Dental Care for your Pet
Our dogs and cats are carnivorous, and their teeth are designed for the raw meat diet of the wild canine and feline. Their sharp canine teeth grab at their prey, while their premolars tear it into bite sized pieces. The large molars in the back of the mouth are very effective at crushing hard food such as bones or dog biscuits.
As adults, dogs have 42 teeth. Cats only have 30 permanent teeth. Even though pets eat processed pet foods and their teeth are less critical to their survival, a healthy mouth is still very important to their well being.
Periodontal (“around the teeth”) disease starts with the accumulation of plaque on the teeth. This is a sticky mixture of bacteria and sugar which can harden into brown tartar if it isn’t removed regularly.
The Effects of Dental Disease on our Pets
You can usually tell when your pet has dental problems because their breath smells dreadful when they kiss you on the cheek. If you lift their lip, you may see a red line along the gum where it meets the teeth. There may also be an accumulation of tartar, particularly on those big back molars.
As the disease progresses, the gums becomes more inflamed, and start to recede. This exposes the roots of the teeth, and they start to wobble. At this point, you may notice your pet is having trouble chewing their kibble, and they may be drooling more than usual. Periodontal disease is painful, so even if your pet shows none of these signs, it is very likely that they are feeling quite uncomfortable.
Disease of the gums and teeth can also affect the rest of the body. In one study, an association was found between periodontal disease and abnormal changes in the liver, kidney and heart muscle.
Treating Dental Disease
If your pet has tartar accumulation and wobbly teeth, the best treatment is a professional clean and polish by a veterinarian. This is done under a general anesthetic, because dogs and cats aren’t too happy to sit still while their mouth is explored with probes and dental scalers. The first step is a full mouth x-ray to check for tooth root abnormalities such as fractures or abscesses. Any teeth that are too badly diseased are removed, and the remaining teeth are then cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler. Lastly, they are polished and smoothed, so it is harder for bacteria to stick to them. This helps to prevent the accumulation of plaque.
Keeping Your Pet’s Teeth Clean
Prevention is better than cure, so start caring for your pet’s teeth when they are very young. There are two things you must do to prevent dental disease in your four legged family member. Firstly, clean their teeth daily with a pet toothbrush and toothpaste. This removes plaque before it has the chance to harden into tartar.
This may sound odd, but animals easily get used to this. Use a small headed toothbrush, or even a finger brush that slips over your finger like a thimble. These are more comfortable for dogs and cats. Also, use a toothpaste specifically designed for pets. These not only taste better, but they are less likely to froth and lather.
The second part of maintaining good dental health in dogs and cats is a yearly dental check up with your veterinarian.. By doing this, any problems can be caught and treated early, and your pet is less likely to lose any teeth.
What about bones? For many years, people fed their dogs and cats bones to keep their teeth clean. Veterinary dentists now recommend that you don’t feed bones, because of the risk of tooth fractures or intestinal obstructions. Regular tooth brushing should be the main part of looking after your pet’s teeth and gums.
Our dogs and cats are important members of our family. We feed them, vaccinate them and control parasites, to prevent illness. We also take care of them when they are injured or unwell. If you can clean your pet’s teeth daily and schedule a yearly dental exam with your veterinarian, you are doing even more to keep them healthy and happy.Written by Dr. Audrey Harvey © September 7, 2011 Dr. Audrey Harvey is an Australian veterinarian who has looked after dogs and cats for 20 years.