Periodontal disease is arguably the most common disease seen in our pets today. 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 are affected. It can cause ongoing pain and discomfort along with secondary health issues such as heart or kidney disease. It is therefore important, as a pet owner, to adopt a dental health programme with the aim of preventing dental disease developing. Dental issues should be addressed as they arise, with the aim of improving your pet's long term health and well being.
Your pet's dental health will be assessed routinely at their annual healthcheck, however we do recommend at least 6 monthly dental checks. These are free of charge, and give us an opportunity to discuss your dental home care, and provide recommendations which may include dental treatment if necessary.
In general, the earlier dental disease is diagnosed and treated, the better it is for your pet and the cheaper it is for you as an owner.
What should I look for in my pet's mouth?
Often one of the first things owners often notice is their pet develops bad breath, however if we take the time to look inside our pets' mouths, the signs of dental disease can be identified much earlier.
The most common sign of dental disease is the long term build up of bacteria laden plaque, which forms calculus (brown crust) on the teeth. This leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), which is seen as redness, bad breath and a tendency for bleeding. If left untreated, the integrity of the tooth and surrounding structures can be compromised, leading to a possible rotten, painful or loose tooth that may need extraction or advanced dental treatment (e.g. root canal).
Other causes of dental disease are trauma to the teeth leading to discoloration or breakage, feline resorptive lesions (cats only), poor jaw alignment leading to malocclusions, metabolic or viral diseases.
As a pet owner you need to monitor for calculus build up, redness of the gums and bad breath. If any of these are noticed then it is important to get your pet checked by a vet as they may need a dental.
How can I prevent dental disease in my pet?
The best way of preventing dental disease in your pet is to instigate some kind of on-going home care. There are many options as listed below. Unfortunately some specific conditions cannot be prevented and have to be managed with regular dental procedures but these are less common.
1. Tooth brushing
Tooth brushing is the gold standard for dental care (hence why we do it as humans). You will need to train your pet into it, but if it is done daily it is the most effective way of preventing dental disease. It also means that you will be looking inside your pets mouth regularly and are therefore likely to pick up any issues quickly.
It is recommended, but not essential to use toothpaste, but if you do you must use one specifically designed for pets. They are usually meat flavoured and can be bought from our veterinary practice, or a pet shop. Do not use human toothpaste as it has high levels of fluoride which can poison your pet if swallowed long term.
Initially rub the toothpaste around the outside of the teeth to get your pet used to you touching their mouth - this may take a week or so to get comfortable with.
The next step is to start brushing. We recommend a small soft toothbrush, such as a child's one, long term. You can get finger toothbrushes which you can use as a training aid, but these are not recommended long term as they do not brush very well. The best place to start is the large upper back tooth as this is the main chewing tooth and the least sensitive, and halfway over the gum line and half way over the tooth.
Your pet may tolerate a very short time initially but you want to build up to brushing the whole of the outside of the teeth.
You may notice a little redness and/or bleeding initially (same as us if we start flossing) but that settles very quickly.
2. Dental Diet
Dental diets are available, to help delay the progression (or onset) of dental disease. They are designed to replace your normal dry food as a complete diet. Their formulation means they take more crunching and chewing than normal dry food. This has an abrasive action on the teeth to prevent plaque and calculus build up. They also have a calcium binding agent which form a film across the teeth creating a barrier to prevent bacteria and plaque from adhering to the teeth.
3. Dental Chews
There are a number of dental chews available on the market including Oravet and Greenies, pigs ears and rawhide chews. As with the dental food, the chews have an abrasive action on the teeth to rub off the plaque. They should not be too hard otherwise they can cause breakage of teeth, and they are extra calories so need to be taken into account with the diet of the animal (especially in small animals and ones prone to weight gain).
There are pros and cons to feeding bones. Bones have an abrasive action on the teeth, the same as the chews and dental food, but as they are much harder can lead to tooth breakage.
Raw chicken necks and wings should only be fed to small dogs and cats. They need to be chewed properly otherwise the bones can get lodged in the intestines - pets should be supervised to ensure they are chewing them properly. Large dogs have a tendency to swallow them whole which can cause issues. . New research has also shown links between dogs that eat raw chicken, and a paralysing condition called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN). Because of this, we do not recommend feeding raw chicken in any form to your pet dog.
All bones should be fed raw and uncut, and your pet must be supervised at all times with it.
Again, they are extra calories so need to be taken into account in your pet's diet.
Unfortunately some animals, even with the best home care, will still get deterioration in their teeth, so it is important to get them checked regularly.
Here at Northern Districts Veterinary Hospital we believe in maintaining oral health so please feel free to contact us and book a complimentary Dental check with one of our trained nurses.