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Case Report on Dental Disarming: A Controversial Procedure Used in One Case of Interdog Aggression

This is a summary of a case presented at the 2012 ACVB?AVSAB Symposium by Dr. Kathy Meyer on dental disarming as a way to prevent serious injury.

Sometimes in the field of veterinary behavior (or any other veterinary field, for that matter), you need to think of creative ways to solve problems. While the usual behavior modification plans and preventative management strategies might work in the right situation, in some instances behavior can’t always be predicted, and the fallout can be dangerous – perhaps for the owner, maybe for a stranger, or possibly for a pet or other animal.

This is the tale of one such case, where one dog’s unpredictable behavior could potentially have led to the loss of a beloved pet, severe injury to a human, and a broken bond between the human and the remaining pet.

Kathy Meyer, DVM, spoke about the case at the 2012 ACVB/AVSAB Symposium [link to proceedings].

Two dogs – one more than twice the size of the other – lived in harmony most of the time in one household with a third dog that was not involved in the problem behaviors. The larger dog was the aggressor (we’ll call her Aggie) and the smaller dog was the victim (let’s call her Vicki).

All three dogs came to live in the household about three years previously within three weeks of one another. They all got along well together. However, there were at least four seemingly random incidents over a period of 1.5 years where Aggie became aroused by a separate incident (e.g., visitors at the front door) and attacked Vickie, always breaking the skin and sometimes resulting in a vet visit and sutures, with even the owner having to go to the hospital after getting bit while trying to break up the two dogs.

Dr. Meyer diagnosed Aggie with arousal-induced displaced or redirected aggression. She felt the
situation was of high risk, because the attacks were unpredictable and came without warning (no
growling before biting), and the bites were uninhibited, causing serious injury. Once the dogs were
pulled apart, however, their normal, friendly relationships returned, with neither dog trying to continue
to fight nor avoid each other.

So Dr. Meyer implemented a treatment plan, which included reducing stressors for Aggie and placing her on fluoxetine, teaching the owners to recognize signs of stress and remove Vickie from the area if needed, and for additional safety, placing a spiked collar and dog vest on Vickie to help deter injuries if prevention failed.  Having a break stick available to more easily break up fights was also recommended.

Dr. Meyer was still concerned, though, that Aggie could easily kill Vicki if the situation were right. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the dogs got along just fine; it was that potentially deadly 1 percent of the time that was worrisome. She considered an adjunctive treatment she never before thought she would: dental disarming.

Also called vital pulp therapy, dental disarming is a procedure in which an animal’s teeth are surgically manipulated so that they cause less damage if used in an attack. It can range from removal of all teeth to only reducing the crown length of the canine teeth. The procedure should be performed only by a board-certified veterinary dentist.

The American Veterinary Dental College acknowledges that dental disarming is an invasive procedure and monitoring for pain and providing pain management is important. However, in select cases, the College believes that removing the crowns of teeth may be appropriate as part of an overall treatment plan for behavioral issues.

In contrast, the American Veterinary Medical Association is against the procedure because it
doesn’t address the cause of the problem and welfare may be adversely affected. The AVMA
notes that bites can still cause injury, and having the procedure performed may provide owners
with a false sense of security.

Dr. Meyer talked with Aggie and Vickie’s owners about the option of dental disarming for Aggie, explaining the procedure and its pros and cons. The owners chose to have a board-certified veterinary dentist perform the procedure on Aggie; her canine teeth were shortened and flattened. The owners felt Aggie was not painful after the procedure.

Over the next two years, Dr. Meyer continued to work occasionally with Aggie, Vickie and the owners on behavior modification. There had been only three more incidents of aggressive attacks, during which Aggie could no longer bite and hold onto Vickie, and no injuries were sustained among the dogs or humans.

The owners said that dental disarming saved their lives. Dr. Meyer said that this was a very select case, and the only one she’s ever recommended such a procedure for.

What do you think?

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For any questions, please contact

Carolyn Lincoln, DVM
AVSAB Corresponding Secretary
avsabe@gmail.com

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