What would your teeth be like after a week without toothbrushing? What about a month later, or a year? So why are we surprised that dental disease in dogs and cats is a problem? Whilst our canine and feline friends eat a less sugary diet than we do, some of the food they eat still sticks to their teeth and gums and feeds bacteria. In a matter of days plaque accumulates, over weeks this mineralized and turns into “calculus” or “dental tartar”.
Plaque can be brushed off teeth when freshly formed, but calculus normally needs to be removed with ultrasonic scalers or hand scaling. In people your dental hygienist can scale your teeth for you regularly as you will lie pretty motionless with your mouth opened wide during something rather uncomfortable. Unfortunately, pets do not lie still unless they are anaesthetized. It is impossible to properly de-scale teeth unless a dog or cat is anaesthetized.
Surveys suggest up to 80% of cats and dogs over 3 years old have dental disease that requires treatment. And studies indicate that pets with good oral hygiene tend to live 2 to 4 years longer than pets with neglected dental care. Whilst periodontal disease is entirely preventable, untreated it can lead to heart disease, kidney infection, liver infection and strokes.
In addition to gum disease, dog do quite commonly get tooth decay (“caries”), especially in their back, molar teeth. It is rare that affected teeth are filled. The cavities are usually advanced and deep; it is best to remove the diseased teeth.
Cats are unfortunate that up to 60% of them will get “dental resorptive disease” during their lifetime. This is a very painful, destructive dental condition that can only be properly assessed with dental X-rays.
Fortunately, at Orchard House, all three of our surgeries in Hexham, Stocksfield and Bellingham are equipped with digital dental radiography which means we can provide full, state-of-the-art dental care for dogs, cats and rabbits.
Both cats and dogs get broken teeth. In dogs the commonest cause is using chews and bones which are too hard. Dog teeth are designed for crunching the small, fresh bones of prey animals like rabbits or birds. They are not designed to crunch up an antler or large beef marrow-bone. Veterinary dental experts say that dogs should only be given chews into which you can make an impression with a finger-nail. Broken teeth should always be checked by a vet; if the break exposes the “pulp” in the middle of the tooth then it will a) be very painful, and b) creates easy access for infection into the bloodstream.
Dental disease is not just unpleasant for dogs and cats. It causes pain and is a common source of serious blood infection. My own dog died after his heart valves became infected from a fractured tooth that I noticed too late. You can understand why I am passionate about maintaining dental health in my patients.
How Do We Prevent Dental Disease in Our Pets?
Dental disease is not inevitable. It can be prevented or delayed with some simple homecare choices:
- What you feed
Feeding moist foods will lead to more food sticking to teeth. Using at least some dry kibble diet is likely to reduce the amount of plaque. There are some foods with evidence that they reduce plaque and calculus build-up. There are even prescription dental foods that clean teeth as they are crunched.
- Chews and chew toys
Supermarket, pet shops and vets have a wide selection of palatable, eatable chews. Most are safe but never offer bones or antlers. Daily use of chews can reduce plaque and calculus. And please remember that chews have calories which can make a dog fatter unless the amount of other food is reduced to compensate.
It is also helpful to encourage chewing of well-designed toys – many have been devised to remove plaque as the dog chews.
- Daily tooth brushing
Brushing your dog or cats’ teeth every day is the best way to minimize the build-up of plaque. It does require commitment and dedication but is possible in almost every dog or cat with patience and practice. Ideally, we would start with new puppies and kittens. Even older pets can learn that teeth brushing with a tasty pet toothpaste can be pleasurable. However, it does require us to be disciplined and to work at it. It will not suit every pet owner. There are some great You Tube videos to help teach you.
And it is important that we see your pet for their annual physical examination and vaccination. An examination of your pet’s mouth, teeth and gums is perhaps the most important part of the health check your vet will complete.
For help and advice on the best foods, chews and toothbrushing equipment then please contact our Veterinary Nurses. If your pet has bad breath or you have any other reason to suspect dental disease, please arrange to see your vet.