It’s not a ‘stupid pet trick’! Brushing your pet’s teeth can actually provide them a longer, healthier life.
While it may seem silly, or in the case of some pets, impossible–brushing their teeth or enlisting other preventative measures will do more than simply deter bad breath.
“Two-thirds of pet owners don’t understand the importance of dental care for their pet,” explains veterinarian Emily Dugas of Veterinary Medical Clinic in Tampa. Dugas estimates that only two-percent actually brush pet’s teeth with enough frequency to maintain good oral health.
A pets’ mouth is as important to them as our hands are to us humans. They use their mouths to eat, play, explore and more. February is National Pet Dental Health Month and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) aims to educate pet owners about the critical importance of your pet’s dental health.
“Most often, pets don’t show signs of periodontal disease”, explains Dugas. “But by age three, 75-80 percent of dogs will have some stage of periodontal disease.”
That statement is supported by an AVMA report that cites periodontal disease as the number one diagnosed problem in dogs and cats over three years of age.
Killer dog or cat breath typically means there is significant bacteria buildup. Poor dental hygiene is directly linked to serious health problems that affect longevity including risk of heart, liver and kidney disease. Therefore, pet owners should consider pets’ dental care as important as their own.
“When the mouth is infected, bacteria can move to other parts of the body–important organs including the heart, kidneys, and liver,” says Dugas, citing recent findings from an AVMA study about oral health in pets.
Periodontal disease results when bacteria attack the soft gum tissues in your pet’s mouth. It is the final stage in a process that begins when plaque develops on the teeth. When plaque mixes with saliva, it hardens and becomes tartar. All three, bacteria, plaque and tartar irritate your pets’ gums and cause redness, swelling and tenderness. This stage is referred to as gingivitis.
Eventually, inflamed gums can separate from the teeth causing pockets allowing more bacteria to accumulate. As pockets deepen, bacteria attack the roots of the teeth and the bony tissues of the jaw. This causes teeth to loosen, gums to bleed, mouth odor and pain. This is full-blown periodontal disease.
As if this doesn’t sound painful enough, the next progression for bacteria is to enter the bloodstream and infect major organs and possible the nervous system as well. If not caught in time, a pet’s organs can sustain serious damage that can lead to death.
Keep in mind, our pets cannot tell us they have a toothache, or trouble chewing. “Pets can be very stoic,” Dugas points out. “So it might not be obvious when they are experiencing pain or discomfort.”
Watch for the following signs of dental disease in dogs or cats:
- Yellow or brown buildup of tartar along gum line
- Inflamed gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Change in eating or chewing habits,
- Not eating at all
- Broken teeth
Prevention and Treatment
The good news—periodontal disease is preventable and treatable! The American Veterinary Dental Society recommends a team approach to maintain your pet’s dental health–professional veterinary care and treatment at home. The Society outlines the following three-step process to take the bite out of dental dilemmas:
Step 1: Take your pet to the veterinarian for a complete check up, including a dental exam. Don’t wait until your pets’ annual check up if you suspect a problem. The vet can determine if tartar build up has begun and the appropriate course of action to take. He or she can also determine if your pet has a toothache they haven’t been able to tell you about!
Step 2: Begin a dental regimen at home. Your veterinarian can suggest steps that may include brushing your pet’s teeth. Ideally, it’s best to start them on a routine brushing program at an early age, but adult animals can learn to tolerate brushing too.
Start with a soft gauze and a toothpaste formulated for pets. Graduate to a specially designed pet toothbrush. Toothpaste for humans will irritate your pet’s stomach.
Another convenient and effective way to combat oral disease if feeding specially formulated foods proven effective in fighting plaque and tartar buildup.
Step 3: Schedule regular veterinary checkups. These are essential in helping your veterinarian monitor the progress of your pet’s dental health routine. For young and adult pets, an annual visit (minimum) is very important. Senior pets should visit every six months. Also, watch for signs of dental disease (see above).
So, what to do if your cat looks at you as if to say “are you crazy?” when you approach her favorite sunning spot with toothbrush in hand? It might be best to introduce the tooth care concept to Tigger and Fido slowly.
Here are some practical dental health-care tips to help ease pets and people into the new routine, provided by veterinary dentist, Jan Bellows, of Hometown Animal Hospital in Weston, Florida.
Good: It’s good for dogs and cats to have chew toys and tartar-scrubbing foods, similar to “edible” toothbrushes, as part of their dental care. (Look for Indigo Floss bones or Indigo Dental Sticks from PetSafe or other toothbrush shaped chews at your local pet supply retailer. Yes, there are dental chew products for cats too).
Better: An even better idea is to rinse the pet’s mouth with pet oral rinse that can be squirted into their mouths. Some of the rinses are malt or fish flavored. Another clever idea is dental wipes, for use once a day. These products can be a great addition to the dog’s chews.
Best: Brush your pet’s teeth. Your pet will get used to it and so will you. One of the newest techniques in canine tooth care is a special antibiotic given to the dog five days of each month to control periodontal disease. Used together with daily brushing, they eliminate doggie breath and help your dog hold onto his teeth until he is a senior citizen.
Regardless of what type of dental care you choose for your pet, introduce it to them gradually. Keep the sessions short and never over restrain them. Make it worthwhile to cooperate by offering a special treat or a favorite toy after each “tooth-care timeout”.
Together, you and your family veterinarian can ensure your pet lives a longer, healthier life as a result of good dental care.