Photo courtesy of Jesse Bikman/Flickr
Some disturbing news
By the age of two, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease.
Periodontal inflammation and infection have been linked to numerous problems including heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, emphysema, liver disease, osteoporosis, pregnancy problems and diabetes.
Because of the serious problems associated with them, oral infectious diseases are known as “the silent killer.”
What can I do
Periodontal disease can develop into a major problem because there are no obvious outward signs of it until it reaches advanced stages, but there are things you can do.
The earliest sign of periodontal disease is inflammation of the gums. This is generally accompanied by buildup of plaque and calculus on the teeth, but it may not be noticeable unless you're looking for it.
The next signs within the mouth are receding gums or loose teeth. This increased infection may result in bad breath or blood on chew toys, so schedule a visit with your veterinarian if you notice these symptoms. Late signs of periodontal disease include nasal discharge (blood or pus), eye problems, facial swelling or a jaw fracture.
Other signs of dental disease in dog and cats
- Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar.
- Your pet shies away from you when you touch the mouth area
- Drooling or dropping food from the mouth
- Loss of appetite or loss of weight (this combination can result from diseases of many organs, and early veterinary examination is important).
Home dental care for pets
Just like for humans, brushing is the number one tool to use for dental care, but to be effective it must be done at least three times a week.
Start with a soft toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste. Important: Do not use human toothpaste; it contains detergents that may cause stomach upset.
Place the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gumline. Brush in a circular motion, with a firm stroke away from the tooth. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the exact same way we brush our own teeth so don't worry about thinking you're not qualified to brush your pet's teeth. You've been getting brushing experience your whole life.
It’s best to start brushing your pet's teeth when they're young, because the earlier you introduce brushing, the easier it will be for your pet to accept it. It's recommended to start handling your pet’s mouth from the time you bring him home. For puppies and kittens, introduce the brush at around 6-7 months. Animals like routines, so if you make it a habit it will be easier on both of you.
It may be challenging for some to make the commitment to regularly brush your pet's teeth, or to teach them to tolerate handling of their mouth. When frequent brushing isn't practical, feeding an effective dental food provides a convenient solution. There are numerous products touted as “dental” foods or treats, but keep in mind that these typically only clean the tip of the teeth; not the areas that are necessary for control of periodontal disease. There is a myth that claims hard pet food does a good job of cleaning a pet's teeth, but it's only a myth.
If you want to look for products that actually aid in pet dental care, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC¬Æ) awards its Seal of Acceptance to products that successfully meet pre-set criteria for effectiveness in controlling plaque and tartar deposition in dogs and cats. The VOHC is an entity of the American Veterinary Dental College.
If you would like information on these products, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website.
Keep in mind that even though we brush our teeth regularly, an occasional trip to the dentist is recommended. The same goes for our pets. Even with brushing and using approved products, it's important to schedule regular vet visits to have your pet's teeth professionally cleaned.
Special home dental care tip: If your pet likes vegetables then give raw carrots a try. Chewing on them will stimulate the saliva glands and help wash away food particles between brushings.