May 28, 2023

The standard for dental care in humans has improved over the years, with electric toothbrushes, flossing, and mouthwash, and are now part of our normal routines. But what about your pet?
After all, dogs and cats suffer from the same kinds of dental diseases that we do.
“The most common form of the dental disease found in cats and dogs, similar to humans, is tooth decay, also known as a periodontal disease”, said Alet Joubert, veterinary nurse at Boehringer Ingelheim.
“Advanced progression of plaque and tartar leads to severe inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis, which can then lead to periodontitis”.
In some advanced cases, if left unchecked, Joubert noted that “periodontal disease can lead to root abscesses, and even infections in our pets’ jawbone. Worse yet, the bacteria could then give rise to systemic disease in the whole body”.
Clearly, that’s a terrible thought and something that most of us don’t want to even consider our pets going through, so how do we identify the symptoms to make sure we stay one step ahead?
“Firstly, bad breath – and not the usual doggy breath- is caused by excess bacteria in our pets’ mouths”, explains Joubert. “Other symptoms of oral disease may include your pet struggling to eat or inappetence and weight-loss.”
Looking into our pets’ mouths, there are a few key indicators that we can pick up on. You may see bleeding gums or teeth that were once white start to become increasingly yellow, and then brown. Some dogs might be in pain and even start to paw at their mouth and will be sensitive around their mouth.
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Cats, on the other hand, are another story.
They are very independent animals. They don’t like showing that they are in pain, and can be difficult to handle, especially around their face.
It may be more difficult to pick up that something untoward is going on.
Pain in cats usually presents as behavioural changes.
For example, they might have a reduced appetite and may fail to groom themselves as effectively as usual. Cats with painful mouths may become easily aggravated and might be less active than usual.
Much like other diseases, periodontal disease can lead to fatal consequences if left untreated for a long time.
More specifically, multi-organ failure.
“The reason for this is that the excess bacteria in the dog or cat’s mouth can easily transfer into the blood vessels that surround the gums, which may be bleeding and inflamed,” explained Joubert.
“The heart is specifically vulnerable to this kind of bacteria, and it can cause irreparable damage. All organs that are rich in blood vessels and have a good blood supply are particularly at risk.
“If you do notice symptoms, the disease has probably progressed past the point where you can simply brush their teeth as a solution.
“It’s always a good idea to book a visit to the vet and let them do a general check-up, this will include an examination of your pet’s mouth.
“The vet can make informed decisions on the treatment going forward and might decide to put your pet on a dental treatment plan using a variety of oral health products.
“If the dental disease has progressed further, the vet will book your pet for a dental scale and polish, just like we do during our annual dental appointment for the cleaning of plaque and tartar.
“When your pet presents with advanced dental problems like root abscesses, the vet might suggest removing those teeth altogether to maintain the health of the viable teeth,” Joubert concluded.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than treatment, and the same applies to pet dental care.
Joubert explained that it’s very important that when you first get a puppy, you get used to the feeling of a finger or soft brush in the mouth, just like we do with babies when they start teething.
Because if we can brush their teeth regularly and be involved with their oral health from the start, it dramatically reduces the chances of needing invasive measures until they are old and dealing with age-appropriate dental issues.
If you have an older dog and are wanting to check in on its dental care now, it is recommended that you start by taking them to the vet and getting guidance on what you can do to maintain your pet’s oral health at home.
For dogs not used to having their mouth touched, try peanut butter on a plastic spoon.
Peanut butter takes a long time to enjoy and gives you time to see how they react. If they tolerate it well, try slowly introducing a doggy toothbrush and toothpaste, which are usually flavoured to taste like liver or caramel.
It is recommended that pet owners gently brush their dog’s teeth three times a week (daily if possible). For dogs that do not like their teeth being brushed.
“There are products on the market like dental-specific chews which can be given every few days,” added Joubert.
“Cats also have dental kibbles, which are essentially a hard biscuit.
Lastly, Joubert highlights the importance of keeping the right nutrition for dental health.
“Hard kibbles should make up 70% of the dog’s diet. That’s because as they munch away, it keeps the plague at bay and prevents tartar build-up.
“What many pet owners might find surprising is that they should not be feeding them bones. It can damage the teeth and even break them. Rather stick to dental chews.”
While our role in the dental care of our pets is clear, it is also vital to understand the effect of genetics when it comes to their overall mouth health.
Smaller breeds of dogs are more predisposed to dental issues, like Yorkies or dachshunds and dogs with flatter faces often have mouths that are too small to accommodate all their teeth, meaning more chance of tartar and calculus building up.
A great Dane will have 42 teeth in its mouth, and so will a dachshund.
They may be the same species, but their size determines what problems they are predisposed to.
(Information: Boehringer Ingelheim).
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