How many people are aware that their pets require dental care too?
It is just as important to care for your pet’s teeth as it is to look after your own. Practicing dental hygiene early is important because periodontal disease is so common in our companion animals; it is estimated that 70% of cats and 80% of dogs are affected by dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. Plaque causing bacteria can cause problems throughout the body such as damage to organs such as heart and kidneys.
How can you tell if your pet has dental issues requiring attention from the vet?
Dogs and cats will often hide their pain and discomfort.
Some signs you may notice are:
- Bad breath is what pet owners often notice first
- Loose, broken or missing teeth
- Pawing at the mouth
- Red swollen or bleeding gums
- Refusing to eat kibble
- Swallowing food whole or chewing on one side to avoid pain
So what should you do if you notice any signs of discomfort?
A first step is to have your veterinarian asses the condition of your pet’s teeth. They will then let you know if a professional cleaning is required and if you should start a home care program right away. Brushing the teeth before a veterinarian has examined them may cause more damage or pain (especially if there are broken and diseased teeth). Once the vet has said it is ok to start home care it is important to proceed slowly and take small steps.
What happens if a dental cleaning at the vet’s office is recommended?
The procedure is very similar to what you have done at your dental visits with the exception your pet will be anesthetized for the safety of your pet and the safety of the staff. Under anesthetic, your veterinarian will be able to have a closer examination of the teeth and decide if any loose, broken or diseased teeth will need to be extracted. The remaining healthy teeth will have the plaque and tartar removed with an ultrasonic scaling tool, debris cleared away and polished back to their healthy shine.
Once the dental cleaning has taken place your veterinarian will discuss when it will be safe to start a home care program. Remember that once you start a dental home care program it is important to be consistent. Plaque can begin forming within hours of brushing and tartar can build up in days. The mechanical act of brushing helps to remove plaque and debris before tartar has formed. It is best to brush the teeth everyday just as people do.
What should I use to clean my pet’s teeth?
It is important to use toothpaste designed for pets as these kinds of toothpaste are safe for them to swallow whereas human toothpaste is not. Flavored enzymatic toothpaste appealing to your pet can be purchased at your veterinarian’s office and some pet stores. A soft toothbrush will also be needed; there are ones specially designed for pets. There are other products that help with dental care.
Examples of some products are:
- Dental diets (Hills t/d, Purina DH or Royal Canin Dental diet)
- Dental chews (C.E.T. Veggie-dents or Purina Dental Chews)
- Water additives (Healthy Mouth water additive)
- Chew toys (Kong’s dental sticks)
The products above are designed to be used in addition to brushing to help maintain a healthy mouth. It is important to be careful of what you give your pet to chew as some products such as hard bones (nylon or natural), dried cow hooves, antlers, large hard rawhide bones, and branches may break teeth or splinter. Monitoring your pet when giving them anything to chew on is always recommended.
Starting a dental routine early is ideal but it is never too late to start. February is Dental Health Month and a good time to have your pet’s teeth assessed. A healthy mouth will help your pet live a longer and happier life.