Pet Dental Care

Proper Pet Dental Care Can Add Years to Life

Did you know that periodontal disease is the #1 problem veterinarians see in dogs and cats? According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have periodontal disease by the age of three!

Alarmed? Well, you should be! When left untreated, tooth and gum disease can be a real danger to your pet’s health! The harmful bacteria caused by this disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the major organs, causing an infection in the kidney, liver and/or heart… Not only does this cause illness in extreme cases, it could lead to death!

Poor oral health can lead to:

  • Mouth pain or problems chewing food
  • Tooth Loss
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Liver Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Weakened Immune System

Proper oral health can actually extend the life of your pet by two to five years!

Typical Signs of a Healthy Mouth

  • White teeth
  • “Bubblegum” pink gums
  • Odor-free breath

Unlike humans, animals rarely get cavities. Cavities are primarily caused by a diet that is high in sugar. Pets, who maintain a diet of pet food alone, should never have a problem with cavities. However, periodontal disease affects both human and mammals alike. It is caused by bacteria and plaque which attach to the soft gum tissue of the mouth. In some cases, owners may not be aware that their pet has dental disease. A routine physical examination by your veterinarian can usually uncover this. In other situations, the probability of dental disease is apparent. The pet may have very bad breath (halitosis), difficulty eating, drooling, or a change in temperament.

Common Signs of Periodontal Disease

  • Excessive salivation
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Yellow-brown tarter deposits
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Difficulty or pain when eating
  • Loss of appetite

If your pet exhibits any of these signs, please visit your vet immediately!

The first stage of periodontal disease is called gingivitis. This is very common. Bacteria mix with saliva and form plaque. The plaque adheres to the teeth and hardens, forming tartar and calculus. These tartar deposits irritate the gum tissue and cause inflammation, swelling and infection. It is at this stage that gingivitis is most notable. As enough plaque builds up, the bacteria infection known as Gingivitis develops; generally seen as a red line along the teeth.

If enough time passes, plaque hardens to form Tartar, which in a way holds the infection to the tooth surface and helps push bacteria and debris further under the gum line. Periodontal disease is this deeper infection of the teeth and roots, which ultimately results in the loss of infected teeth.

Early warning signs of gingivitis are sensitive gum tissue, redness or bleeding gums, trouble eating/chewing and bad breath — yes, that dreaded “doggy breath” is a warning sign for gum disease! Look at your pets’ gums. They should be pale rose in color and taper down to a knife edge where they meet the tooth. If there is a bright red line where the gum meets the tooth or if the knife edge has become rounded, the pet is starting to have gum disease. Abscesses and loss of teeth are usually soon to follow.

The good news about gingivitis is that it is treatable. A thorough dental exam and cleaning most likely will be needed. Many pets will also most likely need to be put under anesthesia. (consult your vet for the risks involved here) If gingivitis is not treated, it will progress to a more serious problem, periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is not treatable. At this stage, there is irreversible bone loss and tooth damage. Roots are also weakened and the animal may experience loose teeth and teeth that simply fall out. Animals may also begin to lose weight. This can lead to other problems associated with improper nutritional intake. Dental treatment will be needed and may result in the extraction of teeth. Again, this will need to be done under anesthesia.

Additionally, the bacteria and infection in the mouth may spread through the bloodstream. Dirty teeth may smell and look bad, but the damage that you don’t see could be much worse. The gum tissue has an extensive blood supply. When periodontal infection starts, these bacteria get into your pet’s circulation and eventually lead to heart, liver, kidney and bone and joint disease, including organ failure. Besides this, a bad tooth is just plain painful to animals and humans alike!

Periodontal disease is preventable. Like humans, pets need regular dental care. The first step is to have your pet examined for existing problems. If needed, your veterinarian can do a dental cleaning.

Next, develop an at-home dental care program including a proper diet, we recommend Life’s Abundance by HealthyPetNet. Pets that eat exclusively hard food have fewer problems than pets that eat any amount of canned, semi-moist, or table foods. Food particles always are accumulating on the teeth, but soft food types seem to speed up the process as much as 3 times the normal rate.

As an added benefit, try one of the healthy dental treats on the market. They can help to remove the forming tarter. We recommend Gourmet Dental Treats with Microdent by HealthyPetNet.

Be sure and always read your pet food labels! Some commercial pet foods and treats contain hidden sugars, usually fructose, corn syrup or molasses that can add to tooth decay.

Remember, diet alone cannot prevent dental problems. Most sources recommend brushing your pet’s teeth with pet toothpaste on a gauze or toothbrush. This is the optimal program. If you choose to do this, be sure to select a toothpaste that is made for pets, avoid fluoride products and/or sugar as one of the top ingredients.

Brushing Tricks of the Trade

  • Reassure and praise your pet before, after and during the cleaning
  • Go slow and gradually build up to brushing all the teeth and gums
  • Approach your pet from the side, not face to face. Kneel next to larger dogs. With small dogs and cats, set them on your lap with their face away from you with their hind end against your stomach
  • Start with your finger. Dab your finger in some peanut butter or tuna fish water so they can associate this as being a pleasant experience.
  • Brushings should consist of short, up and down motions in small circular patterns. Begin at the back on the inside and work out and forward brushing the upper and lower, inner and outer surfaces.
  • Once your pet has become accustomed to having their teeth brushed, you should do it at least once a week and ideally three to five times a week.
  • Use toothpaste and toothbrushes that are specially designed for pets.
  • Never use human toothpaste as the ingredients are too strong and can be harmful to pets.

Brushing or even wiping the teeth with gauze will be a learning and training experience for both of you. It is estimated to take between 8 to 16 weeks before an animal is comfortable with the experience. Be patient, start slowly and build each day.

Another more practical option for many pet owners may be an oral hygiene solution. There are now pet oral hygiene solutions on the market that can be added to pets’ drinking water. These are much easier and more convenient to use and are formulated for animals. As the pet drinks, the solution works to repel and retard the plaque and eliminate the bacteria and bacteria by-products. They are odorless and colorless.

Written by anemane