February is National Pet Dental Health Month, a perfect time to “brush up” on the importance of your dog or cat’s dental health. As pet lovers, we can all take steps to better recognize the causes and signs of dental problems and learn how to help prevent them.
Dental health is an important part of your dog or cat’s overall well-being. Do you know the signs of periodontal disease in pets? If this condition is not detected and treated at an early stage, it may lead to serious health conditions beyond oral health, including kidney, liver and heart functions. It’s important to be aware of the causes of dental problems, and to be able to identify the indicators that your pet is suffering from periodontal disease.
Dental issues in pets start when plaque hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can easily be seen and removed, but plaque below the gum line is damaging, and sets the stage for infection and injury to the jawbone.
Your pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. Take your cat or dog to the veterinarian sooner if you observe any of the following:
- Bad breath
- Broken teeth
- Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- Abnormal chewing or dropping food from their mouth
- Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- Signs of blood in your pet’s water bowl or on chew toys
- Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
While cavities are less common in pets than in people, dogs and cats can have many of the same dental problems as people if their teeth are not properly cared for:
- Broken teeth and roots
- Periodontal disease
- Abscesses or infected teeth
- Cysts or tumors in the mouth
- Malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth and bite
- Broken or fractured jaw
- Palate defects such as cleft palate
Below are some of the ways to promote the dental health of your pet. Consult with your veterinarian to choose a dental health plan for your cat or dog that best fits your lifestyle.
Professional Cleaning: The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends a regular professional teeth cleaning for your dog or cat, starting at 1 or 2 years old, depending on its size. Your pet will be put under anesthesia so that each tooth will receive proper attention and care, including under the gum line.
Home Care: An at-home dental care routine for your pet is an important part of tooth maintenance. Veterinary experts recommend that pet lovers give regular tooth brushings and, if possible, conduct brushings multiple times a week. This will help remove most plaque before it can mineralize into tartar. If a toothbrush scares your pet, you can ease your pet into becoming more comfortable by first wiping their teeth with a gauze pad or dental wipe. Most dogs are fine with brushing, but cats can be a bit more resistant. Remember to be patient with your pet as they get more comfortable with regular cleanings.
Dental Treats: In addition to professional cleanings and an at-home care routine, some pet food and treat products provide dental-related benefits to dogs and cats. Certain pet foods and treats can help freshen your pet’s breath, while other products may have a crunchy texture to help cleanse teeth and reduce tartar buildup. When pet food manufacturers make a dental-related claim on the label, the package will also communicate how that effect is achieved (e.g. “with ridges to scrape teeth” or “with peppermint to help freshen breath.”) These claim guidelines are included in the model regulations for pet food set forth by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Every day is an opportunity to improve our pets’ oral health. We can all support our dog or cat’s quality of life by adding oral care to our daily health routine.