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Q: How often should I be clean my dog’s teeth?

A: February is National Pet Dental Health Month and so this is an appropriate time to think about your pet’s dental health.

The frequency of dental cleanings depends on your individual pet’s oral health as some need more frequent cleanings than others.

Dental disease can cause significant pain and discomfort which can lead to difficulty eating and weight loss as a pet ages. Especially for older cats, oral pain and infection can greatly affect their eating patterns so evaluating dental health yearly is essential for their health.

Dental disease starts with the build up of tartar on the teeth which starts to move up under the gum line and leads to tooth root abscesses and infection. Severe dental disease can greatly affect an animal’s quality of life as they age so it is important to address the issue early.

Preventative care is by far the best way to keep the teeth healthy over time and reduce the number of dental cleanings that are necessary. Brushing your pet’s teeth with a pet appropriate toothpaste is the best way to keep the teeth healthy over the long term. However, not all pets tolerate brushing, especially cats, so other options to try are feeding dental treats or chews daily, applying gels or wipes to the teeth, or using dental care water additives.

Once the dental disease becomes more severe then performing a thorough dental cleaning is the only way to address all the issues. In a thorough dental cleaning every tooth gets examined and evaluated. Full mouth x-rays should also be performed as a significant amount of dental disease is under the gums and cannot be identified without x-rays.

Dental cleanings that are done without the use of anesthesia and involve just scaling the teeth may remove the visible tartar off the teeth but this type of cleaning does not properly evaluate the underlying dental health that can only be assessed with x-rays.

Anything you can do to support your pet’s dental health will improve their quality of life as they age. Yearly healthy pet exams with your veterinarian will help with assessing your pet’s oral health and assess the need for a thorough dental cleaning.

Q: My dog is very old and is starting to become weak in the back end. What types of exercise do you recommend for an older dog that has arthritis and weakness?

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A: Old dogs need exercise too, so it is great that you are still getting your pooch up and moving. Obviously, any exercise needs to be tailored to your dog’s abilities, but more frequent and shorter walks can be very helpful in keeping him active.

My first recommendation is to take your pet to a veterinarian to assess the underlying pain issues and develop a pain management plan. Your veterinarian can assess whether the weakness comes from pain or a neurological weakness and then address it appropriately. Once the pain is managed, you can start with daily walks for as long as your dog can tolerate it. If he is wiped out the next day from the exercise, then it was too much for him and you will need to scale back the next time.

For weakness in the hind end, it can be helpful to walk your dog slowly up small hills so that he must use his hind legs for balance and strength. Making him walk slowly up and down curbs can also help with strength.

When you are walking your dog, you want to make him walk with purpose so that he is getting the movement that he needs to maintain his strength and body condition.

By far the best thing you can do for older animals is make sure they stay lean and do not get overweight. You can do this with regular exercise and an age appropriate diet with minimal treats!

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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