To raise awareness of how essential it is for pets to receive regular oral care, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and several other veterinary groups sponsor National Pet Dental Health Month in February. Which means, now is the perfect time for responsible pet owners to “brush up” on oral care for their pets.
Bad pun aside, pets whose owners neglect their oral health will likely suffer more than “doggie breath” and ugly yellow teeth. Poor dental hygiene can lead to periodontal disease which may cause swollen and tender gums, bleeding, and painful lesions in the mouth. Left untreated, periodontal disease can cause tooth loss, infections and other serious health problems for pets, including damage to their heart, liver and kidneys.
AVMA President Dr. James Cook said, “Just as the public has come to realize that their own oral health is linked to their overall health, veterinarians want people to understand that dental health care is essential to maintaining the health and well-being of the family pet.”
Although many pet owners have had to make spending cutbacks in these challenging economic times, Dr. Cook warns against skimping on veterinary oral care. “Oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for pets,” he said. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease as early as three years of age.
Symptoms to watch for include: very bad breath, excessive drooling, pawing at the face or mouth, bleeding or inflamed gums, visible tartar on the teeth, a change in eating or chewing habits, sensitivity around the mouth , loose or missing teeth, refusing to eat, poor self grooming, and personality changes.
It’s important to be aware of how your pet typically acts, so you can spot changes quickly. It’s especially crucial for cat owners, since felines are adept at hiding their pain. Because I work from a home office, I’m around my cats quite a bit, and can usually tell when one of them doesn’t feel well. But anyone who makes a conscious effort to familiarize themselves with what constitutes “normal” behavior for their pet, should be able to discern when they might be ill or in pain.
Prevention is the best “cure” for dental disease in pets. Alas, although you can train a canine to fetch, roll over and play dead, teeth brushing will never be part of his doggie bag of tricks. Same goes for cats. So what’s a responsible pet owner to do, to ensure that their beloved animal’s oral health is up to par?
The first, and really the easiest, is to make sure you take your pet to see your veterinarian at least once a year to have their teeth examined. The AVMA and many vets actually recommend six-month dental checkups for pets. It makes sense, considering that dentists advocate twice-yearly teeth cleaning for people, and unlike our pets, we can brush and floss between cleanings. The frequency your pet will need its teeth cleaned depends upon many things, among them diet, individual breeds and at-home dental care.
Every pet owner should learn how to brush their pet’s teeth, which can extend the time between professional teeth cleanings at the vets. The best time to start a regular brushing routine is when your pet is young. It’s far easier to get puppies and kittens used to teeth brushing than it is for adult animals; nevertheless, you can begin to do it at any age. Most dogs and many cats eventually accept the teeth brushing routine, and some actually enjoy it. I can’t say my cats like me messing with their mouths, but they do tolerate it.
If you’ve never brushed your pet’s teeth before, ask your vet to demonstrate it for you. I had a hard time getting my cats to open their mouths until my vet showed me how to do it, and I couldn’t believe how much easier it was after that! Your vet can also provide you with a special toothbrush and pet toothpaste, or you can buy them at your local pet store. Never use human toothpaste to brush your dog or cat’s teeth though, because it isn’t made to be swallowed. Pet toothpaste comes in poultry, seafood and other “animal-approved” flavors that may make the teeth brushing procedure more palatable.
February may be designated as Pet Dental Health Month, but providing oral care for your dog or cat all year long is an essential part of responsible pet ownership. Here’s to clean teeth, fresh breath and healthy pets!
Read more articles by Julia Williams
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