Dental health for dogs & cats
Why is it important to keep my dog’s or cat’s teeth healthy?
More than 80% of dogs and cats over the age of four years have some form of dental disease and, just like in humans, the main cause is a build up of plaque due to poor oral hygiene. This can lead to bad breath, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and eventually periodontal disease (a painful inflammatory condition where bacteria invade the gums and tissues which hold the teeth in place, damaging them and ultimately leading to tooth loss). These bacteria can also invade the bloodstream, potentially causing damage to the internal organs, in particular the lungs, heart, kidney and liver.
What are the symptoms of pet dental disease?
An examination and assessment by a vet is the best way to determine if your pet has dental disease. However, some of the signs of dental disease that you may have already noticed in your pet include:
- Bad breath
- Tartar build up causing yellowing of teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Pain when eating or pawing at the mouth
- Change of chewing or eating habits
- Tooth loss
- Subdued behaviour
- Dribbling saliva
What can my vet to do help my pet’s dental care?
Whilst there is a lot you can do at home to take care of your pet’s teeth, it is important to have your pet’s mouth examined by a vet regularly and before commencing a dental program, as the presence of any existing disease may make brushing or chewing painful for your pet. Once plaque hardens to calculus, it cannot be removed by brushing alone, so if your dog or cat has visible tartar, having this professionally removed first will make any care you perform at home much more effective.
A clean and scale to remove plaque, tartar and staining may be all that is required in early stages. In severe cases, the vet may advise extraction of loose or damaged teeth. For these procedures to be as effective and safe as possible, your pet will usually be given a general anaesthetic.
Our nurses can offer free advice on dental care. Please call us to make an appointment.
What can I do to keep my pet’s teeth healthy?
Taking care of your dog or cat’s teeth at home can make a tremendous difference to their comfort and health, as well as your veterinary dental bills. The aim of dental home care is to minimise the build-up of plaque on the teeth, and prevent mineralisation (hardening) of plaque to form tartar.
- Toothbrushing. If your pet will allow it, tooth brushing is the single most effective way of controlling plaque. Brushing disturbs the layer of plaque forming on the teeth before it can harden into tartar. Ideally this should be done daily. Many pets will accept brushing if it is introduced slowly and associated with a reward. Dog and cat toothbrushes, with soft bristles and tasty toothpastes, such as chicken or tuna, are readily available. Alternatively, oral antiseptics can be used, or just water alone – most of the benefit is actually from the brushing action.
- Chewing. Dogs love to chew, and this has the added benefit of helping to keep their teeth clean. Chewing has an abrasive action that helps remove plaque – however it is important to offer something that is safe (not too small, hard or brittle) yet still effective. Cats tend to be are a bit more fussy than dogs, but can be convinced to chew if offered something interesting and tasty! Supervising your pet whilst it is chewing is recommended.
- Bones are popular and have the added benefit of providing enjoyment and boredom relief. However they should be used with caution as there are potential complications. Some pets can break their teeth on bones which can lead to infection and abscesses if left untreated. Bones can also cause gastrointestinal obstruction and trauma. Cooked bones should never be fed as they are brittle and prone to splintering. Match the size of the bone to the pet to try and minimise the risk of choking or obstruction. Please ask us for advice if you are unsure. Other chewy options include specially designed dental chew toys and treats such as rawhide, pig’s ears and chew toys such as Kongs. Like with bones – take into consideration size, hardness and brittleness to help minimise the risk of problems.
- Dental Diets. Special dental diets are available which have been proven to reduce plaque and/or tartar build up. These work by physically cleaning the teeth (as they do not fall apart as easily when chewed) or by the addition of chemicals that prevent the hardening of plaque to form tartar.
- Dental Antiseptics. Antiseptics kill plaque bacteria or slow down tartar formation, and work best when combined with mechanical cleaning. There are several forms available including rinses, gels, pastes and water additives. These tend to work better for dogs as many cats may find the taste not to their liking.