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Does your dog or cat have bad breath?

Flip the lip - take a look at your pet's teeth
Flip the lip - take a look at your pet's teeth

Does your dog or cat have breath that could knock you over? Do you avoid getting near your pet's face because of the bad smell from the mouth? If so, your pet could be suffering from dental disease. Dental disease comes in many different forms and is the leading cause of halitosis for our pets.

Periodontal disease in dogs and cats

Periodontal disease is, according to the experts at American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), the most commonly diagnosed clinical disease seen in our pets. The majority of both dogs and cats (approximately 80%!) suffer some degree of dental disease by the time they are three years of age.

Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation or reddening of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth). According to AVDC:

There is a wide range in the appearance and severity of periodontal disease, which often cannot be properly evaluated or treated without general anesthesia for veterinary patients. Effects within the oral cavity include damage to or loss of gum tissue and bone around the teeth, development of a hole (‘fistula’) from the oral cavity into the nasal passages causing nasal discharge, fractures of the jaw following weakening of the jaw bone, and bone infection (‘osteomyelititis’). Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and are carried around the body. Studies in dogs have shown that periodontal disease is associated with microscopic changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys.

That's pretty scary. Your pet's dental disease could be adversely affecting his heart, liver, and kidneys! Not to mention the degree of pain that your pet experiences with diseased or rotten teeth.

Signs of dental disease in pets

What signs should you be watching for? We've already mentioned one of the most common: bad breath. Here are some others to watch for:

  • Loose teeth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered with tartar/calculi
  • Drooling
  • Dropping food from the mouth while eating
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Reluctance to allow you to touch or handle the area surrounding the mouth
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

What should you do if you think your pet has dental disease?

Start with a visit to your veterinarian. Your pet will need to be anesthetized for a full dental evaluation. Your veterinarian will carefully examine and probe each individual tooth and examine the entire oral cavity. Radiographs (x-rays) of your pet's mouth may be necessary because dental disease quite often occurs below the gum line and is frequently not readily visible without radiographs. While your pet is anesthetized, your veterinarian will clean and polish all of the teeth and formulate a plan for dealing with any other dental issues uncovered during the examination.

Is anesthesia really necessary?

Yes, anesthesia is absolutely necessary to perform an adequate examination and cleaning. In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has published guidelines mandating general anesthesia for pets undergoing dental procedures. AAHA-certified veterinary hospitals are required to follow these guidelines in order to maintain their accreditation.

At home dental care for pets

Though veterinary dental care is essential for your pet, at home care is equally necessary. The best way to keep your pet's mouth healthy is through regular brushing. Most dogs and cats can be taught to allow this procedure. However, if your pet is one that resists tooth brushing, there are other options. Dental chews, dental diets, toys that promote dental health, oral rinses, and other products are available. Discuss your options with your veterinarian. She will help you establish a successful home dental care program specific to your pet's needs.

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