Time to check your pet’s teeth
Unfortunately, these maladies of the mouth are not human-specific. Dogs and cats can suffer severe dental problems when their oral hygiene isn’t a priority of their owners.
“We do see dogs and cats with rotten teeth and painful mouths,” said Dr. Michelle Gross of Alpine Veterinary Practice in Dillon.
“Sometimes we see tartar a quarter inch thick; we also see gingivitis, which can allow bacteria into the bloodstream,” Gross said.
Many pet owners don’t know that maintaining good dental health for their dogs or cats is an important weekly responsibility, Gross said.
Periodontal disease is now the No. 1 diagnosed problem in dogs and cats older than age 3. Animal advocates have therefore designated February National Pet Dental Health Month to call attention to the problem.
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“It’s amazing how much better a pet feels after a dental cleaning and polishing,” said Dr. Mary Hernandez, president of the American Veterinary Dental Society.
“Pets can’t talk or express pain in the way humans can, and dental disease often goes undetected for months or even years, making preventive care, dental cleanings and annual checkups all the more necessary,” Hernandez said.
Three easy steps can get pets on the right track to good dental health: First, take your pet to the veterinarian for a dental exam and a cleaning under anesthesia. Then begin a home dental care routine, including good nutrition and regular brushing. Lastly, continue a schedule of regular checkups.
“Daily cleanings would be best, but we realize not everyone has the time for that,” Gross said. “A good goal would be to brush the animal’s teeth weekly.
“Don’t use peoples’ toothpaste, because it’s not meant to be swallowed, but the animal doesn’t know that. There are toothpastes especially for animals that come in tasty flavors like seafood and poultry,” she said.
Gross admits that many pets may be reluctant to let their owners to play dentist. However, getting a pet used to a regular brushing routine at an early age lays the groundwork for lifelong success in maintaining good oral hygiene, Gross said.
“I have known some cats that do really well,” Gross said. “Some of them love a spinning brush on their gums, but that’s the exception. It’s one of those things that, with some cats, just can’t be done. Start with a few teeth at a time, and, if everybody loses their patience, come back to it another day.”
If your pet is still completely uncooperative after many attempts at brushing, your veterinarian can help.
Most of the factors that cause dental problems for humans are the same for pets. Problems begin when food particles and bacteria build up in the mouth, forming plaque and mineralizing into tartar, which can lead to gingivitis and irreversible periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease can lead to other problems, including tooth decay, bad breath, bleeding gums and tooth loss. Bacteria that cause periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to the heart, liver, kidney and lungs.
So, in the spirit of National Pet Dental Health Month, give your pet a brushing. It may not enjoy the process, but it will enjoy the benefits of good health. And, with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you’ll greatly improve your pet’s chances with the sassy chocolate lab across the street.