February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Keeping your pet’s teeth and gums healthy is one of the best things you can do for your pet’s long-term health and comfort. 70-80% of all dogs and cats suffer from dental disease by age two (1). Unhealthy teeth and gums are painful, and they harbour bacteria that can harm your pet’s heart, kidneys, and other internal organs. With your veterinarian, you can take steps to make sure dental disease doesn’t hurt your pet.
Pets should visit their veterinarian once or twice a year for a wellness checkup. Animals can’t tell you when something hurts or when they don’t feel quite right. Many animals instinctively hide symptoms of vulnerability. Therefore, regular wellness checkups are essential for identifying early signs of disease. During your pet’s visit, make sure to ask your vet to examine your pet’s teeth and gums. If you’ve noticed any changes in your pet’s appetite, chewing, or breath, report them to your vet.
Don’t ignore bad breath. A healthy mouth should not have an odour. The smell of “doggy/kitty breath” comes from bacteria that live in plaque, tartar, and sores in your pet’s mouth. Pets with bad breath usually need professional dental cleaning. Sometimes these pets have infected teeth that need to be extracted.
Bacteria that live in the mouth settle on the surfaces of your pet’s teeth and gums, forming a slime called plaque. In less than 48 hours, this plaque starts to harden into tartar. Daily brushing removes the slimy plaque before it has a chance to harden onto the teeth. Brushing that is performed only once a week or less is not effective at keeping tartar away.
Toys and Treats That Clean
If you can’t keep up with daily brushing for your pet, there are other things you can do at home to help keep your pet’s mouth clean. You can use your dog’s drive to chew, tug, and fetch to help keep their teeth clean. Durable rubber toys, stuffed toys, and non-frayed rope toys will all help remove tartar while your dog plays. Flat rawhides and green chews provide entertainment, taste great, and clean dogs’ teeth. Cats can be encouraged to chew with catnip-infused rubber toys and textured stuffies.
Dental kibble and treats are designed to remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth while they eat. They taste great, and the diets are nutritionally complete. Water additives can also be used to slow tartar formation and freshen breath. For a list of safe and effective dental diets, treats and chews, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website at www.vohc.org
Once tartar has formed, treats, toys, and even brushing can’t remove the buildup. Your veterinarian may recommend professional cleaning, and the procedure is done safely under anesthesia. Your vet will perform a thorough oral exam. They will scale and polish the teeth above and below the gum line. Finally, they will apply an antibacterial gel to slow future plaque and tartar formation. Professional cleaning gives your vet the chance to identify diseased teeth, sores or tumours that can be hard to see during an awake examination.
Oral Health Dangers
Some toys that promise to clean your pet’s teeth can do more harm than good. Hard toys and treats such as nylon chews, knotted or compressed rawhides, bones, antlers, and hooves are often responsible for fractured teeth. Any chew that cannot be bent in your hands and comfortably slapped against your kneecap can break your pet’s teeth. Tennis balls and other felt-covered toys can be abrasive to tooth enamel. Toys and chews with removable parts can cause choking or digestive obstruction. Ask your veterinarian if your pet’s toys and chews are safe.
Cats are notorious for not drinking enough water. If you are using a water additive to keep your cat’s teeth healthy, make sure to keep track of how much water they are drinking. If your cat drinks less after introducing a water additive, you may need to look for a different option.
Say “no” to non-anesthetic dental cleanings. Tooth scaling performed without anesthesia is frightening for the animal and can permanently damage your pet’s tooth enamel. Furthermore, it doesn’t address the most crucial plaque and tartar hiding under the gumline. Dental cleanings for animals can only be done safely and effectively by a licensed veterinary professional with the help of anesthesia.
Oral Health for Life
Investing in your pet’s dental health will give them a longer, healthier, and more comfortable life. If you’re not sure if your dog or cat has a healthy mouth, ask your vet to schedule a dental checkup. During Dental Health Month, many veterinarians offer promotions on dental products, services, and other wellness tools.
1. Wiggs RB, Lobprise HB. Periodontology. Veterinary Dentistry, Principals and Practice. Philadelphia: Lippincott – Raven, 1997, pp 186-231.