Dental disease affects most dogs and cats, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a holistic approach to preventive care by following these five steps to a healthier mouth.
Dental disease is extremely common in dogs and cats, and can be very painful and damaging when left untreated. Infection in your animal’s mouth can have far-reaching effects on many of her organs, including the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart. Fortunately, there are many things you can do at home to prevent dental disease from developing and progressing, and help keep your dog or cat healthy, happy and comfortable.
1. CHECK HER MOUTH EVERY WEEK
You are your dog or cat’s best advocate when it comes to protecting against dental disease. Weekly oral exams can help you prevent dental disease from developing.
Safety tip: Begin your dog or cat’s oral exam by gently lifting his upper lip to look at the teeth in the front and on the side of his mouth. Then pull the corner of his mouth back to reveal the top and bottom teeth further back in the mouth. Repeat on both sides.
Here are few things you are looking for and what to do if you find them:
• Tartar and calculus – Tartar can range in color from white to dark brown, and needs to be removed by your veterinarian. However, daily brushing will prevent further accumulation.
• Gingivitis – This issue often starts as a thin red line along the gumline. When severe, the redness can cover a wide area. If the gingivitis is mild, try brushing your dog or cat’s teeth daily, and alert your veterinarian.
• Fractured teeth – When caught early, fractured teeth can often be saved. Be sure to alert your veterinarian as soon as possible.
• Tooth resorption – This problem affects cats more than dogs, and appears as a bright red area where the gum meets the tooth. It’s a very painful condition that your veterinarian can treat.
For ideal oral health, your dog or cat should visit your veterinarian at least every six months for a thorough oral examination. Ideally, it’s a good idea to begin daily brushing and weekly oral exams as early in your dog or cat’s life possible, in order to identify dental disease early on, as well as expose him to these practices at a young age. But it’s never too late to start, no matter what your animal’s age.
2. GIVE HER SOMETHING TO CHEW ON
Raw bones can help support dental health in your animal, but keep in mind that they only work on certain surfaces. Depending on the type of bone, they can also cause tooth fractures in dogs, although the incidence is lower in cats. Dogs most commonly fracture the canines and the upper fourth premolars, while cats more often fracture the tips of their canines. Small fractures in tooth enamel may also occur. Slab fractures, in which a sheet of enamel shears off, are most commonly seen in the upper fourth premolars. Raw chicken, turkey or duck necks are less likely to cause fractures than shank or knucklebones.
If you give your animal raw bones, check her teeth weekly for possible fractures. Finding fractures early gives your veterinarian the option of placing a bonded sealant on the tooth, possibly preventing the need for extraction.
As an alternative to raw bones, pet products designed specifically for chewing are a popular option. While shopping, keep in mind that any material harder than your dog or cat’s tooth enamel may cause damage to her teeth.
Safety tip: One way to test if a product is soft enough for her chewing pleasure is to hit the product against your kneecap; if it hurts, it’s too hard for her teeth. You can also test the chew toy by pressing your nail into it; there should be some give.
A few safe chew toys and treats to consider include:
- Pig and cow ears (always monitor your animal to prevent choking)
- Rubber ball
3. MAKE SURE SHE’S EATING A PROPER DIET
The food you give your dog or cat can make a huge difference in his health and longevity. Quality is key, so avoid products that are high in carbohydrates and harmful additives. Commercial kibbles are often advertised as beneficial for decreasing tartar and calculus build-up, but this isn’t true. A high-quality canned, raw, or home-prepared diet that is low in carbs and high in protein is the best option.
Safety tip: Keep in mind that if you are home-preparing your animal’s food, it’s vital to ensure that it’s balanced. Otherwise, it can create deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals, which have been associated with disease of the gums as well as the tooth structure below the gumline. If you are feeding your dog or cat a home-prepared diet, enlist the help of a veterinary professional to ensure it’s balanced.
4. BRUSH HER TEETH
Brushing your animal’s teeth every day is one of the most powerful ways you can prevent dental disease! It can prevent tartar accumulation, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. I recommend starting a brushing routine as early as possible in a dog or cat’s life, even while they still have their baby teeth. Brushing is important even if your animal is already an adult.
Don’t strive for perfection when brushing your animal’s teeth. While you may want to get every tooth every time, listen to her cues. If she’s growing tired and you have only done one side of her mouth, don’t worry. The other side can be done later that day, or the next day. Be patient and consistent, and do your best.
5. CONSIDER PROBIOTICS
Studies in humans have demonstrated a decrease in gingivitis when probiotics were applied directly to the gums. These beneficial bacteria may have a role in decreasing inflammation. While more research is needed for dogs and cats, there are additional benefits to using oral probiotics in animals, including better digestion and improved immune function. I recommend probiotics for all my patients, with or without dental disease.
It’s never too late to help prevent dental disease in your dog or cat. Follow the steps outlined in this article and be as consistent as you can. Your animal will be happier and healthier thanks to your care.