When was the last time you checked Fluffy’s (not-so?) pearly whites?
Your pet’s oral health is an important part of their overall health. Dental problems can cause – or be caused by – other health problems.
And I’m not talking about bad breath (though that is the most obvious sign of an oral health issue).
Periodontal (gum) disease is caused by bacteria under the gum line secreting toxins that make the gums red, swollen and tender. If left untreated – which happens way too often – it can damage the gum tissue and bone around teeth, resulting in serious infection and tooth loss. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream and potentially damage the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.
Serious plaque buildup can only be removed by a professional teeth cleaning.
You think going to the dentist is stressful? Pets don’t have the luxury of knowing why this person is messing around in their mouth. And if they have a toothache? Forgeddaboutit!
So while a dental visit easy outpatient procedure, it usually requires a light anesthesia (and all anesthesia requires blood work – needles, eek!) because your pet may wiggle, try to escape or even bite!
Good Oral Health Habits
As the old saying goes – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth.
Have you pet’s teeth checked once a year
Just like you should visit your dentist once a year, your pet should have those chompers looked over by their veterinarian. It’s an easy check that can be done during their annual exam and can detect early signs of a problem.
Signs of dental disease include:
- Bad breath.
- Teeth that are loose, discolored or covered in tartar.
- Pain – Your pet shies away from you when you touch the mouth area.
- Drooling or dropping food.
- Bleeding gums.
Brush their teeth once a week
Ideally, you want to brush your pet’s teeth as often as you brush your own, but I realize that isn’t always possible (especially if your pet doesn’t like it very much), so once a week is a reasonable goal.
Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian.
There are even specially made doggy and kitty toothbrushes and toothpaste that come in fun flavors like beef and poultry!
Feed them a good dry food.
When you pet crunches down on kibble, the dry pieces actually act like little toothbrushes – scraping plaque and helping to keep teeth healthy. A diet of solely wet food can lead to tartar buildup on teeth.
However, not all dry food is created equal and should never be considered a substitute for dental care.
Explore dental health options for your pet
You say you don’t have to time (or patience) to brush Fido’s teeth on a regular basis? There are other ways you can help take care of his chompers.
- Treats and ChewsThere are some dental chews and treats that are infused to prevent tartar build up. If you simply give one after meals once or every other day, these can help keep your pet’s teeth clean and bright.
- Dental DietsThere are foods designed to minimize the buildup of plaque and tartar on teeth. In dogs, many of these foods are size specific, based on findings from one study where increasing the diameter of kibble by 50% led to a 42% reduction in tartar.
- ToysIf you dog is a natural chewer, you may have hit the dental health jackpot (sorry about the shoes, though). There are 100’s of dog toys out there – both synthetic and natural – that can help keep Fido’s pearly whites, well, white!
While cats are not always naturally chewers. There are some chew toys that have catnip in them to get cats more interested.
Not all of the products out there are effective. Look for products that have received the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s seal of approval, and talk to your vet if you have any questions about a particular product, treat or dental-specific diets you’re considering.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month
Most pet owners never look inside their pet’s mouths, which is unfortunate because an estimated 80% of pets have some degree of oral health concern. To address just how important dental health is for our pets, the American Veterinary Medical Association sponsors National Pet Dental Health Month every February. Celebrate by getting your pet a treat or toy designed to help take care of their teeth (they won’t even know it’s good for them!) and make plans to work dental care into your pet’s routine.
Meet the Author
Dr. Clayton Jones
Dr. Jones has 25 years of veterinary medical experience as a staff veterinarian and medical director of his own practice. He also is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Society and President of the US-Cuba Veterinary Cooperation Society.