Proper canine dental care is essential to ensure a long and happy life for your pet.
Responsible pet owners know that proper nutrition, ample exercise, affection, and regular visits to the vet are all necessary to keep their furry housemates healthy and happy. In fact, most pet parents monitor their dog’s or cat’s well-being as vigilantly as they do their own.
Yet many of those same owners overlook a crucial element of pet health: dental hygiene. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats harbor some form of tooth decay or oral disease by age three. To avoid such decay, proper canine dental hygiene must start from a puppy’s very first days.
Read the Signs
Since your pet can’t tell you if they’re experiencing tooth pain, you should always be on the lookout for the telltale signs of dental disease yourself.
Twice a week, gently pull up your pet’s lips to examine her teeth and gums. Healthy teeth will appear white and clean, with no patches of brown tartar, and healthy gums will appear pink with no swelling. If this sounds like your pet’s mouth, you’re in the clear. But if you notice particularly foul-smelling breath, red and swollen gums, broken teeth, a mass on the gums or tongue, or excessive drooling, schedule an appointment with the vet immediately. Those may be symptoms of more serious dental problems.
Be aware of behavioral changes, too. If your pet avoids playing with a favorite chew toy or refuses to drink cold water, a dental problem may be the cause.
Pets are prone to the same dental problems as humans: gingivitis (gum inflammation), periodontitis (a disease of the oral cavity that affects the gum, bone and tissues around the teeth), pyorrhea (an inflammation of the gum and tooth socket that leads to loose teeth and pus); and plaque, which is a build-up of materials on the tooth enamel that can cause cavities and more serious periodontal disease. All of these health conditions must be addressed by a medical professional.
Healthy Mouth, Healthy Home (for Bacteria)
Your dog or cat’s mouth is warm and moist, making it a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Most of these microscopic organisms cause no harm, but when a pet’s oral cavity is compromised by other problems, like plaque or tartar, the stage is set for serious health problems which may spread beyond the mouth. Toxins from dental disease can seep into the pet’s bloodstream, potentially infecting and damaging other vital organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and brain. That damage can be permanent and can even lead to death. So when you care for your pet’s teeth, you are ensuring her continued overall wellbeing.
Keeping Pearly Whites Pearly
A study from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) estimates that 66% of pet owners fail to provide the proper dental care as recommended by veterinarians: an annual full dental exam and cleaning under anesthesia. Cleaning a cat or dog’s teeth is both time-consuming and intricate, so anesthesia is required for the pet’s comfort during this procedure. The vet may also take dental X-rays.
Some breeds, especially small and toy breed canines, are more susceptible to dental problems and may benefit from more frequent exams and cleanings.
Between those visits, you can practice good home care in the following ways:
- Feed your dog or cat a dry diet, which reduces plaque and tartar. Never feed your dog or cat canned food or table scraps — those tend to worsen dental problems.
- Brush your pet’s teeth with specially designed toothbrushes or a gauze pad wrapped around your finger. Use toothpaste made especially for pets. To get the pet accustomed to the process, start by massaging the lips in a circular motion, then move into the mouth and massage the gums and teeth, also in a circular motion. Be patient, as it may take weeks for your pet to accept this toothbrushing routine. Once he does, you should repeat the teeth cleaning two or three times a week.
- Encourage your pet to gnaw on chew toys that require some effort to chew, like rawhide, rubber or nylon chewies. Regular teeth cleaning combined with use of a chew toy that promotes dental hygiene significantly reduce plaque and other dental deposits.
Always reach out to your vet or an accredited animal hospital (like University Animal Hospital) for advice on your pet’s dental care. We offer a full suite of dental services, from professional exams, cleaning, and advanced X-ray technology to tips for at-home care.