Proper oral hygiene helps keep your dogs and cats healthy and happy.
No one wants to hug a beloved dog or cat and receive reciprocal affection accompanied by bad breath. In addition, bad odors emanating from a pet’s mouth could be a sign of more serious dental issues. Sadly, approximately 70 percent of all cats and 80 percent of all dogs over of 3 years of age suffer from some form of periodontal disease.1
Dental problems start in a pet’s mouth the same way it does in yours. All animals, from cats and dogs to monkeys and lions, need to take care of their teeth. Zookeepers are diligent about dental care for the animals in their care, and pet owners should do the same. By not taking care of teeth, plaque develops, which is nothing less than bacteria build-up on the teeth. Yuck! If the plaque is not removed, the minerals in saliva combine with the plaque to form tartar. This in turn irritates the gums, resulting in gingivitis, which causes the gums to look red and inflamed.
When gingivitis is left unchecked, the inflammation can cause the bone around the teeth’s’ roots to begin deteriorating. In turn, the teeth become loose and fall out. This stage of deterioration is irreversible.
Apart from periodontal disease, more than 50 percent of felines have at least one feline odontoclastic resorption lesion (FORL) by the time they are 3 years old.2 Like human cavities, they are extremely painful and can cause difficulty in eating.
In humans, decay causes the tooth to disintegrate from the outside inward, so that the cavity is visible to the dentist. However, the exact opposite happens in cats. FORLs cause the tooth to decay from the inside outward. Consequently, the damage isn’t visible until it’s very advanced and irreversible, which means the tooth has to be extracted. FORLs are said to be even more painful than human toothaches because the decay attacks the nerve. This type of tooth resorption happens to dogs, too.
All these various dental issues, apart from being very painful and possibly preventing your pet from eating properly, can also lead to serious medical issues. Bacteria left unchecked in the mouth spreads internally and can affect organs, such as the kidneys and the heart, and cause serious diseases such as diabetes.
All these scenarios can be prevented with proper dental care that starts with brushing your dog’s teeth. There are toothbrushes for cats, too, but we all know what a task this can be. Instead, Dr. Jan Bellows, of Weston, Florida, who is one of only 130 board-certified veterinary dentists practicing in the United States, suggests taking a Q-tip dipped in tuna juice and rubbing it against the teeth and gums. The very action of the Q-tip on the teeth provides a cleaning effect. And if you can’t do the entire mouth, do what you can, there is always tomorrow.
Fortunately, there are lots of dental products, such as water additives, dental treats and chews, as well as foods that help address dental issues.
Without a doubt, regular inspections of your pet’s mouth along with an annual professional teeth cleaning is among the most important health care you can give your dog or cat. It’s important to remember that teeth cleaning needs to be done by a veterinary professional and not someone who offers “gentle dental cleaning.” During the visit, be sure to ask your veterinarian about general dental care. She can offer advice about suitable treats, chews and food.
February is Pet Dental month and many veterinary offices around the country offer special discounts for teeth cleaning and care visits. Take advantage of these savings and don’t be shy to ask for a special price if you have multiple pets.
About the Author: Sandy Robins is the 2013 winner of the “Excellence in Journalism and Outstanding Contribution to the Pet Industry Award.” Her work appears on many of the country’s leading pet platforms, such as MSNBC.com, MSN.com and TODAYShow.com. She is a regular contributor and columnist in multiple national and international publications, including Catster, as well as the author of the award-winning books “Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat” and “For The Love of Cats.” Learn more about Sandy on her website or Facebook page. #welovecats