By Christie Long
It’s Pet Dental Health month. I could chastise you for not brushing Sparky’s teeth or for feeding him too many snacks from the table.
Or I could spend my 500 words trying to convince you that plaque and tartar (aka canine dental disease) is slowly killing your pet. But you’ve heard all of that from me before so instead I’ll tell you a story because that’s really what I like to do. Perhaps the end result will be the same.
Rosa was surrendered to the good folks at the Fort Collins Cat Rescue early last year. She weighed just more than 4 pounds, was dehydrated, had significant nasal discharge and an upper respiratory infection and most notably had a mass growing from her upper right gum that was about the size of a grape.
Everyone suspected the mass was cancerous. I suggested quick anesthesia, removal of the mass to biopsy and see if anything could be done. For the few minutes that she was under, I could see her mouth was a disaster zone and nearly every tooth was in an advanced state of decay.
To my surprise, the mass turned out not to be cancer, but a severe reaction to chronic dental disease and gingivitis.
This sweet, little girl had such long-standing and intense dental disease that her own body had formed an immuno-brigade against the tartar and plaque. The result was severely proliferative gum tissue. After a dental cleaning and many, many tooth extractions, her mouth was a much happier place.
But Rosa’s troubles weren’t over. I was treating her left ear for infection but as she recovered from her dental procedure she continued to shake her head, scratch earnestly at the ear and tilt her head to one side.
Despite intensive treatment the ear infection resisted all treatments. Again, I anesthetized Rosa, thoroughly flushed her ear and finally got a decent view of things deep inside. There was a small pink mass deep inside the ear canal that I removed and submitted for biopsy.
Amazingly, it turned out to be the same type of tissue that had grown from her gumline. The disease in her mouth was so severe and had likely been there for such a long time that it ascended her Eustachian tube and caused her eardrum to rupture. It then seeded itself in her ear canal. Once the mass was removed from the ear canal, the infection cleared easily and the eardrum healed.
Rosa now weighs more than 8 pounds and rules her new home with a furry fist. Hopefully, most pets will never get dental disease as severe as Rosa’s, but her story illustrates how if dental disease is unchecked it can lead to serious consequences.
Get your pet’s teeth assessed for canine dental disease as soon as possible. Our clinic offers free dental examinations any time.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted advisor to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.