A few common causes of mouth, nose and tooth conditions are broken teeth, fading nose, feline neck lesions, lip fold pyoderma, periodontal disease, and rodent ulcers. Learn more about these common conditions now.
Teeth are hard and durable, but they aren't indestructible. A fall from a tree or catching a baseball in mid-flight can crack or break a tooth. Puppies and kittens are especially vulnerable because they don't have their sturdy adult teeth. "Young teeth are a lot like eggs -- they are nearly hollow inside," says Ira Luskin, D.V.M., a veterinary dentist in private practice in Baltimore.
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An injured tooth hurts, but that is not the only problem. When a fracture is deep enough, the sensitive inner tissue of the tooth, called the pulp, gets exposed. Infection is almost sure to follow, says Dr. Luskin.
You have three choices when your pet has broken a tooth. If the break is small -- perhaps a chip is missing and the pulp isn't exposed -- you can ignore it, says Dr. Luskin. For more-serious breaks, your vet may recommend removing the tooth, which will prevent infection. A third option is for your vet to do a root canal, in which the pulp of the tooth is removed and the hole is filled with a strong material. This essentially cures the problem and allows your pet to chew and play normally, he says.
Some dogs and cats will occasionally lose pigment from their noses, causing this feature to turn white or red. In most cases, this isn't a health problem, but it looks unusual, to say the least. And for folks who show their pets, a fading nose can keep a pet out of competition until the normal black color returns -- if, in fact, it ever does.
The most common cause of a fading nose is "snow nose," says Grant Nisson, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in West River, Maryland. Vets aren't sure why, but many breeds of dogs will lose pigment from their noses during the cold months. (This rarely occurs in cats.) People once thought that snow nose was caused by bright sunlight reflecting off snow and bleaching the nose white -- or by a combination of cold and trauma, since dogs often use their noses as miniature snow shovels. Vets have found, however, that even dogs living in warm, southern climates may get snow nose, so weather doesn't appear to be a factor.
There is no proven way to prevent snow nose, although some breeders swear that giving pets vitamin E and kelp will help restore the color. (Your vet can recommend safe amounts.) Vets sometimes advise getting rid of plastic food bowls and replacing them with metal or ceramic bowls since some pets may be allergic to plastic. Finally, your vet may suggest a thyroid test be done. There is no evidence to prove that it is true, but some vets believe that low thyroid levels can cause the nose to lose its color.
Snow nose isn't the only condition that can cause the nose to fade, although it is the only one in which the color eventually comes back. When a nose goes pale and stays that way, your pet may have vitiligo, a condition in which skin cells lose some of their melanin, or pigment. Pets with vitiligo may turn white on the paws, lips, and fur as well. Vitiligo appears to be a hereditary problem, affecting Doberman pinschers and Rottweilers more than other breeds. It will keep your pet out of the show ring but is otherwise harmless, says Dr. Nisson.
A more serious condition that can cause the nose to fade is Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH), or Harada's, syndrome, which occurs only in dogs. Vets suspect that it is caused by an immune system disorder that damages the eyes and the pigment in the skin. It can turn any part of your dog's body white, and without treatment, it can lead to blindness, says Dr. Nisson. Vets often prescribe steroids to pets with this condition, which help keep the immune system from going out of control.
Feline Neck Lesions
Despite the name, these painful sores don't occur on the neck but on the teeth near the gum line, an area that vets call the neck of the tooth. This is where the tooth's enamel meets the root underneath -- and in cats (but not dogs), it is a prime spot for painful cavities.
Feline neck lesions are extremely common. Researchers have found that up to 67 percent of cats have at least one bad tooth, and some have more than one. It is hard to see feline neck lesions at home, although the gum surrounding the tooth may be red, swollen, and tender. If your cat is drooling, dropping food, chattering his teeth, or eating with his head tilted to one side, there is a good chance that he has one or more of these cavities.
There is no real cure for feline neck lesions, and vets usually recommend removing the entire tooth, says Dr. Nisson. What you shouldn't do is ignore the problem, he adds. Cats are stoic creatures, and it is hard to tell when they are hurting. Once the tooth is removed, you may be surprised to discover that your previously quiet cat suddenly starts acting like a kitten again.
Lip Fold Pyoderma
One of the charms of both Saint Bernards and cocker spaniels is their adorable floppy lips. But this visual asset can also be a liability if the lips get large enough to start forming little folds. Folds in the skin make natural traps for drool and bits of food. Over time, this can lead to a painful infection called lip fold pyoderma.
The infection is more than just uncomfortable. It can also give your pet horrific halitosis. "It is hard to believe that all that smell comes out of such a tiny crevice," says Dr. Nisson. Bad breath isn't always caused by this condition, of course. An easy test is to run a cotton swab around your pet's mouth and take a sniff. Then take a second swab and run it into a skin fold. If the second smell is overpowering, you will know exactly what the problem is.
The only way to quell the smell and prevent infection is to clean out the skin folds every day. Use a clean rag moistened with water or an antibacterial cleaner like benzoyl peroxide or an oral rinse containing chlorhexidine, says Dr. Nisson.
Despite daily cleaning, some pets will continue having problems. Your vet may recommend doing a simple nip-and-tuck plastic surgery to straighten the lip. Removing the food-trapping folds will prevent infections and make his breath a little sweeter.
Your pet's teeth are naturally self-cleaning. But even the cleanest teeth get coated with a thin film, called the pellicle, which is packed with bacteria. (Harder, longer-lasting versions of pellicle are known as plaque and tartar.) When bacteria migrate from this film and travel between the teeth and under the gums, they may cause an infection known as periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease isn't serious at first. But as time goes by, it gradually erodes the gums and sometimes the teeth. It can loosen the teeth, cause bad breath, and, in some cases, cause infections elsewhere in the body.
Researchers estimate that 60 to 80 percent of dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the age of five. It is an amazing statistic because this problem is entirely preventable. All you have to do is brush your pet's teeth. In one study, a group of beagles had one side of their mouths brushed daily, while the other side was left alone. Four years later, the brushed teeth were healthy and shining, while the "natural" side was in terrible shape.
Dr. Luskin recommends brushing your pet's teeth every day with a brush and pet toothpaste or just with plain water. Or you can rub the surfaces of the teeth with a bit of gauze. "It might not be possible to get a toothbrush into the tiny mouth of a fractious cat, says Patricia Shema, V.M.D., a veterinarian in private practice in Glenn Dale, Maryland.
When a pet's periodontal disease is well-advanced, your vet may recommend a professional cleaning. No sensible pet will sit still for all the scraping, rinsing, and polishing, so the procedure is usually done under general anesthesia. It typically takes about half an hour, says Dr. Shema.
The term rodent ulcer has nothing to do with mice or rats, but everything to do with cats. Rodent ulcers are small sores that form on the outside of the upper lip beneath the nose. They start out as small red or brown bumps, but quickly turn into painful sores. They are called rodent ulcers because people once believed that cats got them after being bitten during their nocturnal hunts. Many cats today have never seen a rodent, let alone caught one. They still get rodent sores, however, so something else is clearly to blame. Vets suspect that they may be caused by allergies or some other kind of irritation of the upper lip.
Unlike most sores, rodent sores won't go away unless they are treated. In fact, they will only get worse, sometimes damaging large areas of the lip. But they can be very easy to get rid of. In most cases, injections of steroids given two weeks apart will make them disappear, says Dr. Nisson.
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