It’s always good practice to keep your pet’s teeth clean. It is not only because of bad breath. Dental disease can seriously affect your pet’s vital organs.
While most people brush their own teeth at least once a day, we don’t do the same for our dogs and cats. Many pets never have their teeth brushed or professionally cleaned. As a result, our dogs and cats experience the same problems as humans that neglect their teeth. Chronic, often serious, health problems affect your dog or cat if gums and teeth are not maintained, and decay takes place. Good, simple dental hygiene can prevent this.
Gum disease or periodontal disease is the most common disease that our pets experience. In fact, most dogs or cats have at least the early stages of dental disease, commonly called gingivitis, by the time they are only three years old. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of all cats and dogs have some form of dental disease. For some reason, smaller sized pets are more susceptible to gum disease.
Gingivitis is inflammation that is entirely treatable and reversible with consistent teeth cleaning and annual checkups. But untreated or neglected teeth and gum problems may eventually affect the vital organs. Not only does gum disease cause pain, abscessed teeth, broken or missing teeth, excessive sneezing or a chronic runny nose or, even a fracture of the jawbone. But, it may also cause more serious damages to the eyes or to internal organs such as the heart, kidney and liver. It possibly contributes to oral cancer.
Cats and dogs are especially good at hiding or not showing any pain, especially oral pain, so it’s important for pet parents to stay vigilant about their pet’s dental care.
Causes of Gum Disease
As with humans, gum disease starts in cats and dogs when plaque or bacteria builds up as a sticky substance that clings to the surface of the teeth and around the gums. Pets are at higher risk than humans for gum disease because of a predominant lack of dental hygiene. Add to this the higher presence of alkaline in the pet’s mouth which encourages the growth of plaque.
The plaque irritates the gums which causes inflammation and the accumulation of tartar, just as it does with humans. This is difficult to remove without professional cleaning. If teeth and gums are kept clean on a routine basis, gums should be a healthy pink color and plaque and tartar build up will be minimal.
Once dental problems start in cats and dogs, their owners may notice these warning or behavioral signs:
- Bad breath. This is the most common sign that dog owners, in particular, notice. Worsening bad breath is a major sign that there are dental problems.
- Loss of appetite, difficulty chewing or dropping food while eating
- Missing or loose teeth
- Inflamed, red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Drooling or thick saliva
- Crying, yelping or avoidance to touch
- Pawing at the face or facial swelling
Untreated Gum Disease
Rotted teeth and gums can cause many problems beyond the mouth. If left untreated, infection sets in and can travel into the animal’s bloodstream, attacking the heart, liver, kidney and immune system. This can contribute to problems related to pneumonia, heart inflammation, respiratory distress or complications for dogs or cats with diabetes. Ok, enough of the problems with bad teeth and gums, let’s move on to the solutions.
How to Keep Your Pet’s Teeth Clean
With any other good hygiene routine, it starts at a young age. Just as you learn as a toddler and child that it’s important to brush daily, the same concept applies to your pets. In everyday life, it may not be realistic to brush your pet’s teeth daily. However, most veterinarians agree that brushing twice weekly along with providing a balanced diet is a start. Then, supporting your pet with dental chews and treats designed to keep the teeth and gums clean is the icing on the cake. But that icing is key to achieve the reasonable and attainable goal of good dental health for your dog or cat.
Fortunately, there are many dental products available to help – specifically designed for dogs and cats. Never use human toothbrushes or toothpastes or other oral hygiene products on your dog or cat. Their mouths and digestive systems are much different from humans which can cause even more complications. Follow these tips at the start of the process and pretty soon, it will become second nature for the both of you– just like brushing your own teeth every day!
- Consult with your veterinarian for recommendations on brushing and cleaning tips.
- Schedule your pet’s annual teeth cleanings and checkups.
- Purchase toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental products designed specifically for dogs or cats.
- Be SURE to reward your furry friend with a dental chew or treat after brushing.
- Get the family involved and make it a fun, pleasant and interesting experience for everyone!
Another excellent resource is the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) which is the pet equivalent of the American Dental Association. VOHC provides a comprehensive list of accepted products for dogs and cats that have the VOHC seal of approval. Products listed and their manufacturers include chews, edibles, treats, water additives, oral sprays, toothbrushes, and toothpastes and wipes.
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Dental Guidelines. J Small Anim Pract, 61: E36-E161. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsap.13132
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