AMC Dental Service recommend daily tooth brushing and annual cleanings under general anesthesia.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Prescription: A Cat and a Cardboard Box

June is Adopt a Cat Month. Since I am hoping many cats will be getting new homes this month, I am going to devote my Wednesday blogs in the month of June to cat issues to help new cat owners raise healthy happy cats.

“She’s not eating,” wailed one of my cat owning clients the other day on email. This cat has a complicated set of problems, all of which could decrease her appetite. Later that morning, we examined the cat and could find no specific reason for her not to be eating. Blood tests were A-OK, but she seemed more anxious than usual.

Valium, Prozac, Xanax? No, I prescribed a cardboard box, nothing fancy, a generic Staples copy paper box. I sprayed the box with Feliway® and set my little friend up in a quiet cage with a plate of food, a water bowl and the open side of the box facing the back of the cage.

All day long she relaxed, safely hidden from prying eyes, and snacked on her plate of food until it was licked clean. At the end of the day, I sent the box home with the owner.

Why a cardboard box? Cats are mostly solitary creatures who like their privacy. When they are ill or upset, privacy is even more important to them. Providing a safe place for them to hide… and eat, is just one way we humans can improve their environment. Feliway is another.

Feliway is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring substance called a pheromone. Pheremones are produced by the cat’s body and serve as a chemical signal to other cats. The signal induced by Feliway is one of comfort and reassurance, just what my patient needed that day.

Would your cat be happier with a cardboard box and Feliway? Check with your veterinarian. For other great suggestions on improving your cat’s (and dog’s) home environment, review the great materials on the Indoor Pet Initiative website.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Spring Allergies in Dogs

Spring finally has come to New York City. I know because of the springtime changes I see. No, I don’t mean the daffodils, tulips, flowering trees or the verdant carpet of grass in Central Park , nor the return of the robins, Yankees or Mets. It is the phone calls from the owners of Willie, Coco, Willa and Roman who have noticed their dogs licking, scratching and chewing at themselves and shaking their heads due to itchy ears.

Signs of an Allergy
Dogs that are licking, scratching and chewing at themselves likely have allergies to something in the environment, a common disorder in dogs. One of the major pet insurance companies in the United States reported the top claims for 2010. The top three in dogs were all related to allergies: ear infections, skin allergies and skin infection/hotspots.

Types of Allergies
Your dog can be allergic to the same allergens you are – seasonal ones such as fleas, mold and pollen from trees, flowers and shrubs. Dogs also suffer from non-seasonal allergies to dust mites or feathers. And poor Roman has been diagnosed with being allergic to cats! This time of year we suspect seasonal allergies, but if the scratching and itching continue into the winter months, then we worry about year round allergies.

Treating Allergies
If your dog has seasonal allergies, frequent bathing with soothing shampoos and medicated rinses often help, especially after weekend romps in the park. If your dog develops a skin or ear infection as a sequel to her allergies, your veterinarian can evaluate an ear or skin swab and determine the proper medication to remedy the situation. Sometimes antihistamines or steroids are prescribed to help control the itch.

Seeking a Veterinary Dermatologist
When the allergies are present year round or are not controlled by the methods described above, a veterinary dermatologist can perform special testing to determine the allergen(s) causing the problem. Two types of allergy testing are available for dogs: a blood test and intradermal testing (the skin prick test your allergist may have used on you). The veterinary dermatologist will determine what test is best for your dog. Most dogs are allergic to more than one thing and a custom allergy vaccine can be created for them based on the test information. You give your pet small volume injections under the skin to decrease the immune system’s response to the allergen, and over time the itching, scratching and associated skin and ear infections subside.

If your dog is scratching more this spring or seems to always have an ear infection, maybe he has allergies. See your veterinarian for advice on management and follow the directions closely to avoid a serious hotspot or ear infection this spring.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Holiday Gifts for Your Pets

When shopping for the holidays, don’t forget a gift for the cat or dog in the family. To help the harried shopper, the specialist veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center have teamed up to create a holiday gift list for pets using ideas from the Pet Socialite’s "No Place Like Home" Pet Expo on November 9 in New York City. A member of the AMC staff has carefully selected each gift with a different health issue in mind. Everyone at The AMC hopes you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season. Be sure to review our holiday safety tips for pets.

From the Neurology Service and the Rehabilitation & Fitness Service: Surprise your dog with a bad back and a weak hind end by ordering a large roll of yoga mat. Trim the yoga mat to fit your slippery hallway and turn it into a non-skid walkway for your dog with bad back legs. As an added bonus, the mats come in many colors to match your décor or mood.

AMC’s Renal Medicine Service is always prescribing more water for their feline patients with bladder problems. If the prescription for your cat is to drink more water, try a water fountain. Many cats find the bubbling water more attractive than still water in a bowl and will increase their water consumption with the fountain. Shown here is a Feng shui fountain. Even if your cat won’t drink from it, maybe his litter box use will improve just with a better flow of qi.

Selecting the correct chew toy for your dog is critical. AMC’s Dentistry Service recommends avoiding hard nylon toys and the Gastroenterology Service recommends avoiding real bones since they often lodge in the intestinal tract and cause serious problems. For a safe chew, consider these holiday themed toys from Jax and Bones. Colored with vegetable dyes and graded according to the “Chomp Chart,” these delightful toys can be wet and frozen to entertain chewers for hours.

Is your pooch a weekend warrior who doesn’t exercise Monday-Friday? Weekday couch potatoes are prone to sports injuries. Keep your dog in tip top shape all week and avoid the need to see one of AMC’s orthopedic surgeons for a knee repair by exercising your dog everyday. The self-powered exercise wheel shown below is an in-home method of exercising your dog and a great addition to the family’s home gym.

AMC’s Dermatology Service frequently prescribes a t-shirt for their itchy patients. The t-shirt prevents excessive licking and scratching while your pet’s skin heals. How about having your pet recover in style with this cute t-shirt from Sexy Beast: Canine Style Unleashed.

Pills, pills and more pills — AMC’s Internal Medicine Service is a big prescriber. Diligent pet owners make charts, calendars and post it reminders and still have a hard time remembering to give medication. How about simplifying the system with a glow cap reminder system by Vitality GlowCap? The special lid has connection to a wireless network and fits on a regular pill bottle. A missed dose sends a text message or phone call as a reminder. You can even send a reminder to another family member who can give the missed medication.

Your dog only has one set of eyes and AMC’s Ophthalmology Service wants to protect them. These sport glasses designed with dogs in mind, keep out sun, are shatterproof and protect eyes from flying debris if your dog rides in a open car, a pickup bed or the sidecar of a motorcycle.

The entire AMC staff hopes for a safe new year for all pets. To be prepared in case your cat or dog gets lost, be sure they have both a microchip and a collar with ID tags. Neither is a foolproof method of identification, so use both to make sure your pet is home for the holidays.

And the entire AMC staff hopes for a healthy new year for all pets. To be prepared in case your new year comes with an illness or injury, consider purchasing an insurance policy for your favorite dog or cat. Having a pet insurance policy will help to ease the financial burden and let you make decisions based on good medicine and not on finances. Many different companies underwrite policies for pets, so investigate carefully to pick the best one for your family.

This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Diatomaceous Earth for Pest Prevention

In the past month, The Animal Medical Center has received several inquiries about the use of diatomaceous earth (DE) as a flea preventative. I knew DE was used in swimming pool and fish tank filters, in cat litter and in laboratory studies but I hadn’t heard of using it against fleas. I found some interesting information to share with you.

Diatomaceous earth is composed of the fossilized silica skeletons of a unicellular organism known as a diatom. Diatomaceous earth crumbles easily and has the texture of pumice. Many websites recommending natural and organic medications suggest a host of medical uses for DE. Although DE is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA and some forms of DE are considered food grade, there are no FDA approved DE compounds for the treatment of diseases or for parasite control.

Food and Drug Administration approval of a medication assures the consumer and the prescribing veterinarian that the product meets certain safety and efficacy standards. In the case of flea and tick preventative medications, FDA approval means the medications are tested for safety in both dogs and cats if the medication is approved for use in both species. The manufacturer also has to prove to the FDA that the medication works against the parasite(s) the label says it kills or prevents. Without FDA approval, I don’t have enough information on the dosage, efficacy or safety of a medication to know how much to give, if the product works, or if it will hurt my patient.

Pet owners wishing to avoid chemical flea control don’t have very effective options. Keeping the pet inside and away from other animals will decrease exposure, but in apartment buildings the little critters can travel between apartments in the hallway carpet. Daily vacuuming of your apartment and disposing of the bag will help to decrease the numbers of fleas and eggs in the environment. Finally, using a flea comb daily will decrease fleas and eggs on your pet.
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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Fireworks and Your Dog

The fourth of July is rapidly approaching and with it comes fireworks. Fireworks are a major cause of noise phobia in dogs. Why? Dog hearing is better than human hearing. Your dog probably hears more and louder noises than you do. Your dog’s nose is better too, and maybe the smell of the fireworks is unpleasant. Additionally, fireworks are an uncommon noise, and from your dog’s point of view, an unpredictable event. Your dog never has a chance to get used to the sudden, loud noises accompanied by flashes of light. Dogs with noise phobia pace, run, scratch at the door, shake, drool and can be very destructive. Verbal reprimand or physical cuddling will not help in this case because your dog cannot understand why she should not be afraid of the fireworks.

If your dog is noise phobic, here are some tips on managing the upcoming holiday weekend:

  • On July 4th, plan extra exercise for your dog during the day so she is tired and will want to hit the sack early.
  • Provide a safe and familiar environment for sleeping. The safest place is his crate. In the room where the crate is located, close the windows and drapes to keep out both noise and flashes of light. Provide some background noise, the TV, radio or air conditioner, to drown out the booming fireworks.
  • Aromatherapy is also worth a try. Rub lavender oil on your dog’s earflaps or use one of the pheromone products designed to mimic the comfort signals a mother dog sends to her puppies, such as Comfort Zone.
  • Internet testimonials suggest the Anxiety Wrap lessens anxiety in noise phobic dogs. The wrap is made of a lightweight fabric and uses acupressure and maintained pressure to decrease undesirable behaviors associated with stress and anxiety.
  • If your dog won’t take a nap, distract him with other activities such as a game of indoor fetch or a feeding toy. These toys slowly dispense pieces of food as your dog plays with them.
  • Finally, you can consider desensitization of your dog. This involves playing a commercially available CD with recorded fireworks noise while engaging your dog in a fun activity. The volume is gradually increased while your dog becomes used to the noise. If you need help with this endeavor, you should consider a consultation with a veterinary behavior specialist. This project requires time, and you have plenty of time to start now for next year.

Every year we hear about dogs frightened by fireworks, they escape from home and run away. Be sure your dog is microchipped and has up to date tags on his collar. Also make sure you have a recent photo of your dog in case you need to make a lost pet poster.

If these suggestions don’t seem to help, see your veterinarian to discuss using a tranquilizer on the 4th of July. Remember, your veterinarian will want to see your dog, get an accurate weight and determine the appropriate medication to prescribe.

For some additional tips from Animal Planet, visit: http://ht.ly/24Luc.

The Animal Medical Center
For 100 years, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Making Difficult Decisions for Your Pet

Making certain decisions for your pet can be pretty simple. Yes, I give heartworm medication every month, because the drug is effective and much safer than treating my dog for heartworms. Yes, I know spaying my dog prevents mammary gland cancer and unwanted puppies. Yes, I keep my cat indoors to protect against cat fights, automobiles and feline leukemia virus infection. There are some decisions, however, that do not come so easily.

Recently, I spent time with a dog-owning family facing one of these tough decisions. The dog was older, but age should never be the sole criteria used to guide decision-making. The dog was in reasonably good shape until he collapsed earlier that day. Emergency evaluation discovered a life-threatening problem requiring an emergency surgery. It doesn’t get tougher than that — you’ve got your back against the wall and the clock is already ticking. Luckily for these owners and their dog, there was a surgical procedure to correct the problem, but (and there is always a “but” in these situations) the procedure was not without risks and no veterinarian could guarantee a positive outcome for the dog. Scientific research into this disease had identified four factors which decrease a dog’s chance of surviving the procedure. Unfortunately, this dog had three of the four factors. Does this information mean the dog should not be taken to the operating room? Not necessarily.

Just to illustrate the point, let me tell you about a cat and its owner I saw this week. Four years ago this cat experienced congestive heart failure, meaning his heart muscle was too weak to pump blood and fluid built up in his lungs. Sounds bad, and usually, it is. Once a cat experiences congestive heart failure, the typical survival time is about one year. So why is this cat still alive four years later? Is the scientifically collected data wrong? Data gives probabilities about an outcome in a population of patients with a particular condition but cannot predict how a condition will affect an individual patient. Statistics will never tell the whole story since each pet is an individual and may respond better (or worse) than the typical pet with this condition. This lucky cat defied the odds and lived to tell about it.

So what is a pet owner to do in situations like this? First, listen to your veterinarian. Ask questions about the quality of life after the procedure, the length of hospitalization and the follow up care required. Some pets have the personality to cope with many trips to the hospital for follow up care, others do not. Some families have the time and energy to nurse a pet back to health; others do not. Only your family can determine what is right for you and your pet. Sometimes your veterinarian will give you grim statistics, but if your heart tells you not to quit or if you know your pet is not a quitter, then go forward with an informed and realistic expectation of the outcome of the procedure.

By the way, the dog with the three or four bad factors was discharged from the hospital three days after surgery. Go figure.

Sometimes, even after you speak with your veterinarian, you are still confused about what to do. Maybe your friends and family are giving you conflicting advice. Perhaps you have concerns you feel are too private to share with most people. You may need more time to talk things through than your veterinarian can give you. The Animal Medical Center is the only hospital in the tri-state area with a full-time counseling department. Trained social workers can speak with you by appointment, on the phone or during your pet’s visit to help you sort through your options, figure out what questions to ask, and help you decide what is right for you and your family.

If after careful consideration you decide not to pursue treatment and have chosen to let your loved one go, AMC will be with you through the process. We also offer a free Pet Loss Support Group. For more information, visit www.amcny.org/petlosssupportgroup.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Treating Pets with Acupuncture

What is acupuncture?
Developed in China over 3,000 years ago, acupuncture uses small needles inserted into specific points on the body to achieve a desired healing effect. This technique has been used in both human and veterinary patients to treat existing conditions and also to prevent new problems from arising. According to Chinese medical philosophy, disease is a result of imbalance of energy in the body. Acupuncture is believed to balance this energy and assist the body in the healing process. In Western terms, acupuncture stimulates nerves, increases blood circulation, relieves muscle spasm and releases hormones such as endorphins that aid in pain control. Further research is needed to uncover all of acupuncture’s effects and for science to fully understand how this ancient art of healing truly works.

What conditions can acupuncture treat?
In veterinary medicine, acupuncture has been most successful in treating musculoskeletal disorders, such as:
• Arthritis
• Intervertebral disc disease
• Hip dysplasia

Acupuncture may be a successful therapy for other diseases in conjunction with traditional Western medicine to treat:

• Skin problems such as allergies and lick granulomas
• Gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea and constipation
• Genitourinary problems such as chronic renal failure and urinary incontinence
• Respiratory problems such as feline asthma
• Endocrine problems such as diabetes mellitus and hyperthyroidism
• Neurological problems such as seizures
• Neoplasia such as lymphoma, mammary cancer and mast cell tumors

Is acupuncture painful?
During acupuncture treatments, your pet lies comfortably on a padded mat. The insertion of acupuncture needles is virtually painless, and once the needles are in place there should be no discomfort to your pet. Most animals will become relaxed or even sleepy during their treatment. Sensation varies from animal to animal and some points on the body may be more sensitive than others. Human patients describe feelings similar to tingles, cramps or numbness, which may translate to mild discomfort in some pets.

Is acupuncture safe for my pet?
Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment when performed by a trained veterinarian. Side effects are rare but do exist. In the first 24-48 hours following a treatment, some animals may appear sleepy or lethargic and the condition may appear to be worse. These symptoms reflect a physiologic change brought about by the treatment and are most often followed by an improvement in your pet’s condition.

How long do treatments last and how often must they be given?
The length and frequency of treatments depends on the condition of the patient and the technique used by the veterinary acupuncturist. Stimulation of a single point may take as little as 10 seconds or as much as 30 minutes. A simple, acute injury such as a sprain may take one treatment, while a more severe or chronic disease can take multiple treatments.

When multiple visits are necessary, they usually begin intensely and are tapered to maximum efficiency. A positive response is usually seen after the first to third treatment. Once a maximum positive response is achieved (usually after 4-8 treatments), sessions are tapered off so the greatest amount of symptom-free time elapses between them. Many animals with chronic conditions can taper off to 2-4 treatments per year.

To learn more about acupuncture treatments and The AMC’s Rehabilitation and Fitness Service, join us at AMC’s PAW Day 2010, a day of pet and wellness fun for families and their furry companions, on Saturday, June 5 from 9am-12pm in Carl Schurz Park in Manhattan.

Acupuncture at The AMC
Dr. Steven Chiros graduated from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1998 and completed an internship in 1999 at The Animal Medical Center. He is a certified veterinary acupuncturist through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and has received extensive instruction in Chinese herbal medicine. To schedule an acupuncture consultation or to make an appointment with Dr. Chiros, please call 212.329.8610.

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The Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation and Fitness Service at The AMC
The only facility of its kind in New York City, The AMC’s Rehabilitation and Fitness Service provides innovative and state-of-the-art therapies for cats, dogs, birds and exotic animals. The Service specializes in non-invasive therapies to prevent the need for surgery, and in cases where surgery has been performed, it helps to accelerate and achieve a more complete recovery. Therapies offered include hydrotherapy, treadmills and deep-tissue ultrasound, as well as holistic therapies such as Reiki, Acupuncture and Acupressure.

The Service is directed by a team of professionals who are experts in the rehabilitative care of companion animals, including New York City’s only Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioners and Therapists.

The Animal Medical Center
For 100 years, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Broken Teeth

Like people, our pets are prone to dental disease. Pet Dental Month, in February, focuses on the importance of controlling and preventing dental disease in our cats and dogs. Untreated dental disease is associated with both infection and pain. Recent studies in people and dogs show that untreated infection in the mouth has also been linked to infections in other parts of their bodies.

Many pets present to the veterinarian with broken teeth. Traditionally, a veterinarian might say, “it’s not bothering the dog or cat so we’ll leave it alone.” If my own dentist told me that regarding one of my own teeth, I’d be looking for a new dentist.

Identifying the Issue
How do we know if a broken tooth is painful? Dogs and cats don’t have the ability to communicate that, but often their teeth hurt in the same way that our teeth can. There are several things we can do to access the viability of a tooth that has been broken. First, if there is obvious pulp exposure, then we know that tooth is dead or is dying, depending upon how long it’s been broken. Pulp is a combination of nerves and blood vessels that live within the center of a tooth. Once the pulp is exposed to the outside world, it rapidly becomes infected and that tooth will die over several weeks to months.

When an animal is under anesthesia, there are radiographic changes that may be seen in a non-vital (dead) tooth. As we age and our teeth mature, the body constantly produces new layers of dentin along the outer walls of the “pulp chamber.” As an animal ages, the pulp chamber diameter becomes smaller and smaller. A tooth with a dilated pulp chamber as seen on x-rays indicates that that particular tooth is non-vital. Also, over time, a dead tooth may develop changes around the root of the tooth seen on x-rays called a periapical lucency (see image on left). This is an area seen around the root tip that usually represents and infection from bacteria that has invaded into the pulp chamber of the tooth, or a cyst developing from inflammation associated with the dead pulp leaking into the bone around the root of the tooth.

Any teeth with pulp exposure, dilated pulp chambers or a periapical lucency should be treated and there is a likelihood that this tooth may be painful to a pet. There are multiple treatment options, although “leaving it alone,” is not in the pet’s best interest.

Saving the Tooth
The option to save the tooth involves endodontic or root canal therapy. First the tooth is evaluated to make sure there is no concurrent disease of the tooth. This includes periodontal disease, fractures below the gum line or advanced destruction of the tooth root. The tooth root must also be mature enough to be treated with endodontic therapy. Endodontic therapy involves cleaning out the pulp chamber of the tooth with a combination of filing and flushing with a disinfectant. Next the tooth is filled with a sealant to prevent the leakage of bacteria through the canal of the tooth. Finally, a filling, or “restoration,” is placed on the opening of the tooth to also prevent bacterial leakage into the pulp chamber. If performed correctly, endodontic therapy is highly effective at salvaging broken teeth with pulp exposure. Endodontic therapy does require follow up care with dental x-rays to make sure the therapy is successful and that the restorations remain intact.

If a fractured tooth is immature, the root is not fully developed, and the fracture is very recent, then a broken tooth may be treated with a procedure called a vital pulpotomy and direct pulp capping. The goal of this procedure is to keep the tooth alive long enough to allow the tooth to mature to a point where endodontic therapy can be performed. If the fracture is not very recent, then a procedure called apexogenesis may be performed to encourage enough maturation of the tooth root to perform endodontic therapy.

Extracting the Tooth
The other treatment option is extraction therapy. This involves removal of the affected tooth. This may be relatively simple or may involve surgery, depending upon which tooth is involved. After the extraction of broken or non-vital teeth, pets are often much happier than those with these teeth left in their mouths. Extraction therapy means the function of that tooth will be lost, but once the extraction site is healed, there should be no residual pain.

Making the Right Decision
The most important issue is that our pets do not need to live with painful teeth and/or broken teeth, and therefore these decisions should not be neglected. The decision whether to perform endodontic therapy or extraction therapy should be made in consultation with a veterinarian and is often based upon several factors including the overall health and age of the patient, the ability of the patient to safely undergo anesthesia, the extent of damage to the tooth, which tooth is involved and the cost of the procedures. Leaving a fractured tooth with pulp exposure in a pet’s mouth is not considered a humane option, however.

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About Stephen Riback, DVM
Dr. Riback received his veterinary degree from the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell in 1985. He was a general practitioner from 1985 until 1999 and owned the Oakdale Veterinary Hospital from 1989 until 1999. Dr. Riback has worked at the AMC since 1999, first in the Community Medicine dept. and then from 2003 in the Dentistry dept. where he studied dentistry under the mentorship of Dr. Dan Carmichael, who is the only board certified veterinary dentist in New York City.

The department of dentistry is the only full service veterinary dental practice in New York City and operates Monday through Friday at the AMC. Dr. Carmichael works on Mondays and Dr. Riback is in Tuesday through Friday. Dental procedures and oral surgeries are performed Monday through Friday.