Dental care for dogs and cats
by Yolande Howell
You may be surprised to find out that dental and gum disease is the most common health problem in dogs and cats.
Most pets develop dental and gum disease by the age of three years, so you can imagine how bad our teeth would get if we didn’t brush our teeth for three or more years.
Routine dental care for cats and dogs can be simple, straightforward and will benefit your pet’s oral and overall health.
Signs of dental disease may include bad breath, yellow or brown deposits on the teeth, loss of appetite, discomfort around the mouth, bleeding gums, loose teeth, difficulty chewing or pawing at the mouth or face.
So, how does dental disease start?
Teeth and gum disease starts when a film of bacteria known as plaque coats the tooth. Plaque hardens into tartar which can be seen as a thick yellow or brown layer on the teeth. Tartar irritates the gums and also creates an environment where bacteria thrive.
As the disease gets worse the gums become tender, red and swollen. The gums eventually start pulling away from the teeth creating pockets that trap more bacteria and bits of food. As the gums recede, they may bleed and as the tooth root becomes exposed teeth may also become loose. Your pet will very likely feel pain or discomfort when eating. The bacteria will eventually enter the bloodstream and they can create health problems and affect vital organs.
What can we do about this?
Pets, just like people, require routine dental care from you and your vet.
Regular checkups with your vet will help monitor your pet’s dental health, however if you suspect a problem don’t hesitate to contact your vet.
After a vet check, your vet may recommend a dental procedure to clean your pet’s teeth and to treat any dental or gum disease. Unlike people cats and dogs will not sit in a chair and open their mouths for us to do these procedures — they will require general anaesthesia.
Anaesthesia also allows for tooth extractions and pain medications are used in these circumstances.
Prevention is definitely better than cure and there are several methods to help keep your pet’s teeth and gums clean and healthy.
There are a variety of plaque reducing foods, treats, chews and toys. Every animal is different, consult your vet on which combination of preventatives would suit your pet best.
There is no substitute for regular brushing, which is why we do it ourselves to keep our teeth clean. Start early, pets can start having their teeth brushed at home — the younger they are the more likely you’ll succeed. Start slowly and gently, like all kinds of training that is reinforced with rewards and praise.
There are specially designed pet toothbrushes and finger brushes, or use a baby toothbrush. Use pet toothpaste only because toothpaste for people is not safe for your pets to swallow.
Begin by rubbing your pet’s teeth and gums with a soft finger brush, reward them and praise them when they are at ease.
Then start incorporating the pet toothpaste and slowly increase the number of seconds you brush their teeth. Focus on their teeth and the gum line and gradually aim for 30 seconds of brushing for each side of the mouth at least a few times a week.
This takes time, just do it gradually, and if you should have any concerns contact your vet practice and they will help you with the process.