Heartworm prevention – check. Shots – check. Groomed – check. Dental exam and cleaning – Hmmm? Fido and Fluffy need their teeth cleaned!
Yes, pet owners usually make sure their dogs and cats receive TLC from head to toe, but just may forget the all-important mouth and the teeth inside their furry friends. Ignoring those pearly whites leads to a big problem. By the age of two, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some degree of periodontal disease. The consequences, just as with your teeth, can lead to other serious issues.
“We look at wellness and prevention as an important part of pet ownership,” says Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, a veterinary dental expert with more than three decades of experience. “We extend that to the importance of dental care. You have to be proactive so you treat any potential problems, especially periodontal disease, before it gets bad.”
What should you do to further your pet’s dental health?
Visit Your Vet: Every pet owner needs to take their cat and dog to their veterinarian at least once each year. Your veterinarian will look closely at your pet’s mouth for any signs of problems. It’s a part of the wellness package, Dr. Lobprise says.
Start Early: Good dental care should start sooner rather than later. That’s especially critical in small breed dogs of less than 20 pounds. The smaller the breed, the more likely your pet will develop a dental disease since there isn’t as much bone for those teeth.
Watch for Signs of Trouble: If you notice redness of the gums, that could signal gingivitis. You should also look for loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar. More signs include your pet shying away when you touch your pet’s mouth, drooling or dropping food from its mouth and any signs of bleeding. Loss of appetite and weight may point to dental problems or potential other concerns. Pet owners often joke about their dog’s or cat’s bad breath, but that’s often a key indicator of periodontal disease. Unfortunately, Dr. Lobprise says, such bad breath usually means the disease has progressed.
Clean Those Teeth Every Year: If prevention is worth a pound of cure, then certainly you shouldn’t wait for or joke about that bad breath. Dr. Lobprise strongly recommends a thorough exam and cleaning every year. You go to the dentist twice a year for such care, right? Well, dogs and cats need such dental care, too.
Hidden Problems: A thorough dental exam involves more than just a visual inspection. X-rays allow your veterinarian to see much more since approximately 75 percent of each tooth is hidden below the gums. Besides seeing any problems in each tooth, those X-rays give your veterinarian a detailed look at the health of the bone socket. “We always tell pet owners that we may call them during the procedure to report problems and discuss what may need to be done,” Dr. Lobprise notes.
Clean Machine: As part of this process, your vet will want to do a thorough cleaning, which involves much more than just cleaning the crowns. In fact, to do this, anesthesia is required to allow the veterinary dentist to probe, assess and thoroughly clean the teeth and gums and then polish the teeth for further protection. It’s the most effective -and safe – way to clean both the plaque and tartar from your dog’s or cat’s teeth.
Worries: Knock out my dog or cat, no way? Rest assured that pet dentistry has come a long way. Your veterinary dentist will evaluate and test your pet before the anesthesia to ensure its well-being and then constantly monitor its vital signs during the procedure. “We’ve come a long way in dental care,” Dr. Lobprise advises pet owners. “It’s so advanced that the benefits typically far outweigh the risks. There’s just no way you can provide good dental care without anesthesia.”
Dental Fund: By now, your internal cash register is going off. It’s not inexpensive for such dental care. Dr. Lobprise reminds pet owners, though, that “great relationships require great responsibility.” Plan for the expense. Better yet, consider pet insurance that helps cover the cost. Call it your dental fund. And the time to set up that fund needs to take place before and not after serious conditions arise.
Do Your Part: You brush your teeth so you should also brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth once a day if practical. Brushing your pet’s teeth goes a long way to maintain oral health in between those annual dental exams and cleanings. Work with your veterinarian to show you the proper way to do so.
Take Your Time: Daily brushing is the gold standard, Dr. Lobprise says, but it’s not always possible and brushing several times a week can be effective. Most dogs accept brushing; cats can be a bit more resistant. Patience and training are important. Dr. Lobprise recommends that you ease into daily brushing. Work with getting up close and personal with your pet’s mouth. Start with a small amount of toothpaste, letting your pet smell and taste it. You can then gradually move to the toothbrush. Constantly praise and perhaps even reward your pet with a treat as you move along in this process. And, by all means, be careful; those teeth can be painful.
Shop Right: You can’t use any old toothbrush. Toothbrushes designed for dogs and cats are soft and angled to assist in brushing the back teeth. Some pets prefer finger brushes. A variety of “dental wipes” may be used if your pet simply refuses any attempt to brush its teeth. The single-use wipes are rubbed daily on the outside of the teeth to remove plaque. Check with your veterinarian to make sure you get the best brush or cleaning tool for your dog or cat.
Tasty Toothpaste: Never use your toothpaste on your dog or cat. It’s not tasty and even worse, it’s sudsy and your pets can’t rinse like you do so they would swallow it. Yuck! Instead, several dog- and cat-specific toothpastes are available. These are enzymatic to provide greater cleaning of food debris and plaque, and can be swallowed. Pet toothpaste comes in flavors such as beef, chicken, seafood and mint to further entice your pet. Plus, your veterinarian can even let your pet sample a flavor or two that they may prefer. While it helps to ward off problems, such brushing can never replace that annual cleaning by your veterinarian, Dr. Lobprise cautions.
On the Menu: Your cat or dog may benefit from several foods and treats proven to decrease dental diseases. Some use a specific kibble design and others include a chemical anti-tartar and plaque formulation. Your veterinarian can guide you in choosing products that have been tested and clinically proven to support a pet’s dental health.
Chew Carefully: Our pets love to chew but be careful that those toys and treats don’t break their teeth, harm their gums or worse. Antlers, hard nylon or rawhide bones may seem nice but Dr. Lobprise has seen her share of broken teeth from such objects. Dr. Lobprise’s rule of thumb: If you can’t compress the toy or treat with your thumbnail, it’s probably too hard. And never give your pet real bones. Besides being hard, pets often get serious internal injuries and severe gastrointestinal troubles when swallowing sharp, difficult to digest bones.
Add dental care for Fido and Fluffy to your checklist. Good dental health extends both the length and quality of your pet’s life – and, no doubt, yours, too.
Additional Resource Information: www.avdc.org (American Veterinary Dental College) and www.vohc.org (Veterinary Oral Health Council)
I know that I need to be better at taking care of my dog’s teeth. I’m sure this could end up affecting his health overall. It’s good to know that you should especially make sure you take care of your dog’s teeth if it weighs less than 20 pounds, like you said. I didn’t realize that smaller breeds have more risk of dental disease.
I didn’t know that dogs should have a thorough exam and cleaning for their teeth every year! I recently adopted a new puppy and because of that, I have been looking for the best practices when caring for a pet. I will be sure to add dental care to the list of services needed for my dog so that I can keep him as healthy as possible.
I didn’t know gingivitis can be indicated by red gums. My puppy is a few years old now, but I’ve never really thought about dental care. I’ll have to look into veterinary examinations for him to see what I need to do.
My brother just got a puppy and he does not why the puppy has a mark on his gum. I found it interesting when you said that the smaller the breed, the more likely your pet will develop dental disease. I will tell him to take the dog to the vet as soon as possible to prevent any possible diseases.
It’s good to know that dental care should start sooner than later. My husband and I recently got a puppy for our daughter’s 6th birthday last week, and we were wondering how to take care of it correctly. We’ll have to look into finding a vet that can help with the dental care of our puppy.
That is great news. February is National Pet Dental Health Month and a great time to do this. Thanks for writing.
Thank you for helping me understand the importance of dental care for pets. My friend is about to get a beagle puppy from my sister and I wanted him to learn more about pets since he could get careless at times. The idea of sending a dog to an animal hospital so their teeth can get cleaned at least once a year is perfect! I should share this with him so he’ll know what to expect.