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Pets: Aftermath of dog’s dental visit

Experts converged to teach veterinary professionals at the North American Veterinary Conference last month in Orlando, Fla. Some of those renowned experts took time to answer your questions:

Q: Molly, my 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier, had her teeth cleaned previously with no problems. About a month ago, after having her teeth cleaned again, she was listless for a few days.

While she’s back to herself, she now wakes me at about 11:30 p.m. and again at 1 a.m. each night to go out, even though my husband walks her before bed. After coming back in, she gets a treat and we go back to bed. Could this behavior be related to the dental procedure?

– L.K., North Las Vegas

A: Dr. Kate Knutson, past president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says to first contact your veterinarian to determine whether the anesthetic protocol was any different this time. It’s also important to inform your veterinarian about the lethargy following the dental cleaning, so that next time around the “anesthetic cocktail” might be adjusted.

Knutson, of Bloomington, Minn., is a proponent of full-mouth X-rays before a dental procedure to determine everything that’s going on your pet’s mouth. So much of what happens occurs below the gum line, and is otherwise impossible to detect. Your veterinarian might want to see Molly again to make sure her mouth checks out healthy and pain free. The vet may also want to eliminate other issues, such as a urinary tract infection.

If medical issues can be ruled out, why is Molly bothering you at night?

Well, she obviously enjoys the cookie game – getting up late at night to go out, then being rewarded with a treat upon returning. It might be that for whatever reason she really needed to go one night, and after receiving a reward, she instantly learned what happens when she goes out late at night – whether she really has to relieve herself or not.

“Some dogs are very good at training us,” Knutson adds.

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Q: My 17-year-old dog’s health is failing badly, although there’s no cancer or heart disease; just what my veterinarian calls “old age catching up.” How do I know when the time is right to put Emma to sleep?

– V.D., St. Paul, Minn.

A: “This is the question I hear most often,” begins Los Angeles-based co-founder of Lap of Love, Dr. Mary Gardner. Lap of Love is s a nationwide network of veterinarians whose goal is to empower pet owners to care for their geriatric or sick pets, offering counseling and in-home euthanasia.

“If there’s disease or illness and/or the pet is in pain that can no longer be relieved, those are initial considerations,” Gardner says. “In this pet, that’s apparently not the issue, so next we consider quality of life, which can be hard for pet owners to decide on their own.”

To help pet owners navigate the issue, there are several quality of life scales, including Lap of Love: http://www.lapoflove.com/Pet_Quality_of_Life_Scale.pdf and another from pioneering veterinarian Dr. Alice Villalobos: http://www.pawspice.com/downloads/QualityofLifeScale.pdf.

Gardner says it’s helpful to seek the opinion of a third party who knew your pet in better times – a friend or neighbor, for example. Also, consider a medical opinion from a veterinarian.

“It’s difficult to judge when it’s your own pet. I’ve personally been at that place, and this is what I do for a living,” she says.

Gardner says that the quality of life for people who live with an aging pet should also be considered.

“If you have to drag a 90-pound dog up three flights of stairs to the apartment, it’s a real consideration. And, realistically, cost of care may be an issue,” she notes.

Gardner sums it up: “It’s best to euthanize a pet before there’s suffering, and while the pet is still smiling; that’s the goal.” Indeed, the entire idea of euthanasia is to prevent suffering.