By Dr. Becker
It’s time for another discussion about dog and cat dental care.
Fortunately, oral hygiene is another of those areas of your pet’s health where you can have a direct, positive impact.
Poor Oral Health in Pets is Epidemic
Seventy-five percent of dogs and cats over the age of three have periodontal disease.
That’s a lot of dirty mouths.
And more often than not, the cause is pet owners who fail to provide daily oral care.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth that progresses in stages.
It starts out with formation of a bacterial film on the teeth called plaque.
When the bacteria die, they become calcified by calcium in saliva, forming a hard, rough substance called tartar or calculus.
This provides a surface upon which more plaque can accumulate.
If left to spread, plaque can lead to inflammation of the gums, causing them to get red and swollen and bleed easily, a condition known as gingivitis.
If tartar buildup continues unchecked, infection can form around the roots of the teeth and below the gum line.
In the final stages of periodontal disease, the tissues surrounding the teeth are destroyed, the bony socket holding the tooth erodes and the tooth becomes loose.
This is a very painful situation for your pet.
Oral Disease Can Create Systemic Disease
Did you know your pet’s oral hygiene isn’t just about the health of his mouth? Studies show oral inflammation and infection can create disease in other parts of the body, including the heart.
Bacteria in the mouth enters the bloodstream through gum tissue that is weakened and compromised. If your pet’s immune system doesn’t destroy the bacteria in the blood, it can reach the heart.
A study conducted at Purdue University shows there is a strong link between gum disease in dogs and endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s valves or inner liningi .
Another way gum disease may lead to heart problems involves certain strains of oral bacteria. Some types of bacteria found in your dog’s mouth produce sticky proteins which can adhere to the walls of her arteries.
As this bacteria builds up, it thickens the walls of the arteries. This narrowing of the passageway through the arteries is closely associated with heart disease.
Bacteria are also known to promote the formation of blood clots which can damage the heart. Studies have shown that oral bacteria, once launched into the bloodstream, seem able to survive attacks by the immune system.
Daily Home Dental Care is Essential
Many pet parents incorrectly assume an annual cleaning by a veterinarian is sufficient to maintain their dog’s or cat’s dental health. Others avoid performing home dental care for their pets because it seems too difficult.
But with a bit of training, the right tools, patience and persistence, most pet owners can learn how to control the plaque in their dog’s or cat’s mouth in just a few minutes a day.
Why put it off? If you start today, a month from now you and your pet will be well on your way to feeling comfortable with your new daily routine. Your pet will have a nice clean mouth, and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re doing everything possible for your furry companion.
Visit the AAHA’s HealthyPet.com site for some excellent tips on how to get started with home dental care for your dog. You’ll find links there to additional information and an instructional video.
Other Essential Elements for Keeping Your Pet’s Mouth Healthy
Another great way to insure your pet’s overall good health is to feed a balanced, species-appropriate, raw diet. Feeding your dog or kitty the food she was designed to eat benefits her overall health, including her oral health.
As your pet chews the bones in a raw diet, they help to scrape away plaque buildup. The cartilage, ligaments and tendons in the raw meat act as a natural dental floss. The tough, stringy consistency of this material rubs against and around each entire tooth, side to side, front and back, and down around the gum line.
Regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian are part of any good dental hygiene program for your pet. Your vet will alert you to any existing or potential problems with your dog’s mouth.
At my hospital, I often point out teeth that need extra attention, even with raw bones and a species-appropriate diet. All teeth don’t accumulate plaque and tartar at the same rate. Identifying the teeth that need a little extra work can really make a big difference in reducing the frequency and necessity of professional scaling. Your vet will also recommend a professional cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.
With the right diet, recreational chew toys and regular home dental care, you should be able to reduce the frequency of professional cleanings for your pet. Dental work can be expensive, and as with any medical procedure, it carries inherent risks.
A Word About Pet Dental Care Products
There are many products on the market that claim to help control plaque and tartar on your pet’s teeth. These products include food, treats, chews, oral sprays, oral gels and water additives.
Some of these products bear the seal of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), which means the manufacturer paid to have the product tested to prove it does what it claims. This is fine, but keep in mind other products without the seal can be just as effective at controlling plaque and tartar.
Some products, of course, are better than others. I’m partial to Mercola Healthy Pets Dental Bones and Gentle Dental Bones because they’re fully digestible and of the highest quality.
If you choose to use dental care products for your pet, it’s important to remember they don’t take the place of daily brushing, a raw species-appropriate diet, or regular veterinary oral health exams.