Our pets have taken on our lifestyles, which includes regular meals and treats. We have taken away the need for our dogs and cats to forage for food. Gone are the days where Fido stalked prey and went in for the kill, using his canines to tear off meat and his molars to grind bone and cartilage. Today he has neat little kibble in his bowl and hand-fed treats infused with sugar and chemicals. With our domestication, we have removed the natural practices that kept a dog’s teeth healthy and strong. Not only do our pets not have to forage for food, we have bred many of our dogs smaller and have distorted the shape of their mouth and dentation, resulting in malocclusion. That said, with good care our pets live longer than they would in the wild. They need their teeth to serve them longer.
Without adequate chewing and tearing, plaque and tarter can build up on your pet’s teeth. Tarter can lead to gum disease, while bacteria can accumulate at the gum line and under the gums. These bacteria can lead to infected teeth roots and decay. Often, these bacteria can be absorbed into the blood supply and spread to different sites in our pet, such as the heart and kidneys, resulting in disease. Tarter is not only extremely unhealthy for your pet, it is esthetically unpleasant, with the appearance of chunks of tarter and the odor that is associated with a diseased mouth. As pets age and the odor worsens, often we find ourselves not wanting to snuggle them as much, depriving them of our companionship.
Most of the feed we provide to our pets is in a convenient kibble, often small enough that our dogs and cats frequently swallow them whole, without even giving a crunch. Treats often do not provide enough opportunity to work those molars. Then, there are rawhides. They can help, but one must be careful which rawhides are offered. Some have unhealthy chemicals, and some can become a choking hazard or foreign body if swallowed in large chunks. This makes them not a good option for many dogs, and cats wouldn’t be caught chewing on a rawhide. How a dog chews on a rawhide can determine if it is an appropriate option for maintaining good dental health for him. There are some dental bones on the market which can help, but they have drawbacks, as well. Dogs only chew with their molars, so the incisors and canine teeth don’t benefit from a dental chewie.
So, if pets don’t use their teeth as they were designed, and our feeding/treats regime is not as effective as we would hope, then what can we as pet owners do to help our pets keep a healthy mouth?
Like us, it is imperative that the plaque, the softer precursor to tarter, is removed daily. Just like we brush our teeth daily, a dog or cat can benefit from daily brushing. Most pets need to be introduced to this procedure early for them to tolerate brushing, and cats often don’t tolerate it at all. If you do brush your pet’s teeth regularly, be sure to use pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains fluoride, which is not meant to be swallowed, and pets are going to swallow what we put in their mouths. Pet toothpastes do not contain fluoride and are flavored more appropriately for dogs and cats.
There are some products on the market that you can put in their water to help, but these seem to have minimal benefit. There are also some gels that work well. They have enzymes that soften plaque, so it doesn’t adhere to the enamel of the tooth. Unlike brushing, you just need to get a small amount in their mouth and it will mix with their saliva, potentially reducing the need to physically brush.
If your pet does develop tarter, she needs to see her veterinarian. Today’s veterinary team is also trained to do cleanings and extractions. A dental generally involves full mouth x-rays, just as you have radiographs yearly at your dentist. The radiographs reveal tooth root issues, sometimes from infection or from reabsorption of the root; both serious and painful conditions. It is not uncommon for pets to continue to eat, even with a painful mouth. Using appetite as an indicator for dental disease is not effective. Your pet can be silently living in pain.
After radiographs, your pet will have her teeth cleaned and any bad teeth removed. If a tooth is diseased, it needs to be surgically extracted. Dogs and cats do well with few or no teeth, and generally have a more pain free life. A side benefit to a dental is removing all the odor causing bacteria, so you can once again snuggle your furry friend and provide the lifestyle she deserves.
Check with your veterinarian to see if your pet would benefit from a dental. February is dental awareness month for pets, resulting in many veterinarians offering reduced pricing for the procedure. Now is the time to take advantage of this benefit to enhance your pet’s quality of life.