Dental Health Care for Your Pet
Dental hygiene is one of the most important aspects of pet care. Many guardians go to great lengths to provide the best foods, tasty treats, and fun toys, but forget about their companions’ mouths. Keeping your dog or cat’s teeth and gums healthy will go a long way to preventing not only bad breath, periodontal disease, and an uncomfortable or even painful mouth, but also more serious chronic conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, heart conditions and joint problems.
A healthy canine or feline mouth is teaming with bacteria – most of which are normal and natural. It is important to control plaque buildup in order to ensure most of this bacteria are healthy bacteria. Plaque is a mixture of bacteria, saliva components, and remnants of epithelial cells and white blood cells along with some broken down food particles. It is sticky and should be removed from the teeth daily. When not removed plaque becomes tartar (or calculus) as mineral deposits and organic material build up and harden on the teeth. Tartar generally looks like a yellow-brown layer on the teeth near the gum line.
As plaque and tartar build on the teeth, the balance of healthy bacteria is thrown off and the opportunity for disease arises. As the tartar builds up under the gums they become inflamed and sore. Slowly the gums begin to separate from the teeth and recede. Plaque builds even more rapidly in the upper, softer part of the teeth and infection begins. In cats, cavities develop with even more opportunity for infection. (Dogs are less prone to cavities). The bacteria and toxins are absorbed into the blood stream where they circulate and begin to build in kidney, liver, and heart tissue. The toxins released can even affect brain tissue. The inflammatory process involved can aggravate deteriorating joints.
Sound scary? It’s also painful. But it is preventable. Plaque builds up on your dog’s or cat’s teeth every day. Just as you brush your teeth every day, so should your companion – of course, since they don’t have opposable thumbs, you’ll have to have to help them out. A combination of teeth brushing and healthy chew “treats” will go a long way to maintaining your companion’s overall health and extending their life expectancy. Purebred cats and smaller breeds of dogs are more susceptible to periodontal disease, but the reason is not yet known.
Steps to prevention of periodontal disease:
Daily Brushing - Daily brushing is important - at a minimum every other day if your pet is also getting good dental exercise. If you’ve never brushed your companion’s teeth before, go SLOWLY. First get them accustomed to letting you look in their mouth a bit, then just massage the gums with your finger a little, eventually brush one or two teeth, and keep working day by day until you can brush the whole mouth. Plaque tends to build most on the upper teeth, so be sure to focus some time there. Be patient – it may take over a month to get them used to it. It is TIME WELL SPENT. Click here to view the tooth brushes and pastes available.
Healthy Diet - You guessed it – a healthy diet is important for dental health too. The healthier the animal, the better the immune system. A meat based diet is essential as meat helps maintain a healthier mouth environment. (See my article What You Should Know About Your Pet’s Food for more information). If you feed exclusively canned food, you need to pay close attention to the next item…
Exercise - No, not a daily walk around the block – dental exercise. Chewing on hard food such as raw bones and treats such as tendons, bully sticks or other dental chews helps exercise the teeth and gums and even helps scrape off plaque, helping to prevent tartar buildup. I like chicken necks for smaller animals and turkey necks for larger breed dogs. (Remember – poultry bones do not splinter when raw.) Some guardians provide knuckle bones or oxtails for healthy chewing exercise.
I can always tell those dogs that are given plenty of raw bones because they rarely need a dental cleaning. For those that do not want to go the raw bone route, there is a wide array of chews and dental “treats” available, I recommend you let your companion sample a few and find his favorites. Greenies are ever-popular dental chews and can be very effective – just a couple words of caution: if your companion has allergies you may want to avoid greenies as they are mostly wheat gluten. Also, they are high in calories, so not the best treat for overweight animals. I often recommend tendon chews and bully sticks.
View the raw bones available at Only Natural Pet Store...
View the chews and dry bones available...
A note about dry kibble and “crunchy” treats: Crunching kibble and dog biscuits does not qualify as dental exercise nor does it remove plaque from the teeth. Eating kibble and biscuits generally leaves behind small bits of food material that easily stick to the teeth and contribute to plaque buildup. (Those commercials that showed the dog eating a bone-shaped biscuit followed by a big smile with sparkling white teeth were convincing – but fantasy).
Mouth Wash, Drops, Supplements - Mouth washes, drops, and diet or water supplements are a great tool in the prevention of periodontal disease when combined with brushing. They are definitely not as effective as brushing, but are certainly better than no home care.
Wysong’s Dentatreat is a highly palatable cheese-based supplement that is sprinkled over the food. It contains enzymes, healthy bacteria and other components to promote dental health and prevent plaque and tartar buildup. It can also help in the remineralization of teeth which can be especially beneficial to cats prone to cavities. Most dogs and cats love the taste.
Animals' Apawthecary Fidodent Mouth Formula is an herbal blend that helps fight the bacteria that cause gingivitis and helps prevent the advancement of periodontal disease.
Triple Pet Plaque Off - Fresh Breath is added to the animal’s water supply. The active ingredient is Anthium Dioxide, which oxidizes and dissolves food particles that stick on and between teeth, which are the primary source of nutrients for the unhealthy bacteria in the mouth.
Check Ups - Regular check ups are important – especially for the older animal. You can perform your own examination monthly. If you smell any foul odor, see any redness in the gums or a lot of tartar buildup on the teeth, then seek the help of a veterinarian. If caught early enough, it is possible to scrape the tartar off of some animals’ teeth without general anesthesia. Supplementing with Vitamin C and CoEnzyme Q10 can help promote the health and healing of gum tissue as well.
Dental Procedures - If your veterinarian finds more advanced periodontal disease, consider the overall benefits of having a dental procedure performed. Your companion will definitely benefit from a healthier and much more comfortable mouth. For a very old or unhealthy animal, blood tests should be performed to determine if they are well enough to undergo anesthesia.
Home dental care can be the best gift you can give your companion. It requires a little more time on your part, but goes such a long way to preventing disease and discomfort that it is quite well worth it. Considering the cost and stress involved for your companion of a dental procedure by a veterinarian, it is a very wise investment.
Click here to return to the Articles page...