The Importance of Dental Health for your Pet?s overall well-being is something that even the best-intentioned pet owners often overlook. However, all veterinarians know that good dental health is important because it can make a significant difference in the health of your dog or cat and even affect their life spans. That is because dental disease may be the source of serious infections and of long-term damage to other internal organs even without becoming outwardly noticeable. Dogs and cats are susceptible to some of the same dental ailments as human beings, such as periodontal disease and gingivitis. Whereas almost all of us brush our own teeth at least once a day, many pet owners never do the same for their pets. As a result, more than three-quarters of all pet dogs suffer from some form of periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old.
How Does Dental Disease Hurt your Pets?
Dental ailments cause low-level infections that must be fought off by the body?s biological defense mechanisms. When they persist for long periods of time, they increase white blood cell counts resulting in toxins that must be filtered continuously by the liver and kidneys. This causes chronic strains on the organs involved that can shorten the life of your pet, but that is both unnecessary and preventable. Another potential risk comes from the dental plaque that can build up on teeth. Microscopic plaque particles can break off and enter the blood stream through the small blood vessels in the gums and carry bacteria to internal organs and other parts of the body. They can also cause blood clots resulting in cardiac problems and compromise the strength of the immune system, especially in older pets.
How Can You Tell Whether Your Pet Has Dental Disease?
Unfortunately, the signs of dental disease in pets can be easily missed unless you know exactly what to look for. That is partly because most of their teeth (just like ours) are hidden below the gum line and partly because many dogs and cats are fussy about letting us examine the insides of their mouths. The veterinarians at your local animal hospital or veterinary clinic can examine your pet?s teeth for signs of dental disease and teach you how to examine and clean your pet?s teeth at home. Some of the more obvious signs of dental disease in pets are the loss of teeth and any unusual growths or discoloration around their lips and gums. Bad breath is another obvious sign of possible dental disease that many pet owners do not recognize because they assume that dogs and cats are supposed to have bad breath. While a minor odor is normal, if your pet?s mouth smells very bad, you should have an experienced veterinarian examine his mouth for possible dental disease. Teeth discolored by plaque is another possible sign of dental disease and even if your pet does not yet have a dental ailment, dental plaque should be removed regularly because it often leads to periodontal problems.
Preventing Dental Disease in Pets
Your veterinarian can teach you how to examine your pet?s mouth for signs of dental disease and how to prevent it. Generally, preventing dental disease in pets is very similar to prevention in humans because it involves regular tooth brushing. First, your small animal veterinarian should rule out existing dental disease because brushing an already-inflamed tooth or gum line can cause your pet discomfort and discourage cooperation. Your veterinarian will show you how to examine your pet?s mouth and how to use a small toothbrush designed for dogs or cats to remove plaque from their teeth and how to massage their gum lines to promote good circulation.
Ideally, if you have a puppy or a kitten, you should get them used to having their mouths examined and their teeth brushed regularly by starting very early. Adult dogs and cats can be encouraged to allow you to clean their teeth with praise and treats for cooperating. Try to make it part of other types of grooming that they already enjoy, such as being petted, massaged, or brushed, and try to do it when they are already calm and cooperative. Not all dogs and cats will allow their owners to clean their teeth, especially if it is a new experience for them. To ensure their optimal health and life span, you should have your veterinarian do the dental examination and cleaning, even if it requires sedating your pet at the veterinary clinic. Finally, tooth decay is another good reason to avoid giving your pets human table scraps or sweets. Instead, ask your veterinarian to recommend special pet foods designed to reduce dental plaque and give your pets chew toys and chew sticks to help them keep their teeth as healthy as possible.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.