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Why is Dental Care Important?

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Oral disease is a serious problem in our pets, and can be caused by the food our domestic pets are fed. None of those teeth cleaning bones, tendons, fur and feathers they would eat in the wild can be found in a soft food pouch. Due to lack of proper dental care, dogs and cats can show signs of oral disease by the age of 3! The result is bad breath, dribbling from the mouth, head shaking and pawing due to pain, and eventually refusal to eat entirely.

So what happens in my pet’s mouth?

Imagine this: you eat porridge followed by rice pudding all day every day, and you never brush your teeth. You will end up with a severe build-up of plaque, which is a yellow or white deposit consisting of bacteria and food particles that form around the surface of the tooth. This will become hard, yellow or brown and is then referred to as tartar. Tartar starts at the base of the tooth and, with time, can cover the entire surface.

What’s the result of this?

Bad breath (called halitosis), gum inflammation (called gingivitis) and infection causing redness, swelling and tenderness of the tissue. This infection can progress all the way down into the root of the tooth, where there will be a build-up of pus and the formation of an abscess. The infection will also wear away tissue from the gum and the bones that hold the tooth in place and from the tooth itself. This will cause a loosening of teeth and crumbling of the tooth enamel. After a long period of being in agonising pain due to gingivitis and infection, the tooth will eventually fall out. But before that, the bacteria and the poisons they produce will have made their way into the bloodstream, reaching the heart, liver and kidneys – causing severe damage there.

What can be done to help my pet?

If your pet shows any of the above signs, an appointment with your local Medivet practice should be made. Your vet will put your pet on antibiotics to get rid of the bacteria affecting the gum first. Then they might have to take a dental X-ray to see whether there are any tooth root abscesses. Any loose and severely affected teeth will have to be removed. The rest will be scaled with an ultrasonic descaler to remove all the tartar. Then teeth will be polished to leave a smooth surface which will slow down the build-up of plaque in the future. All this will be performed under general anaesthetic. After another course of antibiotics and pain relieving medication, you will find that your cat or dog will be much happier, the bad breath will be gone and they will enjoy their food much more.

What can I do to prevent dental disease in my pet?

As always, prevention is better than cure. The single most effective way to keep your pet’s teeth clean is to brush them regularly as you do your own.

This should be done daily and should be started at a very early age so your pets can adjust early enough and will not feel intimidated by the routine. At the first session, wrap a piece of gauze around your finger and gently rub their teeth for a few seconds.

Don’t forget to give them rewards afterwards! This could be a food treat, a good cuddle or some play time. The next day you do the same, just a bit longer. You increase the time spent cleaning your pet’s teeth daily until all the teeth are being dealt with at each brushing. Then you introduce a toothbrush instead of the gauze. There are many different types of brushes for different species.

There are toothbrushes which fit over the end of your finger for cats and small pups as well as proper brushes specifically designed for animals. There are also toothpastes for animals on the market. They support the cleaning effect of the brush with abrasive and enzymatic action.

It’s VERY important not to use human toothpaste, which contains fluoride, on your pet as it is highly toxic to them. Animal pastes must be safe to swallow and usually come in different flavours such as chicken or beef – much more enjoyable than mint! If you manage to introduce a daily brushing routine for your cat or dog, this will keep their teeth for much longer and live a much happier and healthier life.

If your pet does not let you brush their teeth, the second best option is a dental dry diet which contains natural fibres that work like a toothbrush and scratch off the plaque while they eat. The extra chewing on the dry diet also helps control infection because it stimulates the production of saliva, which has natural antibiotic properties. There are also dental chews, mouthwashes and antibacterial gels that can help reduce plaque deposits and prevent infection.

Please contact your Medivet team by using our online practice finder, to discuss the best options for your pet. A check-up at least once a year at your local practice is essential to make sure any dental problems are spotted at an early stage.

Posted November 20, 2015 by Sarah Allen in Preventative Healthcare

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