Let’s be honest: When was the last time you looked in your dog’s mouth or gave a second thought to your dog’s dental health? If you can’t remember when you are not alone. It is estimated that around two-thirds of pet owners don’t follow their vet’s recommendations when it comes to their pets dental health.
That is a huge mistake, both for the overall health and well-being of your pet and for your wallet
Pets don’t usually get cavities, but with modern foods, they are prone to gum disease, which is the number one illness found in cats and dogs. The first stage of gum inflammation is painful to your pet and can lead to difficulty eating and eventually tooth loss. As the dental disease progresses it can affect your pets vital organs such as the liver, heart, kidneys and digestive system.
Studies have shown that by the time your dog or cat is 3 years old approximately 70-80% show the first signs of gum disease. This varies with the general health and diet of your pet. The most common signs are yellow or brown spots which are tartar build-up along the gum line.
You will first notice it with tell-tale bad breath.
Since gum disease progresses slowly, it is easy to dismiss or not notice the signs until the dental problems have progressed. It is critical to schedule annual dental exams with your veterinarian.
Early Detection Is The Best Defense
Symptoms of gum disease
Unfortunately, there are no early signs of gum disease. You would be unaware of it unless you were on a regular dental care program with your dog or cat. Advanced symptoms include:
- Pawing and rubbing at the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty or careful eating
- Bleeding or inflamed gums
- Bad breath
- Blood on chew toys
What causes gum disease?
The main cause of gum disease is the same as in humans, the culprit is bacteria. As soon as your dog eats something, bacteria jumps into action and mixes with saliva to start breaking down the food. Moving it along the digestive tract. In this process, the bacteria forms an invisible layer on the teeth called plaque or biofilm. Most of the plaque is removed naturally through the chewing process, but it can build up.
This is where the problems start
If allowed to remain on the tooth surface, the plaque thickens and hardens and creates tartar. The tartar gathers above an below the gum line causing painful inflammation of the gums. Once tartar is established it continues to expand creating more and more pain and problems for your pet.
How To Avoid Dental Disease
Aside from the fact that a healthy mouth means a happy and healthy pet, there is another strong incentive…you will avoid costly and potentially dangerous dental cleaning under general anesthesia. Some dogs and cats go through this procedure each year, and some don’t make it. Anesthesia can be dangerous to your beloved pet.
Prevention Is Your Best Treatment Option
If the disease progresses too far, the only option is tooth extraction. This is costly for you and painful for your pet. Prevention is the best option.
Brush Your Dog’s Teeth – Though your dog or cat may not like it at first, brushing their teeth twice a day is the best way to prevent future gum problems. Start when they are young to get them used to having a toothbrush or a fingertip applicator in their mouth.
If you have an adult pet, be patient.
You might start with just putting your finger in their mouth and gently massaging their teeth and gums. A few seconds is probably what they will allow at first, continue to increase the time. Next, use a fingertip toothbrush until they are used to that. They will resist at first, but most come to like it. There are toothpastes specifically designed for dogs and cats with flavors they like.
NEVER use human toothpaste on your dog. Many contain Xylitol and are toxic to your pet.
Natural bones are great ways for your dog to clean their teeth. The gnawing strengthens the teeth, jaws and neck muscles. Dogs love bones and they are a tasty way to naturally remove or prevent the tartar build-up on their teeth. Besides natural bones, check the aisle at your local pet store for chew toys specially designed for dental health.
Feed good dog food. Your pet may benefit from specially designed foods that scrub their teeth while they chew. Talk to your veterinarian about good options. These foods may seem expensive compared to standard fare but will save your money over the life of your dog with improved health and less expensive vet bills.
Take your pet to regular checkups for their dental and overall health. Your veterinarian will keep records and monitor their overall health as your pet ages. The best medicine is always prevention.