Pet dental problems rate as important to cats and dogs as your own dental issues are for you. Could your dog’s breath melt your glasses? Does your cat’s smile look like five miles of bad road? Pet dental problems are surprisingly similar to their owners’ dental issues. February is National Pet Dental Health Month and a good time to check out your pets’ pearly whites. You can even learn how to brush your pet’s teeth in this post.
I write about pet dental health every year. These days I pay closer attention to Shadow-Pup because, for some weird reason, he likes rocks. That is, he picks up rocks whenever we go outside, brings them in, and then wants to play with and chew them. Shadow-Pup also raids the fireplace for lava rock embers, to do the same–and the pup wants to chew sticks! Oy! They already have lots of “legal” and safe chews, but he wants to play keep-away with rocks–and of course, I fear a broken tooth, or a tummy full of blocked foreign objects, or choking or worse. Urk!
While some cats drool when happy during petting, drooling cats and dogs point to dental problems. Hopefully, you won’t have that issue. Here are common dental issues you share with your cats and dogs (hopefully NOT eating rocks!), as well as ways to avoid them.
Your own veterinarian probably offers routine dental cleaning, and performs extractions, and Xrays. If your dog or cat requires more advanced care, expect a referral to a specialist able to do oral surgery to remove tumors, for instance. Other services include root canals to salvage broken teeth, metal crowns, or occasionally orthodontics to better position crooked teeth.
9 PET DENTAL PROBLEMS
- Stinky mouth odor, referred to as halitosis, develops when bacteria grow on the tooth surface or tongue. Mouthwash and chewing gum may mask your halitosis, but dogs and cats don’t gargle. They don’t spit, either, making fluorinated products dangerous for pets when they’re swallowed. Rinses added to pet water bowls help freshen breath. Dogs benefit from “dental” chew toys that offer some cleaning properties or incorporate bacteria-killing enzymes.
- Plaque develops when bacteria mineralize into hard yellow to brown deposits on the teeth, often at the gum line. People typically remove most of this by brushing, flossing, and even chewing “detergent-type” foods like apples. Some dogs enjoy carrots and apples, but most pets gulp mouthfuls of food without too much chewing. Cats and dogs also lack opposable thumbs that make brushing or flossing possible.
- Gingivitis—redness, and swelling of the gums—happens when the bacteria in the plaque release enzymes that cause inflammation. People might see blood on the toothbrush. Owners might see blood on the dog’s chew toy.
- Receding gums develop because of the inflammation, and forms pockets around the tooth that exposes bone, leading to loose teeth and bone loss. People with painful mouths and loose teeth complain to the dentist. Cats also may stop eating, but dogs eat through the pain without showing much discomfort until it’s terrible.
- Periodontal disease (decayed teeth, sore gums, bleeding mouths) affects 80 percent of pets by the age of three. Besides mouth and tooth problems, chewing pumps bacteria into the bloodstream. That damages the heart, liver, and kidneys in both people and pets.
- Cavities don’t affect pets in the same way as people, but cats can develop a sneaky cavity called resorptive lesions. The decay starts at or below the gum line. It eats the tooth from the inside out and leaves a fragile shell that can break. Cornell University says 20 to 60 percent of all cats have resorptive lesions with up to 75 percent of cats age five and above affected. This type of cavity can’t be fixed.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT PET DENTAL PROBLEMS
- Brushing teeth, as with people, is the first line of defense. Yes, you can teach pets to tolerate or even welcome tooth brushing (complete how-to details in Complete Puppy Care–works for cats, too!). Meat-flavored toothpaste with plaque-retardant enzymes and pet-size brushes used after each meal—or at least a couple of times a week—help enormously to reduce bad breath and plaque control. Learn how to brush your dog’s teeth here!
- Dentistry treats pet teeth similarly to humans, but since dogs and cats won’t open wide and say “ah” a professional veterinary dentistry requires anesthesia. Trying to clean pet teeth without anesthesia can be much less effective. Most veterinarians provide ultrasonic scaling, polishing, tooth extraction, and antibiotics with pain medication when necessary. Veterinary dental specialists also perform root canals, provide crowns and even offer pet orthodontia (braces) to correct misaligned teeth that cause the pet discomfort.
- Dental “treats” and specially formulated diets are available to improve cat and dog dental health. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance, which endorses such products.
Keep both your relationship and your pets’ breath smelling sweet. Don’t limit it to this month, either. Use the opportunity to “brush up” on the facts of your pet’s tooth health.
(This article originally appeared in another form on the Huffington Post).
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