KELOWNA – Concern raised about unlicenced, unqualified pet oral hygienists isn’t confined to veterinarians and the college that regulates them: Several groomers who offer dental cleaning in the Okanagan say they are worried the good are getting lumped in with the bad.
Since our story last week about Lexy, an eight-year-old shih-tzu which her owner says had her jaw broken and several teeth pulled by a mobile groomer, we've been contacted by several people who added their voice to concerns about this growing industry in B.C. because the issue isn't just about Lexy.
While the College of Veterinarians of B.C. is seeking an injunction to prevent Tina’s K9 & Feline Teeth Cleaning from performing this work, she also displays and advertises certification on her website from a Vancouver-Island company called K9 Oral Health Association, run by Sylvia MacDonald. Since our story, that website was taken down. The College says some of the "graduates" of the unlicenced and unregulated association go too far in their advertising about sedation-free dental care and the college is investigating. MacDonald has been sanctioned before for advertising claims.
The college has no issue with people charging to brush dogs' teeth and even admit there is benefit when done responsibly.
“There is no provision against anyone cleaning teeth, they can do cosmetic cleaning, but they can’t represent that they do something that is equivalent to what a veterinarian does, including oral health examinations," College registrar John Brocklebank says. “We take issue with the sorts of advertising people are using after they’ve taken Sylvia’s course.”
They say proper teeth cleaning can only be done under anesthesia by a veterinarian because it must reach below the gumline.
Since the InfoNews story became public, readers have come forward with their own experiences that indicate many teeth cleaners are responsible and provide a valuable service that works in conjunction with veterinarians.
Cindy Malach of Kelowna Canine Oral Hygiene has been in business for eight years. She is also a certified dental assistant for humans.
“I am glad this was brought to light,” she says. “I only work on healthy dogs with healthy mouths. If I see anything that is even questionable I refer them to the vet first.”
She says she sends some 75 per cent of her clients to veterinarians, even when that’s not what they want to hear.
“I do get people (who) are very angry when I refuse to clean their dogs’ teeth because of health issues but I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Malach says regular cleaning, the kind she and others do, is an important aspect of maintenance and prevention. Regular brushing and scaling — the removal of tartar from the surface of the teeth — is not something every owner is able or willing to do. She has many clients who come see her every couple months and are happy with her services. She says her experience in the dental field helps her spot problems which require a vet's attention, whereas some of the others who claim to be dog oral hygienists cannot.
“I’m kind of biased because I work in the dental field,” she says. “I am educated on oral health whereas if somebody isn’t: It scares me. There’s a lot to know.”
Patricia Thompson started a dog teeth cleaning business in Vernon in 2008 and briefly considered joining MacDonald's association. After a meeting, however, she decided it wasn't quite what it was made out to be.
“There’s no such thing as a canine hygienist because there’s no association for that,” she says. “I’ve had concerns about all these businesses popping up all over the place. They’re here today then gone in three months. I don’t know where they come from and it scares me and it makes me mad.”
Thompson and Malach say they never use restraints to immobilize the dogs and charge less than $80 for a cleaning. Both take issue with the $250 bill Lexy’s owner Cheryl Lyse received, saying it gives the impression of a medical procedure when it's not. They also would like to see the industry regulated so incidents like the one experienced by Lyse does not happen again.
“If removing the tartar takes enough time to warrant that charge then the dog should probably see a vet,” Malach says. "If a dog needs to be "forced" or "restrained" it should not be done."
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