Just like humans, our companion animals (pets) need regular and consistent dental care – not just to protect from disease but also to make sure their teeth stay healthy and functional for as long as possible.
Dental disease is the most common health condition affecting pets, with 70% of cats and 80% of dogs experiencing some level of dental disease by the time they are three years of age.
It’s important to take care of your pet’s teeth at home, but they also need regular check-ups with a veterinarian to stay on top of their dental health.
Why it’s important to take care of your pet’s teeth
Dental disease can cause significant pain to your pet and, if it advances, can cause tooth and gum infection, inflammation and bone and tooth loss.
Cats and dogs can suffer from dental conditions that many of us would be familiar with in humans – such as dental plaque (a soft, sticky deposit of bacteria that can damage the tooth), dental tartar or calculus (a layer of minerals that have hardened and bonded to the tooth enamel, which if left long enough, can only be removed by professional cleaning), and gingivitis (inflammation and swelling of the gums).
And also just like in humans, preventative dental care is very important for companion animals, to stop these problems from developing, getting worse, and causing issues in other parts of your pet’s body.
What can I do from home?
There are several things you can do at home to help ensure your pet’s teeth and gums are healthy.
The most effective thing you can do – which may seem a bit surprising! – is to brush their teeth. This may seem a little daunting but most animals will get used to their teeth being brushed.
To clean their teeth, squeeze some pet toothpaste onto a microfibre cloth (cleaned and replaced as necessary, and used only for this purpose) and gently rub it over every tooth. Don’t use human toothpaste as this can cause stomach issues for your pet.
Generally, the younger your pet is when you start training them to have their teeth brushed, the easier it is. It is a good idea to introduce tooth brushing gradually, especially if your pet is a bit older. Your veterinarian can give advice related to your specific pet.
There are also special dental diets for both cats and dogs as well as dental chews and toys, which can help to control plaque and tartar. Your veterinarian can give you advice on the most effective products. Another alternative product that your vet may advise is a Chlorhexidine mouth wash or gel. These are used to help reduce the growth of bacteria in the mouth, which can contribute to dental disease.
Regular veterinary care
In additional to these tips at home, it’s important you book in a general health examination with your veterinarian at least once a year, which will include a dental check-up.
This will give your vet a chance to assess your pets’ teeth and gum health and provide advice on anything you need to manage at home.
Your vet may recommend that your pet has a general anaesthesia to allow a full dental examination, cleaning of their teeth, dental x-rays if indicated, and the treatment of any specific problems (such as damaged teeth).
If you have any questions regarding dental care for your pet, talk with your veterinarian or check out the RSPCA Knowledgebase. With the right care and attention from you and your vet, you can keep your pet’s teeth and gums in great shape.
This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers