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General Pet Advice

Our top tips on caring for your pet

  • Dental Care
  • Ferrets
  • Rabbits
  • Small Pets
  • Birds
  • Exotic Pets

Dental Care

Why is it important that I look after my pet’s teeth? 

Our cats and dogs cannot make sure that their teeth and oral health are in good order. They’re not able to brush their teeth twice daily nor willing to go to the dentist every 6 months, so we must take care of their teeth for them! Some dogs can be a little shy of their mouth being opened if they are not used to it, and so it makes sense to make a mouth examination part of your general puppy training (along with looking in the ears and looking at the feet – all sensitive areas) to get your dog used to this type of handling.

Poor dental hygiene can cause chronic (long term) pain and discomfort for your pet. As owners, we are often unaware of this discomfort because most animals will just put up with it. Dental disease in an older animal can cause them to be “just not right” and this may mistakenly be attributed to “old age”.

If there is infection in the mouth, it can allow bacteria into the blood stream which can lead to infections elsewhere such as the kidneys, heart, lungs and liver, which can be very debilitating.

Regular check ups with your veterinary surgeon are essential for your pet’s oral health. Your pet’s mouth will be examined as part of any routine examination and health check.

How will I know if my pet has bad teeth?

The first thing to do is to look in your pet’s mouth. Bad breath (halitosis) is caused by bacteria in the mouth, so this may alert you to the presence of dental disease. If plaque is not brushed away, it mineralises into hard brown tartar which sits up around the gums and causes them to inflame (gingivitis). The gums are red and sore and bleed easily. Over time the tartar and gingivitis lead to gum recession and periodontal disease (disease of tissues surrounding the tooth) and this causes the associated teeth to become loose, painful and even fall out. Bacteria can penetrate from the diseased tissue and proceed down into the root, causing a root abscess.

If the disease is severe, affected animals may eat on one side of their mouth, lose weight or generally seem off colour. Older cats especially may start to look rather tatty as they may not groom themselves so well.

When dental disease is suspected the animal should be examined by a vet.

What will the vet be able to see?

A veterinary dental examination will involve a thorough assessment of the mouth and also a general health examination. The patient’s general health will be assessed to make sure that there are no consequences secondary to the dental disease elsewhere in the body, and also to ensure that the patient is well enough for a general anaesthetic, should dental treatment be advised.The vet will look for tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease and any lumps or bumps. Sometimes the gums can over-grow as a response to inflammation, but in other instances oral masses may be encountered, possibly benign gum masses which are common in certain breeds of dog, especially Boxers, but in some cases, other more serious tumours.

Cats can develop erosions of their teeth called ‘neck lesions’ or ‘feline resorptive lesions’ which are very common and can be very painful. They are caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the enamel of the teeth and causing holes to develop in it. These lesions can be rather small and subtle.

Some tooth fractures are very obvious but in other instances they also may be very fine and subtle. Any fractures which extend into the pulp cavity (where the nerve is) will cause pain and eventually lead to tooth-root abscesses.

Many dogs have worn teeth due to chewing – these patients need to be carefully assessed as, whilst such teeth may cause no problems in some, they may be a source of significant pain in other individuals.

Younger pets need to be assessed also. Sometimes temporary (‘milk’) teeth do not fall out at the correct time and so can cause problems for the adult teeth as they come through. In addition, malocclusion – a condition in which the teeth or jaws are not perfectly aligned – is quite common. Generally malocclusion is just a cosmetic problem, but if the teeth dig into the gum or hard palate it can cause pain and infections.

What can I do to keep my pet's teeth clean and mouth healthy?

The diet that your pet eats can be very important in preventing tartar build-up on its teeth.In terms of commercial diets we tend to recommend good quality dry foods rather than wet (tinned and sachet) foods, as the latter tend to stick to the teeth more, allowing the rapid build-up of tartar. Some diets are especially designed to help to clean the teeth by using increased kibble size, and a firm, rough texture which scrapes down the surface of the the tooth rather than just breaking up as a conventional biscuit might. Other biscuits have enzymes which reduce plaque (a precursor to tartar). If you are considering changing your pet’s diet, please speak to your vet first. Diet changes must be undertaken very gradually, especially moving adult cats over to dry food when they have been used to a wet diet only. Some animals may have conditions where dry food or altering diets may not be appropriate, especially conditions causing increased urine production, or urinary cystitis.

Dental chews can be extremely helpful and convenient, especially for dogs. We like the Dentaflex chew as it is firm but bends, takes time to chew and only given to your dog twice weekly. They are lower in calories than Dentastix too.

Cats generally are not too interested in chews, although there are some available (we carry the Pedigree Dentabix which are a very crispy biscuit).

With any chews you should take care that they are not too rich – some dogs can get upset tummies if they have chews too frequently. It is important to get a chew which is appropriate for the size of your pet. If they are too big, they may be difficult to ‘deal with’ and if too small, the pet will chomp through them too quickly and not reap the benefit.

But whatever they chew, it must be able to bend. Dental and mouth injuries are all-too-common with the rigid-style chews e.g. Antlers, recently made popular, but which are certainly not suitable as a dental chew or anything else. For the same reason, we do not recommend that dogs chew on bones – cooked bones are also especially prone to splintering and causing damage to the gut. Even raw bones can cause gut problems and, although they tend to keep tartar off the teeth, they can chip the enamel and cause dental fractures. Please bear in mind that we tend to see the “what went wrong” cases!

Tooth brushing is the best way of keeping the teeth clean. Both cats and dogs will generally allow tooth brushing, if it is started as a routine at an early age. It is very important to use a bespoke pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste is bad for animals because they swallow ingredients which can harm them. In addition, most animals really enjoy the flavours of pet tooth paste – usually yummy malt, fish or poultry!! You can brush with specially-designed brushes made for pets or a child’s tooth brush. Don’t start cleaning your pet’s teeth while there is painful gingivitis present, as this will be painful and create an aversion to toothbrushing in the future. Seek veterinary dental treatment first and then start when the inflammation has settled down.

Some mouth washes are available for pets. Where the pet is compliant, these antibacterial washes reduce bacterial load and therefore reduce the ability of bacteria to create plaque or form bacterial toxins which can cause inflammation. Please be sure that any wash does not contain xylitol, as this is poisonous for pets.

Ferrets

It is not too far in the past that “ferreting” was a popular country occupation. In “rabbit-infested” areas, the use of nets and working ferrets gave the younger generation hours of harmless fun and often a tasty meal for the family afterwards. As habits and trends change the pet ferret population has diminished significantly. So of course has the rabbit population since myxomatosis swept the UK.

The ferret is descended from the wild European polecat but many generations of breeding in a domestic environment has made the ferret into a very intelligent and rewarding pet that will provide hours and hours of fun. They come in a variety of colours from pure white (albino) to polecat. Like all animals they will develop trust in their owners if handled in a friendly and sympathetic way and are given clean and comfortable living quarters together with a suitable diet. They are not vicious animals but must be handled carefully and there are times (particularly during the breeding season) when ferrets like some privacy.

Regular handling from an early age establishes confidence and ferrets will learn very quickly. They can even be trained to walk on a lead and will live to about 10 years of age.

Like all intelligent furry animals they should not be spoilt and children should not be encouraged to let their ferrets roam unattended in the house. Ferrets are experts at hiding away in a dark corner or finding interesting areas to explore. Their sharp claws will quickly take them up the curtains and there is nothing more that a young ferret will enjoy than playing hide and seek. Being very small they can easily disappear for hours into a bed or down the back of a sofa.

What About The Odour?

Ferrets do have a distinctive odour and the male of the species particularly so! However, clean bedding at all times and attention to hygiene will greatly reduce any unpleasant smell. Keeping their fur clean and free of any fleas should be a daily routine.

Housing

Their cage should be stoutly built about 4 feet by 2 feet, a depth of 2 feet and have a private nesting/sleeping area out of view. It should have a roof that is waterproof and legs to keep it about 3 feet off the ground. It should be in a sheltered spot. A nesting area is particularly important for any breeding ferret as they are very sensitive to having their young disturbed at an early age. Ferrets will be healthier if kept outside with plenty of fresh air and with warm bedding will be happy during the winter months. Like any other animal they hate damp conditions.

Exercise

Ferrets are very active and need time spent on a daily basis. They cannot be left like a hamster or a guinea pig unattended for any period of time. They like to be on the move, are very inquisitive and of course their natural instinct is to hunt and “ferret about”. If you are not prepared to spend time and take a great interest, ferrets are not for you! The time spent is amply rewarded as ferrets are affectionate, sociable, clever and fun. Lack of exercise and being confined to a small space for long periods of time is probably the cause of bad temper, nervousness and the reason why a ferret might not be averse to the odd painful bite. They are intelligent animals who do not like being neglected. With the right introduction they will happily interact with other family pets such as cats and dogs.

Diet

Ferrets are natural carnivores and there is nothing they love better than to get their face embedded in a piece of raw meat. Tinned specialist pet foods are fine and also cereal biscuits help to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Under no circumstances should ferrets be introduced to sweet foods as tooth decay will result. Plenty of fresh clean water should be available at all times. A simple diet and regular meal times with plenty of exercise forms the basis of good health.

Neutering

If single ferrets are kept and there is no wish to breed in the future then it is wise to have a ferret neutered. This will also prevent unwanted reproductive diseases associated with the female developing later on and it will also reduce the tendency of the male to produce odours.

Rabbits

Rabbits can make very good pets, but they have some important husbandry needs that must be addressed in order to provide adequately for their health and welfare. As well as social interaction with other rabbits, they also enjoy human companionship. They need to be given attention every day and require regular gentle handling to establish and maintain that human-rabbit social bond, although this must be on their terms. The daily contact also allows an opportunity to check them for any health problems.

Small Pets

Chinchilla

Chinchillas are squirrel like rodents, available in 2 varieties. They are clean animals with no body odour, their thick coat means that they do not get parasites like fleas and ticks.

Gerbil

Gerbils are intelligent, sociable animals that are best kept in pairs. They should be handled daily and they will be affectionate to you, make sure you wash your hand before handling them to avoid passing germs to them, also keep an eye on any other pets you have.

Guinea Pig

The Guinea pig is a sociable and companionable animal and relish attention. It is a very vocal animal with several different sounds.

Hamster

Hamsters are busy animals that love exercise and play. A large metal cage should be used with an exercise wheel, tubes for tunnelling and clean shavings for bedding. The bedding should be changed every day to stop any smells forming. They also love to chew so wooden blocks are also a good idea to keep in the cage.

Birds

Parakeet / Budgerigar

These are friendly birds which are relatively easy to tame and look after. Budgies grow up to 10 inches long and come in a variety of colours. They can live for up to 10 years and are an excellent choice for a ‘first bird’ pet.

Canary

The male canary is a very popular choice of pet as it has a beautiful song. Canaries are small birds (up to 7 inches long) and can live for up to 9 years. They are normally predominantly yellow.

Cockatiel

The cockatiel is a very friendly, intelligent and popular bird. They need a lot of companionship and can suffer from boredom if they are not paid enough attention. Cockatiels can grow up to 14 inches long and can live for up to 25 years.

Macaws

Macaws are incredibly beautiful and intelligent birds who easily learn to mimic speech. They require a lifelong and intense commitment from the owner and can be temperamental and aggressive – potential owners should think long and hard before committing to purchase these birds. Macaws can grow to 40 inches long and can live for up to 50 years.

Whichever bird you go for, source your bird from a reputable supplier/breeder.

Exotic Pets

A lot of preparation needs to be done if you are buying an exotic animal. Begin by finding out as much as you can about the animal – read books, talk to other owners. Whilst time consuming, this preparatory work will help both you and the animal in the long run.

One of the first decisions you need to make is which type of exotic pet do I choose. Consider your experience, the help available and the environment you are able to create for your pet before choosing. Obviously, you also need to consider the animal itself. Some are relatively easy to care for where others should be avoided at all costs. And consider your budget; the initial set-up costs can be high, so do your research thoroughly.

Practice information

Portchester Vets

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