We are taught from a young age the need for good dental hygiene and regular dental checkups. But as pet guardians, we may not be aware of the significance of pet dental health – and how it relates to our pet’s overall well-being. Unfortunately, it is often only made clear to us only when the damage is significant and, at times, irreversible.
So how can you take charge of your pet’s most used assets – their teeth – before the damage is done?
Dental disease is more than just a cosmetic issue. When your feline friend or canine companion has red gums, yellow teeth, and stinky breath, it could be a sign of serious oral disease that could, if left untreated, lead to devastating affects on your pet’s quality of life. Neglecting your pet’s teeth and gums can cause chronic pain issues that may even be at the center of certain behavioral problems.
An All-Too-Common Problem
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some kind of oral disease by the age of 3.
It’s one of the most common problems faced by our four-legged family members.
Oral health in dogs and cats
Your pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Have your pet’s teeth checked sooner if you observe any of the following problems:
- bad breath
- broken or loose teeth
- extra teeth or retained baby teeth
- teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
- reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- pain in or around the mouth
- bleeding from the mouth
- swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
Some pets become irritable when they have dental problems, and any changes in your pet’s behavior should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Always be careful when evaluating your pet’s mouth, because a painful animal may bite.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF PET DENTAL PROBLEMS?
Although cavities are less common in pets than in people, they can have many of the same dental problems that people can develop:
- broken teeth and roots
- periodontal disease
- abscesses or infected teeth
- cysts or tumors in the mouth
- malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth and bite
- broken (fractured) jaw
- palate defects (such as cleft palate)
Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats – by the time your pet is 3 years old, he or she will very likely have some early evidence of periodontal disease, which will worsen as your pet grows older if effective preventive measures aren’t taken.
Early detection and treatment are critical, because advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain for your pet. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Other health problems found in association with periodontal disease include kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes.
It starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gumline can often easily be seen and removed, but plaque and tartar below the gumline is damaging and sets the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and the tissues that connect the tooth to the jawbone.
THE BASICS OF GOOD PET DENTAL HEALTH
The good news is that you can make your pet a dental superstar through daily hygiene, a proper diet, and annual dental cleanings.
As with many health issues, prevention is always the best medicine. One way you can take a proactive role in preventing oral disease in your pet is by using an important tool that many pet owners neglect to purchase for their four-legged friends: a toothbrush.
“Unfortunately, only about 1 percent of pet owners brush their pets teeth,” explains Academy of Veterinary Dentistry President Dr. Brook A. Niemic.
A soft-bristled toothbrush should be used to clean your pet’s teeth daily to remove any food particles and prevent the buildup of tartar and plaque deposits. Also, make sure to only use toothpaste specially formulated for use on pets.
Take this month to check your pet’s oral health, and make sure you know how to care for their teeth. National Pet Dental Health Month is the perfect time to call your veterinarian and schedule a dental checkup for your furry family members.
“We hope National Pet Dental Health Month in February will draw attention to this serious health issue for pets,” said California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) President Dr. Jeff Smith. “Oral disease can lead to serious consequences for pets, including infection, severe pain and even organ damage. With regular oral health maintenance and check-ups, most of these problems can be avoided.”