Home Dental Care For Pets: Protecting Your Pet’s Oral (And Overall) Health!
Each year in February, veterinary clinics across North America shine a spotlight on dental health in dogs and cats. As is the case for humans, good oral health is incredibly important for the well-being and overall health of dogs and cats – not just for their teeth! February is the perfect time to learn more about oral hygiene in pets and form habits that will keep your four-legged family member healthy throughout the rest of the year.
Why is at-home dental care so important for pets?
The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer from dental disease by the time they turn three years old. The good news is that dental disease is preventable and at-home oral care is indispensable for this. Dental disease develops over time as transparent plaque forms on your pet’s still pearly white teeth. If left undisturbed, mineral salts from food and treats will form tartar (also called calculus) on the surface of the teeth. This irritates the gums and changes the pH (acidity) of the entire mouth. Now, bacteria are able to survive and reproduce below the gumline where they can harm the structures that keep your pet’s teeth in place. Periodontal disease is now occurring, which is not always visible from looking at the teeth. If the disease progresses, you may be able to notice that your pet’s gums begin to look red and swollen and they may even begin bleeding. They might start pawing at their mouth or perform other new behaviours. They may also change their chewing habits, chewing on one side of the mouth or swallowing their kibble whole (note that pets rarely stop eating with dental disease, they just work around it). Bad breath accompanies these changes, meaning that ‘doggie breath’ is not just unpleasant for us humans.
Prevention: Where to get started?
The answer to this question depends on your pet. Is your four-legged companion used to you touching their snout or lips? Depending on their degree of comfort with having their mouth touched or even inspected, it might be best to start by slowly (and safely!) introducing this new interaction into their lives. By rewarding them with treats or lots of praise you can make this a fun experience for both you and your pet.
Are you currently aware of any concerns regarding your pet’s oral health? This could be anything from the aforementioned signs of periodontal disease to chipped or broken teeth. It is always a good idea to take stock of the current health status of your pet before introducing major changes into their routine. A conversation with your veterinary team will also help tailor an oral health routine to your pet’s needs to ensure that your efforts have the desired outcome. Even well-meant preventative measures such as toothbrushing can be painful for pets if they are already suffering from dental disease.
As for at-home dental care, a visit to the local pet store can quickly become overwhelming due to the sheer volume and range of products meant to improve the oral health of cats and dogs. Unfortunately, not all products are created equal. This is where the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) comes in. Products bearing their registered seal have been independently assessed for their ability to slow down the buildup of plaque and tartar on the surface of teeth, which is the goal of at-home dental care.
What does an oral hygiene routine look like in pets?
The key to preventing periodontal disease is keeping plaque and tartar from accumulating on the surface of teeth. Just like in humans, daily tooth brushing is one of the best ways of achieving this. To make this a pleasant experience for you and your pet, your dog or cat will have to become familiar with the strange feeling of having an object brush over their teeth. A good way of going about this is by breaking the process into small steps while encouraging and rewarding your pet. There are also a variety of different pet toothbrushes and toothpastes on the market to help you and your pet find the type that works best for you. When purchasing a toothpaste for your pet, be sure to choose one that does not contain fluoride, which can be toxic to pets if swallowed.
Importantly, if tooth brushing is not a routine that suits you or your pet there are many alternatives that you could consider. For example, specially formulated dental diets for dogs and cats are also designed to slow down plaque and tartar buildup. In addition there are dental wipes, water additives, and – of course – dental sticks. If these products carry the aforementioned VOHC seal, then they have been shown to successfully reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar. If you would like, you could even opt to use several of these products at once.
Regardless of the type of product(s) you choose, it is crucial to note that none of them can reverse already existing disease processes. In fact, brushing the teeth of an animal that has severe periodontal disease is often also painful. In this case, a veterinary dental procedure might be necessary before you can safely begin an at-home dental care routine. If you would like to learn more about what a dental procedure looks like at Gateway Pet Hospital, please refer to this blog post.
What about ‘Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings’?
Some businesses have begun advertising dental cleanings for pets that don’t rely on anesthesia. While this might be an appealing thought, especially if you are concerned about having your pet go under a general anesthesia, it is important to note that these services are not equivalent to a professional dental cleaning, or COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment). In fact, these procedures can damage teeth and gums, cause the animal stress or pain and mask the severity of dental disease below the surface. For a good overview of the key aspects that make anesthesia free dental cleanings unsuitable for dogs and cats, please refer to the position statement by the American Veterinary Dental College that can be found here.
We understand that forming new habits to improve your pet’s oral health can be challenging, especially if you are already aware of health concerns related to your pet’s teeth. To assist you and your four-legged family member with any decisions, Gateway Pet Hospital has special offers pertaining to dental consultations and procedures during February of 2022. Keep an eye on our social media accounts or simply give us a call to learn more!