Can you imagine what would happen if we decided never to brush our teeth again? What a mess! Unable to brush and floss, pets rely on their owners and veterinarians to provide the care they need. Oral health care for our pets is very important as dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats. Over 68% of all pets over the age of three have some form of periodontal or dental disease. Most pets will show few signs of dental disease therefore it is up to pet owners and their veterinarian to uncover this hidden and often painful condition.
Signs of Peridontal Disease
All pets are at risk of developing dental problems. Once a pet displays any of the warning signs below, serious periodontal disease may be present. Please don’t wait for these signs to appear; we recommend you schedule regular examinations and yearly cleanings by your veterinarian to prevent pain, tooth loss and systemic disease. Below are some of the warning signs to indicate that your pet may be suffering from periodontal disease:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Tooth loss
- Abnormal drooling
- Dropping food out of the mouth
- Swallowing food whole
- Yellow-brown crust on teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Going to the food bowl but not eating
- Change of chewing or eating habits
- Subdued behavior
How a Simple Dental Infection Spreads
More than 85% of cats and dogs over four years old suffer from periodontal disease, a condition in which bacteria attacks the soft gum tissue. As bacteria multiply on the tooth surface, they form a coating called plaque. The bacteria forming the plaque produces toxins which irritate the gums. In time, the plaque mineralizes and hardens, becoming what is called calculus, or tartar. This irritates the gums making them tender, red and swollen.
Eventually, the inflamed gums pull away from the teeth creating pockets that trap food particles and provide an excellent location for more bacteria to grow. As these pockets deepen, the development of plaque and tartar can progress along the root of the tooth, causing the tooth to loosen.
Once the gums have reached this state of deterioration, they bleed easily when pets eat and chew. Bacteria from the plaque and tartar accumulation can enter the pet’s bloodstream. THIS IS WHERE THE DANGER LIES.
Once bacteria enters the bloodstream, it can travel to major organs and begin infection there.Organs with the highest blood flow are susceptible to such infections; the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and, in some cases, the nervous system.
Of course good dental hygiene can prevent periodontal disease from developing in the first place. So take proper care of your pet’s mouth!
Good Dental Health Begins With The Proper Diet
The wrong kinds of food can cause dental distress in pets. Feeding your cat or dog a dry food rather than a moist, canned one will, through its mild abrasive action on the teeth, help remove the bacterial plaque that can harden into tartar. Dry food also provides adequate chewing exercise and gum stimulation. Avoid giving your pet sweet treats and table scraps as they may also increase plaque and tartar formation. We recommend the use of special dry foods designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, especially if your pet is prone to dental problems due to his breed or individual genetic history.
Hills t/d food, PVD Dental Diet and Royal Canin Dental (available for both cats and dogs) are formulated specifically for the nutritional management of dogs and cats while helping to prevent dental disease. Its special fiber matrix scrubs the exposed tooth surface like an edible toothbrush, reducing bacteria-laden plaque.
Dental Care Products
Along with a nutritious dental-formulated diet, we recommend dental treats and regular brushing. There are a variety dental chews and tooth pastes that contain enzymes that break down the sticky plaque that later forms into tartar if not removed. The enzymes also help fight gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) as they produce an antibacterial action against the bacteria found in plaque and tartar. To help make brushing your pet’s teeth easier, pet toothpastes come in a variety of flavors such as tuna, seafood, chicken, beef and vanilla malt. Human toothpaste should NOT be used on pets as they are foaming products and are not meant to be swallowed. Additionally, many tubes of human toothpastes contain sodium and fluoride which may cause problems in some pets.
Chew toys and chew aids such as C.E.T. rawhides for dogs are another option. These are impregnated with the same enzymes as pet toothpaste and chewing will not only help keep teeth clean but exercise jaws and relieve boredom.
The Dental KONG is another great tool. It provides hours of mental stimulation, great chewing action and the added benefit of grooves shaped like a prophy cup (which is the tool used by dentists for polishing teeth). Simply place a small amount of toothpaste into the grooves and your dog will clean their own teeth.
Dental Home Care
Dental home care is daily and lifelong, so we want it to be fun, for both you and your pet. A word of caution regarding home dental care for both cats and dogs: if you have never tried to brush your pets teeth and they already have any degree of poor oral health, please DO NOT start a home care regime on your own. If they have swollen, bleeding gums, loose teeth, resorptive lesions (progressive, destructive legions of the teeth) or oral masses, then brushing will be painful and a very negative experience. Now, on to the good stuff: preventive care….. start young, introduce the concept of tooth brushing as early as possible. But don’t worry, you CAN teach old dogs (and cats) new tricks!
THE GOLDEN RULES
- Make all training experiences as pleasant as possible by giving lots of attention and positive rewards.
- Start with short periods of training and gradually increase the time. Tooth brushing should take no longer than 5 minutes; therefore the training itself should gradually build up to a maximum of 5 minutes.
- Only use pet toothpaste – never use human pastes as they contain fluoride and foaming agents that will upset your pets’ stomach, and they do not like the taste.