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Dental Care Guide for Dogs and Cats

It goes without saying that looking after all aspects of your pet’s health are important. But not many people are aware of just how many problems that poor dental health can cause for your dog or cat. Better dental care not only helps to protect them from cavities, pain and tooth loss but can prevent other health issues such as heart disease or infections of the bone or blood.

Some animals are more at risk of dental issues too, so owners of these pets will need to take extra care of their pets’ teeth. Short-nosed dogs may have misaligned teeth, and toy dog breeds can have crowded teeth, both of which can prevent plaque being removed during chewing. Cats are also more at risk than dogs, as they are not such natural chewers.

How to care for your pet’s teeth

Diet – while pets don’t have the same problems with sugary food that we do, diet still plays a vital part in maintaining good oral health. Some vets suggest staying clear of wet food (tinned or sachets) as it can stick to the teeth, allowing plaque to develop more quickly. A dry food not only does not have this problem, but the chewing action required to eat it will also stimulate saliva, which contains enzymes that help fight bacteria and stop the development of plaque. There also are diets specifically tailored to maintaining dental health. These have kibble pieces that are larger than regular dry food, designed to scrape down teeth, and may contain a chemical enzyme to help fight plaque.

Brushing – it might not have crossed your mind to brush your pet’s teeth, but it can be the most effective way to prevent dental problems. With a little patience and training, especially if you start young, your fur baby will accept it as part of their daily routine. The best way to get them used to it is to start with a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger, softly wiping what you can off their teeth. You may need to dip the gauze in the beef broth first. Once they are used to the sensation and the routine, you can switch the gauze for a finger brush or baby’s toothbrush, and introduce the use of pet specific toothpaste. It is vital that you do not use human toothpaste with your pets; some of the ingredients are dangerous for animals, and they do not like the minty taste that we do. Pet toothpastes come in flavors that are more attractive to them, such as meat or fish.

Chews – along with a good dental diet and regular brushing, dental chews can be a useful tool to aid with keep your pet’s mouth healthy. Dogs, in particular, are eager to take a chew as a treat, so there is usually no problem with getting them accustomed to the practice. Cats are generally not as interested, but there are dental chews available that you can try with your kitty. Chews work in two ways to help prevent plaque and tartar buildup: the abrasion of the product on the teeth helps to scrape away plaque, but chewing also stimulates the salivary glands, and saliva has some antibacterial properties.

Mouthwash – bacteria is one of the key causes of dental problems, leading to the plaque and tartar that cause periodontal disease and caries. There are pet specific mouthwashes to reduce the overall level of bacteria in the mouth. These are available as different methods of application such as gels, sprays, rinses, and products that can be added to your pet’s drinking water. It should go without saying that human mouthwashes should not be used with pets, as they are designed to be spat out and not swallowed – swallowing these products would be dangerous for your pet.

Checkups – even with vigilant hygiene practices, it may still be necessary to get your pup or kitty a regular dental checkup. Cats and dogs are very good at hiding pain, and you might not know about a dental issue until it is quite advanced. During the checkup, the vet will look for issues within the mouth such as tartar or gingivitis, as well as checking for general health problems that may be caused by oral diseases.

Signs of dental problems

Part of looking after an animal’s dental health is knowing when to spot problems as they arise. After all, our pets can’t tell us if they feel something wrong in their mouth. And even when a dental issue becomes serious, animals can be very good at hiding their pain.

Things to look for are:

Bad breath – we all know that doggy or kitty breath can be unpleasant at times, but as an owner, you should be able to recognize what is normal for your pet, and when their breath is unusually bad. Persistent bad breath can be a sign of excessive bacteria, caries, pus or oral cancers.

Swollen or bleeding gums – this is a classic sign that there is a problem in your pet’s mouth. From the early stages of periodontal disease, an animal’s gums will be more prone to swelling and bleeding when touched.

Tartar buildup – where plaque buildup is advanced it develops into tartar, which forms a hard, brown crust on the teeth, particularly near the gumline. Plaque may be removed by brushing, but tartar can only be removed with professional cleaning.

Reluctance to eat/weight loss – when an animal is suffering from sore or swollen gums, oral lesions or inflammation of the tooth socket, it is understandable that they may be in too much pain to eat and lose weight as a result.

Oral diseases in pets

Without correct dental care, your beloved fur baby can be at risk from a number of oral problems. The most common of these is periodontal disease, caused by the buildup of bacteria in the mouth, which progresses through a number of stages. The first stage is gingivitis, in which tartar causes the gums to become inflamed, sore, and prone to bleeding. If left untreated, tartar develops below the gumline, causing periodontitis, which results in damage to the structural tissue. Finally, the disease reaches the stage of pyorrhea, where pus forms in the tooth sockets, often resulting in tooth loss.

Other problems to be aware of are caries (cavities), which are not as common in pets but they can occur, and tooth resorption, in which lesions damage healthy tooth tissue. Cats may also suffer from stomatitis, which is a general swelling of the tissue in the oral cavity, and often occurs with gingivitis. Owners should also be vigilant about any masses or growths that occur in their pet’s mouth. These may be a sign of oral cancers, which can be dangerous if not checked and treated appropriately.

Other dental problems in cats and dogs

Beyond diseases that can develop, pets may suffer from other dental issues due to their breed, age of lifestyle. These may need particular care or treatment with a veterinary dentist.

Fractured teeth – these are more common in dogs than in cats, as dogs are more prone to chewing. These are often caused by the pet chewing on hard toys, marrow bones or rocks. Fractured teeth are problematic as they allow bacteria to enter the tooth, so should be treated with root canal therapy or extraction.

Persistent primary teeth– this occurs when an adult tooth comes through the gum before the baby tooth has fallen out. If left untreated this can cause tooth crowding and misalignment, which is problematic for the development of plaque and gum disease.

Malocclusion (abnormal bite)– although the cause for this is usually genetic, it can be caused by trauma. Sometimes the issue is purely cosmetic, in which case no treatment is required, but in other cases, the misalignment may cause teeth to dig into the gums or hard palate and will need to be rectified.

Dental Care Guide for Dogs and Cats

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