As people we are recommended to brush our teeth for two minutes twice a day, floss, use a fluoride toothpaste and visit our dentist regularly, to keep our pearly whites in good working order. Do you ever consider why we don’t do the same for our pets? Traditionally pets would see the vet about their teeth only if they had an obvious or serious dental problem. However, it is now recommended that pet’s, like their owners, have a regular dental routine with check-ups.
Gum disease is reported to be 5 times more common in dogs than humans. Cats’ dental health is no better with 85% of cats over 3 years old predicted to be suffering from dental disease. In the following article we hope to give you some top tips for keeping your pet’s teeth and mouth in tip top condition.
So, why is dental health so important in pets? Firstly, good dental health can help prevent dental disease that may eventually lead to tooth loss. Dental disease is caused by bacteria that start to build up and form an invisible plaque over your pet's teeth every time they eat. Once plaques are present, calculus (visible mineral formation, also known as tartar) can form. Both plaque and calculus will irritate your pet's gums and lead to the development of gum disease. Gum disease starts as mildly inflamed gums but will progressively become more painful and start to affect the teeth and surrounding bone. Eventually dental disease will result in tooth loss.
Dental disease can be very painful for pets. The pain may even progress to a stage where they become reluctant to eat and start to lose weight as a result. Another common side effect of dental disease is very smelly breath. The smell in some cases can be so strong it can be smelt without going near their mouth.
Advanced dental disease will require veterinary intervention. This will usually involve general anaesthetic to remove the affected teeth and clean the remaining teeth. Removal of teeth, especially such fragile teeth weakened from disease, can be a very tricky and time-consuming procedure. This means general anaesthetic is required for a much longer duration, increasing the costs and risks of the procedure. Removing teeth also presents a very real infection risk since the mouth is impossible to sterilise for surgery.
As well as surgery costs dental disease will have increased medical costs. Drugs will be required to provide pain relief as well as treating any infections. As a result, we strongly advocate prevention rather than cure if at all possible!
Luckily, there is plenty you can do to help your pets maintain good dental health, starting with tooth brushing. Just like us, our pets should have a regular tooth brushing regime. It is best to start them early to familiarise them with the toothbrush and toothpaste but if you introduce it slowly and carefully, any age animal can learn to tolerate - or even enjoy! - it. Our vets and nurses are happy to help if you need some advice on where to start with introducing toothbrushing. Using a finger brush can really help and these are easily available nowadays, here and at many pet shops. You should always use a toothpaste designed for pets and these come in a variety of flavours. Some pets may prefer some flavours to others so don’t be afraid to experiment and see what suits your pet best.
If your pet really won’t tolerate toothbrushing then there are water drops and powders for mixing into food available. Although these won’t be able to replace tooth brushing, they will be better than nothing in pets where tooth brushing is not an option. Similarly, many commercial diets are available that are specifically designed to aid in dental care.
Many people opt to offer dental chews to help with dental health. However, it is important to bear in mind that the purpose of these chews is to encourage chewing that promotes dental health. So, if your pet swallows the chew whole then it is unlikely to be effective. Another thing to bear in mind with dental chews is that they can be very calorific. This means that you may need to reduce the amount of food in their meals in order to weight gain if dental chews are provided regularly. Although chewing things like dental chews can be beneficial for dental health, harder objects such as rocks or pebbles should be avoided as these can lead to tooth fractures that may result in tooth loss.
Finally, don’t forget to get your pets teeth checked regularly by your vet. This can easily be combined with annual vaccine boosters or even more regularly as required. For many insurance companies, claims on dental treatments will require for your pet's teeth to have been checked regularly by the vet. Early stages of dental disease such as mild gum disease and calculus build up may require a routine scale and polish under general anaesthetic. It is recommended to address these early stages as soon as possible to reduce the time required under anaesthetic and prevent progression of the disease.
Overall, dental disease is a serious disease for our cats and dogs but with plenty of options to help control and reverse the disease process. Remember if you have any questions regarding dental health in your pet then do not hesitate to pop in and have a word with one of our vets, you could even book your pet in for their next dental check up with us at the same time.