Dental Health and Your Pet
Bad breath in pets, particularly dogs, is often joked about, but it is not a laughing matter.
Dental disease affects up to 80% of pets over the age of three, and just like humans, there can be serious consequences of poor dental health.
Did You Know??
• Oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed infectious disease in pets.
• If left untreated, oral disease can lead to serious consequences for your pet, including severe pain, bad breath and tooth loss.
• Chronic infections can spread to the major organs, where they can seriously compromise your pet's health.
How can I tell if my pet has dental problem?
Bad breath is often a first indicator of dental disease. Gently lift the lips and check for tartar, inflamed gums, or missing/broken teeth. Cats may exhibit increased drooling. Both cats and dogs can exhibit reluctance to eat or play with toys, "chattering" of the teeth when trying to eat, lethargy, bleeding gums, eroded teeth, and failing to groom (cats). Dental disease progresses in stages -- if caught early, you can prevent further damage and save as many teeth as possible.
How is the rest of the body affected by bad teeth?
Infected gums and teeth aren't just a problem in the mouth -- the heart, kidneys, intestinal tract, and joints may also be infected. The tartar and any infected areas of the mouth contain a multitude of bacteria than can 'seed' to other parts of the body. With regular dental care, you can prevent some of these more serious side effects.
Where should I start?
With a new puppy or kitten, talk to your veterinarian at the vaccination appointments on how to initiate a good dental care program at home. Most veterinarians are happy to provide brushing lessons, and many carry brushes and toothpaste specifically for dogs and cats. (NOTE: do not use human toothpaste on your pet!)
If your pet is an adult over 3 years of age, it would be wise to schedule a dental check up with your veterinarian. If a dental cleaning is necessary, it is advisable to do pre-anesthesia blood work to make sure your pet does not have any underlying problems.
My pet needs a dental cleaning -- what is involved with that?
As mentioned above, pre-dental blood work is recommended. This is a check on the overall health of the pet to make sure that liver, kidneys, and blood counts are within normal ranges and to reduce any risks possible prior to the anesthesia. Many pets with bad teeth will be put on an antibiotic a few days prior to the dental to calm the infection and reduce possibility of complications.
Your pet will be fasted from the evening before for the anesthesia. The dental itself is similar to a human dental cleaning - tartar removal, checking for cavities, gingival (gum) pockets, loose teeth, any growths on the gums or palate, removal of diseased teeth, and finally, polishing. The polishing is to smooth the tooth after tartar removal, as the tartar pits the tooth. A smooth tooth will not encourage tartar formation as easily as a roughened tooth.
How to brush your pet’s teeth
Just like in humans, dental care is an important part of your pet’s overall health. Here’s a step-by-step guide to keeping those chompers sparkling white at home.
Start brushing your pet’s teeth early—8 to 12 weeks old is best. If you brush every day, your pet will become familiar with the routine when their permanent teeth erupt. Please note: You may need to stop brushing while your pet loses her baby teeth. Her mouth will be a bit sore and handling may cause more pain. Continue once all permanent teeth come in.
Work with your pet’s mouth. Be patient and make it fun. Use love and praise, and try to practice at the same time each day to establish a routine. Choose a quiet time, such as late in the evening. Or, if your pet is highly motivated by food, try just before dinner so she’ll be rewarded for her cooperation.
Handle your pet’s muzzle and touch her lips. Work up to rubbing the teeth and gums with your finger. Put a few drops of water flavored with low-sodium chicken or beef bouillon for dogs and tuna juice for cats in your pet’s mouth and she’ll begin to look forward to these sessions.
Rub the teeth gently with a bouillon or tuna-flavored washcloth or a piece of gauze wrapped around the end of your finger.
Finally, use a finger brush or a soft veterinary or human toothbrush to brush the teeth using the bouillon water or tuna juice. Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to the tooth and brush gently back and forth or in a circular pattern from gum to tip. Brushing the tongue side of the teeth is less critical, but still good. Offer rewards and treats when your pet allows you to brush.
Consider other dental aids. A large selection of veterinary toothpastes, oral rinses, and gels are available to you. Our veterinary team can help you select the right one for you and your pet. These products all enhance your home care program, but daily brushing is best. Avoid human toothpaste because fluoride and detergents can be harmful if swallowed. Hydrogen peroxide can be harsh on the gums and shouldn’t be swallowed either. Baking soda has a high sodium content and should be avoided in older pets.
Pick kibble and rubber chew toys that will help keep the teeth clean. Avoid natural bones, which are hard enough to fracture teeth. Our veterinary team can recommend a complete and balanced professional diet to use at feeding time and as a treat.
With good dental care, your pet can enjoy a long and healthy life.