Pets Around Town: Dental Health for Dogs and Cats

This article was originally featured on Woman Around Town on Nov. 9th, 2011

Have you brushed your dog’s teeth today? Probably not. Let’s face it. Taking care of your pet’s teeth, whether you have a dog or cat, can be a challenge. Yet dental health is as important for pets as it is for humans. So don’t wait for that annual checkup to discover your pet has a dental issue. There are some things you can do.

What are the risks if you ignore your pet’s dental health? Bacteria and tartar buildup in your pet’s mouth may cause inflammation leading to bad breath, gum disease, abscesses and pain. While your pet may not get cavities, he may develop gingivitis, fractures, and loose teeth.

How can you tell if your pet has a dental problem? Bad breath is a big tip off. Also take note if your dog or cat seems to have difficulty eating. Other symptoms include drooling, excessive licking, pawing at the mouth, or rubbing the face against objects.

Your dog may allow you to inspect his teeth. Try holding his mouth and pulling back his lips. Cats, however, are unlikely to sit still for this type of inspection, one reason why observing your cat’s behavior becomes even more important.

Here are some preventive measures you can follow:

Brushing.Start early with preventive care, brushing your pet’s teeth with a special tooth paste made for dogs or cats. Never use toothpaste meant for humans. (In video above, Dr. Goldberg shows how to brush your dog’s teeth).

Dental rinses. These can be squeezed into the pet’s mouth. Okay for them to swallow.

Use chews. Special “greenies” for dogs and cats can help clean teeth. There are also antiseptic raw hide chews for dogs.

Check for color. As pets age, teeth age as well. Your pet’s teeth should be white or off-white. Yellow or brown teeth should be inspected by your veterinarian.

Consider genetics. Just like with humans, some pets inherit bad teeth. If your pet is so blessed, you may need to be particularly vigilant.

Cats have other issues. Cats develop a condition called resorptive lesions, a genetic disease, which often requires extraction.

Watch bones. While some bones are good for your dog, smaller, softer bones, like marrow bones, may splinter and cause fractures.

Special diets. Ask your vet if a special prescription diet may help safeguard your pet’s dental health.

Consider a professional cleaning. Tartar buildup is categorized by numbers, from one through four. At the higher level, a professional cleaning by your veterinarian may be necessary. Be aware, however, that such a cleaning will require anesthesia.

While you aim to safeguard your pet’s dental health, be realistic. Do what you can do—what your pet will let you do. And, most importantly, don’t forget to schedule that annual physical with your veterinarian.

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