What Big Teeth You Have!
How to care for your pet’s teeth
Column by Alice Clark RVN Photography by Andrew Pons
There is nothing worse than having to recoil from your pet’s cute little face because you cannot stand their bad breath.
Studies have found that 70 per cent of cats and 80 per cent of dogs suffer from dental disease by the age of three, which means the condition is something that we see on a daily basis in veterinary practice. Having just completed ‘dental month’ in practice, pet dental care has been somewhat of a hot topic (between discussions and impromptu a cappella performances of Beauty and the Beast with colleagues).
Checking your pet’s mouth thoroughly can be difficult if the patient is less than willing (even for those more practiced in animal wrangling), so it is important to look out for other signs and symptoms such as:
- Halitosis (bad breath) and/or drooling
- Blood spots on toys
- Reluctance to eat certain foods, or dropping pieces of food whilst eating
- Red gums
- Sneezing and/or abnormal discharge from the nose
- Swelling around the jawline or below the eyes
- Not wanting their head to be touched or stroked
At the first sign of any of these symptoms or any unusual behavior from your pet, it is always best to book them in for a health check by your vet. If left untreated, dental disease can cause a host of nasty complications, including an increased risk of heart, liver and kidney disease. Carrying out some basic dental care at home is vital in maintaining your pet’s dental health, however with a plethora of pet dental products on the market, choosing the right ones for your furry friend can be a real mission.
Brushing your dog’s teeth is the absolute gold standard (this is usually impossible do to with cats). There’s a reason we brush our teeth to keep them clean and the same goes for animals too! Bacteria – along with food, saliva and other tiny particles – forms plaque, which coats the surface of the teeth. In turn, saliva hardens the plaque into tartar, which is firmly attached to the teeth, making it difficult to remove and once it gets under the gum line, it damages the surrounding tissues of the teeth.
Whilst daily brushing is the best way to prevent tartar build up, it can be a challenging and slow process getting your pet to a stage where they allow you to fiddle around their mouths.
Ensure you only use specially formulated pet toothpaste (which are usually a delicious poultry flavor), as human toothpastes can be dangerous for animals (we spit it out, remember). Use a tiny amount as a treat to begin with, and then build up to gently rubbing their gums, before attempting to use a toothbrush.
Top tip: make sure you keep your dog’s toothbrush away from yours – I’ve known of people making the mistake and wondering why their toothbrush tastes meaty!
Dental diets are uniquely formulated to provide a balanced, complete diet, as well as helping to clean your pet’s teeth. There are a few dental diets on the market, which you can ask your vet about, for both dogs and cats. The size and texture of the biscuits encourage your pet to crunch them, cleaning the surface of their teeth as they eat. If only chocolate Hobnobs had the same effect when I ate them…
Dental chews are great for dogs that enjoy chewing, although most are hugely calorific, so take care not to feed them too regularly or ensure you cut down your pet’s daily meal ration if you do. Your effort will be in vein if your dog has pearly white teeth but is morbidly obese.
Dental care supplements such as gels, powders, rinses and water additives are other options to consider for toothbrush phobic pets or as an addition to brushing. Some supplements contain antibacterial solutions whilst others are made up of ingredients to prevent the build up of, or soften any plaque and tartar before it can coat the teeth.
Many veterinary practices offer free dental checks with nurses, so be sure to ask your vet about dental care when you take your pet for their annual health check. If your pet does need a dental procedure, this will be carried out under a general anaesthetic, which means that a thorough teeth clean can prove pricey. Prevention is key.
One of my crazy furry family members Otis, the (slightly socially challenged) Poodle, had 11 teeth removed during a dental last year – a big wake up call for me. Practice what you preach and all that!