From a young age, we learn that looking after our teeth and yearly dental check-ups are extremely important for maintaining optimal dental health. However, we aren’t always told that it’s just as important for our beloved pets to have similar care and treatment!

Dental disease is the number one health condition diagnosed in our pets…  Four out of every five dogs and cats over the age of three years have a degree of dental disease, which only becomes more severe with age. The good news is that periodontal disease is preventable in pets, and with proper dental care you can prevent your pet from developing a wide variety of dental health issues (and pain) related to the condition.

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What is dental disease?

Just like in humans, dental disease in animals is caused by the build-up of dental plaque and tartar on the teeth, which triggers inflammation and can negatively affect the health of the teeth, gums and surrounding bone structures.

The mouth begins to smell, and it is often incredibly painful for our companions with some pets stopping eating to minimise pain they feel when chewing. In turn, weight loss can be the first obvious health issue however, without veterinary treatment, dental disease can also lead to gum infections, bone loss, loss of teeth and over time, other serious health problems.

Common signs of dental disease:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Unwillingness to eat hard food
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Plaque or tartar build-up on teeth
  • Swollen, red, or bleeding gums
  • Missing or broken teeth
  • Weight loss
  • Pawing at mouth

Bad breath

As with people, occasional bad breath can occur (especially after eating tuna or some wet foods), however, ongoing bad breath can indicate a problem.

Common causes of bad breath:

  • Dental diseases such as gingivitis
  • Stomach or oesophageal problems
  • Eating malodorous food such as garbage or faecal material
  • Intestinal disease
  • Metabolic disease

There are distinct types of bad breath that can indicate serious problems:

  • Sweet breath may indicate diabetes
  • Urine-like breath may indicate liver or kidney disease
  • Foul-smelling can indicate an intestinal problem

Management

To maintain your pet’s dental health, you need to keep their teeth clean. On occasion, your pet may require a veterinary dental procedure. If this is required, you can expect the following:

  • General anaesthesia
  • Oral examination
  • Radiographs depending on the assessment
  • Teeth scaling to remove tartar and plaque
  • Teeth polish
  • Gum irrigation to remove debris and remaining polishing paste
  • Application of anti-plaque system such as an oral sealant
  • Assessment of abnormal gum pockets
  • Tooth and gum procedures depending on findings
  • Administration of pain relief and antibiotics, where required

Home care

Taking care of your pet’s teeth at home is extremely important in reducing plaque formation and the development of dental disease – and the earlier you get your fur baby used to it, the better!

Remember only proceed if your pet allows so don’t expect this to be something that can necessarily be introduced overnight.

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Plaque control can be achieved through mechanical removals such as brushing teeth or using dental chews or chemical means using veterinary dental products. Nothing is 100% effective and therefore like us, your pet will still require regular dental check-ups and professional cleaning procedures.

Tooth brushing

  • Brushing your pets’ teeth is the most effective and cheapest form of plaque prevention!
  • Tooth brushing is considered “gold standard” when performed at least once daily.
  • Toothbrushes come in varying sizes and designs: a fine bristle toothbrush head on a standard straight brush is ideal.
  • When using toothpaste, it is important to use a veterinary one as they are flavoured for pets, have low levels of fluoride and do not foam (note: human toothpaste can cause stomach irritation if ingested).
  • Always use a circular sweeping motion, pushing the brush away from the gumline.

Dental Chews

  • The natural chewing motion can help reduce plaque with some dental treats and commercial dry foods also containing chemical plaque control agents.

Chew toys

  • Avoid toys that can be broken into pieces such as plastic or non-durable rubber toys as these can become lodged in your pet’s stomach.
  • Be mindful that harder toys such as ropes (plus rocks and sticks) can cause damage to your pet’s teeth.

Prevention

Here are the top tips from the Your PetPA veterinary care team in helping prevent dental disease in your loving companion:

  • Daily rinsing and brushing of teeth
  • Hard food such as kibble as it is proven to leave fewer food particles on the teeth than soft food
  • Dental chews
  • Special foods such as veterinary prescription dental diets
  • Annual veterinary dental checks to pick up early disease
  • Veterinary dental cleaning as required
  • Applying sealants (usually applied professionally for the first application and then at home weekly by the owner)
  • Control of diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disease, feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Did you know Thriving Pets+ members receive $100 allowance on dental? And 10% discount on all purchases from Your PetPA Online Store?

~ Dr Peter Elliott