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Doggy dentistry
Animals need regular cleanings in order to avoid tooth loss
By Stuart Kellogg - Staff Writer

It's the same lecture you get from your own dentist: If food collects between the teeth, it soon combines with saliva and bacteria to form plaque, which then hardens into tartar. This, in turn, creates pockets of infection at the gum line, causing the teeth to loosen in their sockets of gum and bone.

The result: tooth loss. It's the same old lecture, except that with a dog or cat, the patient can't understand a word the dentist is saying. It's up to the owner to pay attention and act. According to Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed of the Hesperia Animal Hospital, dental hygiene is more than avoiding "dog breath" and jack-o'-lantern smiles. Ignore your pet's teeth and gums, and bacteria can enter the bloodstream, leading to heart valve disease, kidney disease and chronic lung disease. A tooth loosened by fighting or by chewing on wood or cow-hoof "treats" can result in a painful abscess.

What's to do? for one thing, you can brush your pet's teeth, not so silly a notion - nor as impossible - as that may sound. It's best to start when your pet is a puppy or kitten, but even a grown animal can learn to tolerate the practice. to begin, Ahmed says, simply rub your naked finger along the gum line. Then reward your pet with a treat. Graduate to rubbing with gauze or terry cloth, and soon your pet will tolerate a soft toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste.

Never use human toothpaste: Your pet will "resent" the foaming action, which will also upset its stomach. Concentrate on cleaning the outside of the teeth (the side that touches the cheek). Cat or dog, your pet's tongue is rough enough to polish the inside of the teeth. "Nowadays," Ahmed says, "maybe 10 percent of our clients claim they brush their pets' teeth. I wish that figure were higher." but just as the most diligent human tooth-brusher ought to have regular professional cleanings, so, too, should pets.

Ahmed recommends a minimum of one dental checkup a year. To do a deep cleaning (ultrasonic tartar control, followed by polishing with the same paste used on human patients), the pet must be anesthetized. This is not only to keep fractious patients from biting, but because the molars, susceptible to abscesses, require special attention. while the pet is under, Ahmed seizes the moment to examine its ears and throat, clip its nails and check for tumors anywhere on the body. A dog may even be groomed while sedated.

(Likewise, if a dog or cat comes to the hospital for non-dental surgery, Ahmed takes advantage of the sedation to clean the animal's teeth.) While working on Daisy, a real sweetheart, veterinary technician Brian Piel takes before and after photos of her choppers. Using the same flexible, lighted wand, he looks in her throat and deep inside her ears. Had he found foxtails in Daisy's ears, Piel could have sent channel forceps down through the tube to extract the burr. For extensive dental procedures, such as caps, dogs are referred to a human dentist - an image almost too good to be true.

According to Ahmed, a dog's permanent teeth come in between 4 and 6 months of age, a cat's at about 3 months. Young pets should be checked to see that their baby teeth are falling out properly and that two teeth aren't trying to grow where only one will fit (the vet can remove the extra tooth).

For a young dog, an annual dental checkup at the Hesperia Animal Hospital costs between $60 and $90. Geriatric dogs cost more, Piel says, because they're hooked up to an IV catheter and IV fluids, "just in case." Among dogs, old age starts at 8 years - except for St. Bernards and Great Danes, considered geriatric at 6. By now Daisy is in recovery room, where she will wake up in 15 to 20 minutes. Ahmed explains that owners are not allowed to be present "because as dogs wake up, they may hallucinate or scream - especially huskies and beagles, even though they aren't in pain."

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High Desert - Daily Press
Puppy Gets a Second Chance
Vet saves Harley after he's rescued from questionable breeder
August 17, 2009

PATRICK THATCHER, Staff Writer - High Desert Daily Press - www.vvdailypress.com

HESPERIA • There are not many things more heart-wrenching than knowing the puppy you’ve fallen in love with and made part of your family is so sick it needs to be euthanized.

“I can’t tell you how much I cried when I found out we had to put Harley to sleep,” said Tammy Walker of Apple Valley.

Walker thought she lost her Saint Bernard, Harley, to parvovirus just four days after she got him — until Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed of the Hesperia Animal Hospital stepped in and secretly saved the pup.

Walker found Harley through a breeder who advertised in the Penny Saver. When she and her boyfriend, Rich Mohatt, went to the breeder’s home to see the pups, she found the living conditions deplorable.

“The conditions the puppies were living in was inexcusable,” Walker said. “We paid for the pup and took him home just to get him out of there.”

Four days later, the couple took Harley to the Hesperia Animal Hospital for his shots.

“Dr. Ahmed examined him and found out he had advanced parvovirus, and I said, ‘OK, well, fix it,’ ” Walker said.

Ahmed explained it isn’t that simple.

He told her parvo is a virus that mostly attacks young pups exposed to a cramped and filthy living environment with other dogs. The virus infects the intestinal tract and is almost always deadly if not caught in its earliest stages.

Ahmed told Walker that if he treated Harley for the parvo, it would be expensive — upwards of $2,200. And even then there was not much chance the pup would survive.

“It was devastating for both Rich and myself,” Walker said. “I had fallen in love with this beautiful little puppy and I had to sign the papers to have him euthanized.”

Ahmed said the worst part of his profession is when he has to put down an animal.

“I went to school almost 10 1⁄2 years to become a veterinarian to help animals, not put them to sleep,” Ahmed said. “My heart really, really aches when I have to do a euthanasia.”

He said sometimes it just becomes too hard and that’s when he and his staff will do just about anything to save an animal or a young pup such as Harley. And so, without telling Walker, Ahmen began treating Harley.

High Desert - Daily Press
From the Brink of Death
Vet saves family's dog with free surgery
January 02, 2009

NATASHA LINDSTROM, Staff Writer - Victorville Daily Press - www.vvdailypress.com

HESPERIA • Bawling like a baby, Cheri Taylor said goodbye to her family dog at Hesperia Animal Hospital the day after Christmas. She couldn’t afford to pay $3,000 for the major surgery that her 13-month-old pit bull needed to survive, so Taylor paid about $350 to put her down.

Four days later, Taylor, her husband and four kids received the best belated Christmas present they could have asked for: The veterinarian had saved the dog’s life for free.

“I don’t know if it’s a Christmas miracle or if God was just watching over us, but it is just amazing to me that (the vet) would just do that,” said Taylor, 43, of Victorville. “We couldn’t believe it.”

The dog — a black, blue-nose pit bull named Brinks — had been sick for about three weeks. After an examination, Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed, owner of Hesperia Animal Hospital, said Brinks had a serious blockage in his abdominal cavity, which had likely been caused by eating from the garbage.

Devastated by the news, Taylor and her husband paid to euthanize the dog and left the office in tears.

“I sat down on my desk, and I thought, ‘This is the family dog,’ and it’s the holidays, so if I can do something, I should do it,” Ahmed said. “It took me about three minutes to make the decision.”

Ahmed spent a little more than an hour on the major surgery, which rang up nearly $3,000 in medical costs, and he stayed until almost midnight that night to ensure the dog was recovering well.

“You don’t work for the money, you have to really care for these babies,” Ahmed said. “And I’m blessed to have a beautiful and caring wife who understands when I spend my time and money on cases for the good cause.”

On Friday Taylor fed Brinks her medicine — also provided by Ahmed for free — while the dog hung out with the family in her new Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, a family Christmas present.

To thank Ahmed, Taylor purchased 10 fleece blankets that she will be donating to the animal hospital for dog cages — “the least I could do,” she said.

Ahmed said he regrets he cannot provide free services to every family in need, and he must make tough life-and-death decisions every day.

During a Daily Press interview Friday, Ahmed sat debating whether to save another family’s dog, a 5-month-old Chihuahua mix with the same blockage problem. Ahmed said he kept thinking about the sad young boy who dropped off the dog to be put down.

“I’m just sitting here and thinking, ‘What I should do?’” Ahmed said. “This is New Year’s, and I am very busy, but I still told my technicians not to euthanize that pet yet, to just hold on.

“I can’t do everybody’s, but who knows, maybe I’ll give good news to this kid who was crying. Some dogs are savable — I can save some.”

Family dog is back from the 'dead'

By Christina L. Esparza - Staff Writer

HESPERIA - Hesperia resident Debra Koenig said Sunday she believes in human kindness. Human kindness, after all, brought back a cherished member of her family when she thought her dog, Eva, was dead. After about a week of mourning the loss of the Australian Shephered-Queensland Healer pooch, the doctor who was supposed to put her to sleep, instead saved her and returned her to the family.

Eva was brought to Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed at the Hesperia Animal Hospital on Jan. 24 by Mark Koenig, Debra Koenig's husband. Eva had been hit by a car and the cost of surgery was too much to spare. "the vet examined the injuries and said it would require costly surgery," Debra Koenig said. "It was just a lot more money than my husband thought we could afford, so he paid the vet to put her to sleep." Ahmed said he was all set to euthanize Eva. She was sitting on the table. He walked toward her with the needle in his hand. But he stopped, and looked into her eyes. "When you look into their eyes, they talk to you," Ahmed said. "What she was doing was trying to say, I'm not ready to go."

Instead, Ahmed put Eva on aggressive treatment that healed her bruised bladder. After taking many X-rays, Ahmed noticed she had a fractured pelvis, but it wasn't severe enough to require surgery or casting. After about eight days of treatment, Ahmed called the Koenig's and told them Eva was well enough to go home. "He called at about dinner time," Debra Koenig said. "He said 'I want to talk to you about Eva.' I didn't know what he was going to say, so I felt sick to my stomach and gave the phone to my husband. He told him, and my husband laughed and laughed and laughed." The Koenig's brought their grandchildren, who were distraught over Eva's "death," to pick her up. "When they picked her up, she jumped right into their arms," Ahmed said. "That was my reward." Ahmed didn't charge the Koenig's for Eva's surgery, something he said he does once in a while. "I can't do this every day," he said. "I'll be out of business." The Koenig's have been bringing their animals to Ahmed for about five years, and Debra Koenig said Ahmed treats the animals as if they are children. He calls them "babies." "They're like people," Ahmed said. "they're part of the family."

Although she's always known Ahmed to be a good veterinarian and a good person, Debra Koenig said his kindness was overwhelming. "Just the fact that he did this restores your faith that there are still people out there who want to care about you and your feelings and your family," she said. "He made a lot of grandkids very happy."


"When you look into their eyes, they talk to you."
Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed - Veterinarian

The Daily Press

Say 'Ah,' say 'Arf'
Why you should brush your dog's teeth - three times a day


By Stuart Kellogg - Daily Press

Button's lips draw back in a snarl, baring a mouthful of sharp, tan teeth. Yes, tan teeth, except for the tartar at his gum line. This is dark brown, dark as unpopped popcorn husks. The indignity. Poor Buttons (a Bambi-eyed, 6 year-old, short-haired black dachshund). But no mere tartar is a match for Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed of Hesperia Animal Hospital.

As Buttons' mistress looks on in guilty horror (Why had she neglected her babies gums?), Ahmed uses clippers to remove great chunks of tartar. Working around the patient's mouth, the veterinarian checks for cavities. (Yes, dogs can have fillings.) Buttons keeps blinking, a sign that he's at the correct stage of anesthesia. "We don't want him too deep," Ahmed says, then points to an upper molar. The tooth is badly infected. Buttons' owner (by now in the last throes of contrition) gives her OK and - zip! - out comes the tooth. A course of antibiotics will stave off infection and prevent abscess.

Next, Ahmed's assistant Terri Williams uses an ultrasound wand and warm water to scale away the remaining tarter. Buttons' gums bleed a bit, but unless Williams gets under the gum line, bacteria will form pus pockets.

Finally, Williams polishes Buttons' teeth to a sudden, blinding white. (While they have him in their clutches, veterinarian assistant Mike Thompson clips the patient's nails and checks his anal sac.)

The bill for all this? The dentistry costs between $35 and $45, the anesthesia between $35 and $40. An elective preoperative blood screen - to evaluate the functioning of the kidneys and liver, and guide the vet in adjusting the anesthesia - weighs in at $32. "But if owners kept up with cleaning at home", Ahmed says, "this deep cleaning would be unnecessary." As Buttons begins to come round, Ahmed explains that dental disease is one of the most common problems among dogs and cats. "The signs of advanced periodontitis (gum disease) include loss of appetite, lethargy and irritability.

The consequences: bad breath, root abscesses and a risk of infection spreading to the liver, kidneys or heart." As in humans, Ahmed says, plaque is formed by the combination of food particles, bacteria and saliva. In time, the invisible plaque turns into brown tartar (aka calculus). Because they don't chew as much as large dogs, small dogs are more susceptible to tartar. A diet of table scraps increases the risk of dental problems. The answer? Tooth brushing. "Make brushing a pleasant experience," Ahmed urges us, "and always do it in the same location." "Start by rubbing the gums with your finger. After a few days, wrap some gauze around your finger and rub.

Finally, use a soft brush with dentifrice made especially for dogs. "Never use human toothpaste: The foam will annoy your dog and can upset their stomach. "You only need to brush the outside of your pet's teeth. The rough tongue handles the inside well enough." If you notice a broken tooth, take your dog to the vet immediately. A broken tooth can lead to carnassial tooth abscess - a fistula that surfaces on the dog's face.

To prove his point, Ahmed points to a photograph of a German shepherd suffering from carnassial abscess. Pus oozes from a hole near the top of his noble snout. A few days after my sobering visit with Buttons and Dr. Ahmed, I call Dr. Thomas Mulligan, a founding fellow of the American Veterinary Dental Society. Mulligan knows his stuff: He works with the San Diego Zoo to keep the animals' teeth, tusks and choppers bright and shiny. "Dentistry is an ongoing concern," Mulligan warns me. "Plaque forms in just eight hours. That's why we stress a regimen of home care that doesn't require too much energy on the pet owner's part. "There are two kinds: passive care and active. Passive is diet. For years, we said it was enough to feed your dog dry food. Now, Hill's TD (for Tooth diet) dog food has been proven to give 16 percent better results than just dry chow. It's the way the biscuits are constructed: Larger pellets make the dog chew more." Assuring me he does not work for Hill's, Mulligan cites a study of passive tooth-care products: Hill's was rated first; biscuits, such as Milkbone, second; rawhide chew toys third. Mulligan recommends sheepskin toys over rawhide. "Sheepskin lasts for weeks, and the softness allows it to get up into the dog's gum line." "Hard toys don't do any good against gum disease - they touch just the tips of the teeth.

In fact, they're a negative: A dog can break a tooth on a hard toy. Bones are just as bad for cats and dogs, and for the same reason." Active care means tooth brushing. According to Mulligan, "It's never too early to start active care. Most gum disease problems don't start until the dog is 1 year old. But if you rub your puppy's teeth with a solution of warm water and garlic salt, they'll learn to be less mouth-shy. "Garlic salt is no toothpaste - it just tastes good. Dogs love garlic. All dogs are Italian at heart." The doctor dismisses antiplaque mouthwashes, such as Act and Plax, as ineffective on dogs: "Gels are much better. They stay on the teeth longer - more contact time." According to Mulligan, more than 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 are affected by periodontal disease. In cats the big problem is cavities. About 65 percent of cats have at least one cavity (dogs have cavities much less often). A fluoride gel can slow the progression of decay. Summing up, Mulligan says; "In general, a vet should clean your dog's teeth once a year. But if you brush your dog's teeth three times a day, you might avoid trips to the vet altogether." When I protest that three times a day seems a bit much, Mulligan is firm: "You hear people say, "I grew up on a farm, and we never did anything for our dog's gums. Well, these dogs tend to 'disappear' after three years."

Hesperia Animal Hospital's new facility is located at 9540 I Ave. in Hesperia 760-948-1553. Though Dr. Ahmed won't begin practicing there until Monday, Jan. 16, he invites the general public to visit the new site starting today.

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