Pet Dental Health is the focus for February

February 11, 2022
February is National Pet Dental Health Month. But, of course, your pet’s dental health is essential every day of the year, just like it is for us.

Periodontal disease is prevalent in pets, even though it’s often preventable. We can see tartar buildup on the tooth; however, often the worst damage is going on below the gumline. We cannot see the health of the tooth root without X-rays, which is why it’s important to have your veterinarian regularly check your pet’s teeth and get regular dental cleanings.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease by age 3. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s teeth; it can cause health problems with their kidney, liver, and heart.

Signs of a severe dental problem include bad breath, tartar buildup, abnormal chewing or drooling, reduced appetite, pain or bleeding from the mouth, change in behavior and weight loss. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

The most effective way to prevent or reduce periodontal disease is daily brushing. While daily brushing is ideal, it may not be realistic, so even brushing a few times a week will help keep your pet’s oral health in good condition.

Dr. Katelyn Bagg demonstrates how to brush your cat’s teeth. She is using a pet-safe toothpaste in chicken flavor. Courtesy of Emily Friedland

In addition to brushing, your veterinarian can recommend other dental products such as dental-specific diets, treats, chew toys, or water additives. Taking these preventive measures may reduce the number of professional dental cleanings your pet needs throughout their life.

Human toothpaste is toxic to pets because of the amount of fluoride. Pet-safe toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors that are enticing to your pet and help make the brushing process easier. You can get pet-safe toothpaste through your veterinarian or local pet store. There are a variety of toothbrush options available as well. Similar to nail trims and ear cleaning, it helps to make teeth brushing a positive experience, so give lots of praise and treats and ease into the process so you don’t overwhelm your pet.

Veterinarians perform dental cleanings while your pet is under anesthesia. It should include X-rays, scaling and polishing of the teeth. Tooth extraction may be necessary if X-rays show that the tooth root is rotting or damaged. Some pet owners are averse to putting their pet under anesthesia for a dental cleaning; however, it is the only way your pet can receive a thorough cleaning and is necessary if any extractions are needed. The process is safer and less stressful for your pet and veterinary staff. Going under anesthesia always has risks associated with it. Still, with technology and monitoring, it is safer than ever, and the oral health benefits far outweigh the risks.

Most of what I’ve talked about so far relates to oral health for cats and dogs. But let’s not forget about good oral health for our small animals. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice and chinchillas have teeth that continuously grow, so they must be worn down or trimmed to prevent overgrowth.

Brushing isn’t necessary for most small animal species; however, a proper diet is essential. For example, rabbits and guinea pigs need a high-fiber diet of hay and leafy greens to promote chewing and wear of their teeth and access to sunlight, which helps them produce vitamin D for strong bones and teeth. Small animals must have access to chew toys to help wear down their teeth and provide enrichment.

The root of what I’m saying here is don’t put off dental care for your pet. We see pets all the time coming into our clinic with severe dental disease and multiple extractions required because their owners have delayed care.

Yes, dental cleanings are expensive, but delaying proper care almost always leads to an urgent situation that is far more painful for your pet and more costly for you.

Lacy Shirey is executive director of the Chesapeake Humane Society. She can be reached at

Chesapeake Humane Society Recognized as a Model River Start Business

CHS is committed to creating a pollution-free environment for the wellbeing of our community and local wildlife. Once again, CHS was recognized as a River Star Business by the Elizabeth River Project. We are proud to announce that in 2022, we advanced to a Model Level River Star Business! Watch the video below learn more about how CHS (17 minute mark) and other businesses in our community are making efforts to decrease and prevent pollution and enhance wildlife habitats.

Maintaining healthy weight helps pets avoid litany of health issues

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 8-5-2021
Written by Lacy S. Shirey, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director

An essential part of your pet’s health and well-being is diet and maintaining ideal body weight. Obesity puts your pet at a greater risk for developing certain diseases and can shorten their life or, at the very least, lessen their quality of life.

Mrs. Patmore

The 2018 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention survey estimates that 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. These pets are at greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, orthopedic diseases such as osteoarthritis and cranial cruciate tears (dogs), and high blood pressure.

Overweight cats are more likely to suffer from dermatological issues if they cannot properly groom themselves. Obesity also puts pets at greater risk for surgical and anesthetic complications should they need routine or emergency surgery.

For many people, it’s difficult to hear your pet is overweight. Some folks deny it, become offended, or even upset and argumentative when a veterinarian addresses their pet’s weight and how much they need to lose to be at their ideal body weight.

Pet owners need to remember that this is a health issue, not a cosmetic issue. Your pet cannot make lifestyle decisions for themselves — that’s your responsibility as a pet owner.

You may think your pet is always hungry outside of mealtime, looking at you with those pleading eyes that are just so hard to resist. Each time you give in and give them a treat or table food, you are reinforcing this behavior and potentially doing a disservice to your beloved pet. Essentially, they are training YOU to feed them at their insistence.

Instead of rewarding with food, focus on redirecting and engaging your pet with activities that they find rewarding such as a walk, playing with their favorite squeaky toy, nose games or a quick game of fetch.

Some pets are truly finicky eaters, and if they have trouble maintaining a proper weight, it might be necessary to entice them with something special like boiled chicken or wet food.

However, suppose your pet is an ideal weight or overweight, and they don’t finish all their food or seem uninterested in a single meal. In that case, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with them, so don’t immediately reach for the extra enticements.

If they skip a couple of meals and this is out of character for them, then it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about your concerns, as a sudden change in appetite could indicate underlying health issues.

If you are giving treats throughout the day, you should reduce the amount of food you offer at mealtime to offset their calorie intake. If your pet seems unsatiated throughout the day, you can try healthy but filling treats like green beans or carrots.

You can also make a meal last longer by feeding with a slow-feeder bowl or putting their dry food in a puzzle toy to make them work for it and provide mental enrichment.

Table food is frowned upon by most, if not all, veterinary professionals and trainers. Human food isn’t a nutritionally balanced diet for pets. It is often high in sodium or might contain an ingredient that is toxic to pets, leading to pancreatitis and other health issues. Feeding table scraps can also reinforce unwanted begging behaviors, so it’s good to avoid it altogether.

When we talk about pet obesity, we often think about cats and dogs; however, healthy weight is vital for our small animals and livestock pets, too. Rabbits are prone to being overweight, especially if their diet consists of an improper ratio of pellet food to hay.

The Chesapeake Humane Society is currently caring for a 4-year-old severely obese cat, Mrs. Patmore. She was adopted from the shelter eight months ago and was already overweight at 18 pounds. She was surrendered back to the shelter recently and weighed in at an alarming 27 pounds. Our animal care team put her on a weight loss prescription diet canned food along with the amount of kibble appropriate for her ideal weight.

CHS’ shelter manager, Cat Daniels, states that in addition to her diet, “she’s also on a daily exercise plan that includes incentives to get her moving such as play, catnip and other enrichment activities.”

In her four weeks back with us, she has already lost 3 pounds under her new daily regimen. She is available for adoption, and the shelter team will ensure her new home is committed to her weight loss program so she can live a long healthy life.

If your pet is severely obese like Mrs. Patmore, you may want to involve a health professional such as your veterinarian. Losing weight too quickly can be dangerous for your pet’s health, so creating a health plan and tracking progress is essential.

Being active with your pet can have the added benefit of living a healthier lifestyle for yourself, too, so get out and walk your dog or have a vigorous play session with your cat!

Wildlife killing contests should be banned

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 05-18-2021
Written by Lacy Shirey, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director


Wildlife killing contests — it’s as gruesome as it sounds, and yet, it is legal here in Virginia and many other states. However, there are efforts to ban this cruel blood sport, and it has the support of animal welfare advocates, wildlife officials and traditional hunters alike.

Virginia is home to a plethora of wildlife species. We take pride in our natural resources, and most of us want it to remain this way. Our healthy biodiversity plays an important role in a balanced ecosystem, and our native species are here to live harmoniously with us. Killing contests can result in harmful imbalances by removing vital species from the region, and the practice of taking a life for the sake of a game to kill animals for cash and prizes is beyond disrespectful to any living being.

A coyote in Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of Wendy Keefover

Coyotes, red and gray foxes and bobcats are the most common targets of these contests in Virginia. Now, if you own livestock or pets, you may not have warm thoughts about some of these natural carnivores. Coyotes and foxes are unfairly persecuted and can be killed in unlimited numbers. They have adapted quite well to both urban and rural areas. Even though they are both primarily active at night, they can be active during the day to seek resources or if they are caring for offspring.

Seeing wildlife such as coyotes and foxes can be alarming and unsettling to some, but chances are they want to avoid you as much as you do them. Seeing a fox or a coyote active during the day is not reason enough to fear them — and in fact, we should welcome them. These animals provide critical ecological services including controlling rodent populations, protecting flowers and crops from other critters and boosting songbird biodiversity.

Studies show that killing species such as coyotes is not an effective means of controlling their populations and often has counterproductive results. Coyotes can respond to population declines by increasing their reproductive rates with larger litters and reproducing at younger ages, resulting in more coyotes. Disrupting the coyote pack structure can also increase conflicts with livestock.

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the most effective and humane way to deal with problem-causing coyotes and avoid conflict is through prevention and hazing methods. Prevention refers to removing incentives for them to visit your property such as not feeding wildlife, securing trash containers or other food sources and keeping pets indoors. Hazing is a way of deterring an animal from an area with loud noises or with projectiles or sprays. Hazing can help instill a coyote’s innate fear of humans.

Proponents of wildlife killing contests wrongly assert that their actions help control “nuisance” wildlife. This blood sport involves the killing of the animals, piling them up for display and photos, and then most often, the carcasses are simply discarded once their prize is won and their day is done. It’s a life truly wasted.

A ban on wildlife killing contests is not aimed at hunters. In fact, these inhumane contests reflect poorly on ethical hunters who have a great appreciation for their game and consume or use as much of the animal as possible.

Seven states have already banned killing contests, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington. Maryland is set to become the eighth state with the successful passage of a legislative ban in early April.

A prohibition on wildlife killing contests would simply make it unlawful for animals to be killed for prizes; it is not intended to affect hunters and will not reduce opportunities to hunt any wildlife species.

If you’d like to take action, please join me in contacting the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Board and ask that they move regulations forward to outlaw cruel and ineffective wildlife killing contests. For more information, visit

Chesapeake Humane Society’s New Building Will Have A Special Crisis Shelter

Click here to learn more about our Crisis Boarding program!

Grant from the ASPCA helps cats with medical needs

June 11, 2016casey

Casey was one of “long-timers” but I’m very pleased to report that this fella has been adopted! He is an older cat with diabetes, which means that he requires a special diet, two shots of insulin every day, and frequent trips to the vet. He certainly required a home that was willing to provide all of this for him … not an easy task to take on.

Thanks to a generous grant from the ASPCA, his medical care has been covered for the past six months AND he has found a loving forever home! We are very grateful to our adopter and for the grant which specifically covers medical care for cats with special needs (like Casey!) and in hospice care, made possible by Lil Bub‘s Big Fund for the ASPCA.



CHS in the News: Seniors for Seniors at YMCA

June 4, 2016
Pilot Online_YMCA article_LSK

Lacy Kuller, CHS Executive Director, recently participated in the YMCA’s Active Older Adults Day.  She brought along Henry, a five year old Chihuahua mix, to promote their Seniors for Seniors Adoption Program.  If you are interested in meeting Henry, he is currently available for adoption at Chesapeake Animal Services.

Click here for the full article in The Virginian-Pilot.