By Nomi Berger
Did you know that 80% of dogs and cats over the age of 4 have some form of dental disease?
As with people, the main culprit is a build-up of plaque, which eventually hardens into tartar, leading to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontal disease.
The result? A bacterial invasion of the gums and tissues supporting the teeth, damaging them and ultimately causing tooth loss. This bacteria can also invade the bloodstream, potentially damaging the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver.
Did you know that, as responsible pet parents, you can lower your pets’ risks by following a program of conscientious oral care.
Before you start, have the vet examine your pet’s mouth for signs of hardened plaque and/or dental disease. If your pet suffers from either condition, once the dental disease is treated and/or the plaque professionally removed, your home care program can begin.
Ideally, you should begin caring for your pet’s teeth while he’s still a puppy or kitten. Brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective way to control plaque by breaking it up before it hardens into tartar.
Choose only those toothbrushes, tooth pastes and oral gels designed especially for dogs and cats. For the more difficult pet, there are “rubber finger brushes.” If your pet refuses to accept any of these “tools,” use your own finger. It’s the act of brushing or rubbing which provides the most benefit.
Brush your pet’s teeth at the same time every day. Begin slowly, praising him often, stopping if he becomes agitated, then beginning again. Increase the amount of brushing time slowly, day by day.
If your pet absolutely refuses to have his teeth cleaned, add specially formulated antiseptic oral rinses (although they’re more effective when combined with cleaning) to his water. They tend to work better for dogs than cats, as many cats don’t like their taste.
Dogs and cats love to chew, and this has the added benefit of helping to keep their teeth clean. There are dozens of specifically formulated oral care products for both dogs and cats, including dental chews, chew toys and treats.
There are also special dental diets which have been shown to reduce plaque and/or tartar build up in both dogs and cats. They work by physically cleaning the teeth more efficiently than regular food (their kibble is less likely to crumble upon chewing) or by the addition of chemicals to prevent the hardening of plaque into tartar. Because most cats prefer wet to dry food, there are specially formulated diets for those who won’t eat kibble.
Weekly inspections of your pet’s entire mouth can also help avoid both dental disease and costly and invasive medical procedures in the future. Ensure that your vet includes a thorough examination of your pet’s mouth, gums and teeth in each annual check up. (yes, even cats should have annual check ups).
Be alert to such problems as bad breath, drooling, red or puffy, bleeding gums, yellow tartar crusted along the gum line, discoloured, broken or missing teeth, bumps in the mouth, and changes in chewing or eating habits.
If you’ve been neglecting your pet’s dental health up to now, it’s never too late to start.
This article was posted with permission by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels and one work of non-fiction. She lives in Toronto, Ontario with her adopted morkie, Shadow. Nomi now devotes all of her time volunteering her writing skills to animal rescue organizations both in Canada and the USA.