By Meredeth Barzen
Loyal Sidewalk Dog readers might have heard last summer that Luc, the original Sidewalk Dog, had some medical problems that we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy (and that Luc wouldn’t wish upon his—shadows of any kind.) Thanks to Dr. Kate Knutson and the truly wonderful people* at Pet Crossing Animal Hospital & Dental Clinic in Bloomington, Luc’s doing better. And since he’s out of the woods, we’d like to tell you a bit about our experience at Pet Crossing and the importance of proper dental care for your pup.
Long story short, Luc had such advanced dental disease that his food was getting into his nose and caused a chronic infection. Our loveable little lemon got pneumonia as a symptom of his problems, and suffice it to say that he was not a happy camper for some time. Enter Dr. Kate, as she’s known by her patients—co-owner of Pet Crossing, Dr. Kate is world-renowned for her skill in animal dentistry, and loved by her patients for her caring nature (she habitually refers to pets as “four-leggeds.”) She sits on the board of directors for American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and co-authored their dental guidelines. (Incidentally, AAHA’s site HealthyPet.com is a great resource for pet owners, with FAQs, articles on pet health and a database of AAHA-accredited clinics.) Dr. Kate worked her magic on Luc, and he emerged with 31 fewer teeth and a lot less pain.
Luc is an example of what can go wrong if you neglect your dog’s dental care (see “The Truth about Tooths” for more on this.) Just like in people, dental disease run rampant can lead to heart, lung and kidney disease. “For people and animals,” Dr. Kate says, “if you have a healthy mouth, you live longer.” But she adds that many veterinarians are less aware of the importance of animal dentistry than owners are. “The general population has been educated and moves quicker than the vets,” Dr. Kate says.
She says that your dog’s first dental exam should be done at its first visit to the vet as a puppy, and that they should be examined under anesthesia when they go in to be spayed or neutered. After that, your “four-legged” should have a yearly wellness exam with an awake examination, followed by exam under general anesthesia every year (your pet has to be sleeping during this exam because it would be a very stressful experience—for all parties involved—if he were awake.) Once your dog is sleeping, his teeth have to be charted, cleaned and x-rayed, followed by a treatment plan for continued dental health. And don’t forget that you have to keep brushing those teeth in between exams.
Though more clinics are doing dentistry these days, Dr. Kate says that it’s important to do your homework to find the best care. Pet Crossing’s Web site has a great list of questions you should ask your vet before you sign your dog up for a teeth cleaning.
You’ll notice that Pet Crossing can answer “yes” to all questions on this list—a veterinary assistant monitors teeth cleaning the whole time to make sure your pet’s OK, and as a special touch, someone will massage your dog beforehand to relax him and cuddle with him post-op (if your lap is unavailable for whatever reason). Dr. Kate says that anesthesia and surgery are much easier for a dog if it’s relaxed before and after the event. For those helicopter dog-parents among us, Pet Crossing has an open-door policy, where you can watch any procedure or surgery done on your dog.
And dogs aren’t the only ones in mind with Pet Crossing’s stress-melting environment: comfortable private waiting rooms (with coffee, tea, snacks and a comfy couch) and plenty of personal touches grace their state-of-the-art facilities. “It’s important for the dog’s health that it’s quiet and peaceful,” Dr. Kate says. “We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible.” But she’s careful to point out that customers aren’t paying for the fancy touches—they’re paying for great care. And while that care isn’t cheap, pet owners have to be realistic about the cost of keeping their furry friends happy and healthy.
All Pet Crossing doctors are passionate about dental care, but each has a specialty. Dr. Steve Barghusen lends his expertise in opthamology, internal medicine and laser surgery, and Dr. Cheryl Roth works in pain management, and is one of only 17 certified pain practitioners of veterinary medicine in the U.S.
Pet Crossing stands apart from the crowd for more than just great medical care: The clinic works with Cornerstone (a local domestic abuse shelter) to take in animals from abusive households. It works with Animal Ark to find new homes for dogs and cats. Developmentally disabled adults from Partnership Resources Inc. are on staff to help with cleaning, laundry and other jobs. And there’s a general sense of peace, calm, and comfort at Pet Crossing (a cat named Prophet wanders the clinic, cuddling with patients and showing his support with some soothing purrs.)
Dr. Kate stresses the importance of having a primary care doctor for your pet, who sees them every year and is intimately familiar with your pet’s health, and can then refer you to specialists for special needs. Dr. Kate says that especially in a dog with special medical needs (and Luc is the poster-dog for that group), vets can get distracted by those issues instead of addressing the pet’s holistic care. “With human health care,” she says, “a rampant problem is that as people get older, they go to specialists who are good but don’t speak to each other. This happens with veterinary medicine, too.”
And even though animal dentistry is overlooked, Dr. Kate says, “All we can do is educate. There’s never shame cast over clients or other doctors.”
*Special thanks to Lisa, Eliza, Carrie, Nicole, Rachel, Bev, Trish, Jamie, Brittany, Vicki, Dr. Steve Barghusen and Dr. Cheryl Roth.