Ask someone, “What’s special about the month of February?” and they will likely respond, “Valentine’s Day!” But for conscientious pet owners, February has another designation… National Pet Dental Health Month. So let’s pay a little attention to our pet’s pearly whites.
Why does dog and cat dental health matter so much?
Many pet owners notice dirty teeth or bad breath, but they don’t realize how significant these common problems are. The average pet owner may not know that the health of the mouth is crucial to the overall health of the pet. An unhealthy mouth can affect the function of major organs. Simply put, dogs and cats with clean teeth live longer.
Unfortunately, dental disease is a common problem for pets. By the time they celebrate their third birthday, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of dental disease. Let’s see what you can do to keep your pet’s mouth and his entire body healthy.
What you notice first: bad breath in your dog or cat
Although “puppy breath” may be sweet smelling, adult dogs and cats usually emit a less appealing odor from their mouths. While pet breath may not be a sweet perfume, it should not be noxious, so if your pet’s breath has a really foul odor, something is wrong. If your pet’s sweet kisses aren’t as sweet as they used to be, there’s a good reason!
Causes of bad breath in dogs and cats
When it comes to bad breath (ours or our dog’s/cat’s), you can blame bacteria. Bacteria are normal inhabitants of the mouth and they cling to the teeth forming an invisible film called plaque. Even though you can’t see the plaque, you can definitely smell it. Bad breath is often the first indication of dental problems and one that pet owners notice right away.
All pets and people develop plaque on their teeth, but some of the plaque is removed by daily activity. When the dog or cat eats crunchy food, some plaque is removed from the flat chewing surface of the teeth. As your pet moves his tongue around inside his mouth, more plaque is removed from the inner surfaces of the teeth.
You can help by providing dog or cat dental care
It’s rare to see a dog or cat lick the outer surface of his teeth, so you need to remove this plaque by brushing with pet-specific toothpaste.
While brushing your pet’s teeth, remember this: Only use pet-approved toothpaste that contains enzymes to break down the plaque. This toothpaste is made to be swallowed since dogs and cats don’t “swish and spit” on command. And it won’t upset their stomach like human toothpaste can. Plus, it’s flavored so they don’t mind brushing so much. Brushing your dog’s teeth 2 or 3 times a week will reduce the accumulation of plaque and the associated odor.
Other ways to avoid dog or cat dental disease
In addition to tooth brushing, you can add an anti-bacterial supplement to the water bowl. These additives reduce bad breath by decreasing the number of oral bacteria the same way human mouthwashes do. Unlike our mouthwash, this product is meant to be swallowed. Start by adding just a few drops to the water bowl and gradually increase to the prescribed amount to help your dog or cat adjust to it. Plaque-fighting water additives are really useful when pets object to tooth brushing.
Don’t let plaque turn to tartar that creates pet dental disease!
If plaque is not removed, it thickens and turns into tartar. Plaque
may be invisible, but tartar is not. You can see tartar as the brownish-yellow substance that accumulates on the surface of teeth. Tartar tends to appear on molars (the teeth in the back of the mouth that are used for chewing). Since few pet owners raise their dog’s lips to view these teeth, tartar often goes unnoticed until it affects more visible teeth like the canine teeth or the incisors. Even though you can see tartar on tooth surfaces, what you can’t see is the accumulation beneath the gum line and causes an inflammation of the gums called gingivitis.
Tartar causes painful gingivitis
The presence of tartar usually indicates the onset of gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused by the bacteria that lie next to and under the gum line. Gingivitis results in red, swollen, painful gums. If left untreated, gingivitis progresses into periodontal disease, a more serious condition.
Gingivitis can progress to Periodontal Disease,
which is dangerous to dog and cat health
When left untreated, gingivitis can result in a more serious form of dental disease called periodontal disease. This advanced stage of dental disease occurs as bacteria erode the connective tissues that hold teeth in place. Both soft tissue and bone can become so deteriorated that teeth become loose in their sockets. Dogs with periodontal disease lose their teeth earlier than normal and are often in pain.
Dog and cat dental disease affects more than the mouth
Sometimes periodontal disease becomes so severe that the bacteria in the mouth erode the barrier between the nose and respiratory passages resulting in an oro-nasal fistula (hole in the hard palate connecting the nose and mouth). Bacteria are then free to invade the nasal passages and/or sinuses causing respiratory infections which require medical intervention. Inhalation pneumonia can also result from food literally being aspirated into the lungs.
In addition to respiratory problems, the bacteria in the mouth can cause trouble in other organs as they travel beyond the respiratory passages. Bacteria can enter the blood stream through the small blood vessels in the mouth and circulate throughout the entire body. Blood-borne bacteria can affect major organs like the kidneys and liver. And bacterial accumulation on the heart valves causes a heart condition known as endocarditis. It’s amazing that a dirty mouth can result in such serious health issues.
How to prevent dog or cat dental disease
Your pet does not have to suffer from dental disease. Since he or she is your pet-child, let’s care for the teeth as we do human children. Just as you would bring your child to the dentist twice a year to have his teeth cleaned and his oral cavity examined, bring your pet in for semi-annual oral exams at your veterinary hospital. Your veterinarian will let you know when your pet needs to have his teeth cleaned.
- Cleaning your pet’s teeth will be done while she is under anesthesia.
- The plaque and tartar will be removed on the tooth surface both above and below the gum line.
- The teeth will be polished to deter the re-accumulation of plaque that more readily occurs on uneven surfaces.
- A fluoride treatment may be done and antibiotics or pain medication prescribed as needed.
- Dental cleaning is an outpatient procedure in most veterinary practices, so your dog or cat won’t have to stay overnight.
Staying one step ahead of periodontal disease can make your pet more comfortable and lengthen his life. Call to schedule your pet’s exam during National Pet Dental Health Month. And remember that February 14th isn’t the only special thing about February!
What questions do you have about your pet’s dental health? You may find answers in this MyPetED.com dental article, or post a comment here.