February is Pet Dental Health Month. Periodontal disease affects over 70% of all dogs and cats over the age of 3 and can lead to problems such as:
- Dental abscesses
- Tooth loss
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
The good news is that periodontal disease can be prevented. Before starting any preventative measures it is worth getting your pet’s mouth checked by a vet as if periodontal disease is already present, your pet may require veterinary treatment first. This is likely to involve a full mouth assessment under general anaesthetic, which may include x-rays of any problem teeth, extraction of badly diseased teeth and removal of tartar and plaque with an ultrasonic scaler.
To prevent periodontal disease causing a problem in the first place, or to keep your pet’s mouth healthy after a dental procedure there are many things that you can do.
Tooth brushing is the single most effective way to prevent periodontal disease and is not as difficult as many people think. It is important to choose a toothpaste designed for pets, as human toothpaste is high in fluoride which is dangerous if ingested (dogs and cats do not know to spit out after brushing!).
For large dogs, a standard soft toothbrush can be used but for smaller dogs and cats a specially designed toothbrush is better. It is important to brush close to the gumline to disturb the plaque which builds up there and leads to periodontal disease. Once daily brushing is best.
If you are unable to brush your pet’s teeth for any reason, the suggestions below may help but they will never be as effective as brushing.
Dental diets will only work if they are properly chewed, so the kibbles tend to be larger than standard dry diets. Normal dry foods shatter when they are bitten into, but dental diets have fibres lined in a way which makes them act a bit like a toothbrush when they are bitten into. They also contain nutrient levels which can reduce formation of tartar (calcified plaque).
Dental chews can be effective at reducing dental disease if they are properly chewed – they will not do anything if your dog chomps them down in 2 mouthfuls! They are often very high in calories so are not recommended if your dog is overweight and your dog’s food will need to be reduced accordingly. Treats (including dental chews) should not make up more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie intake.
Dental chew toys
Some toys are designed to act a bit like a toothbrush, with grooves which you can add toothpaste to. These will not be as effective as brushing your dog’s teeth but may be a way of getting toothpaste on the teeth if your dog won’t let you touch their mouth.
Plaque-off is a seaweed extract which can help to stop plaque (the cause of periodontal disease) sticking to the teeth. It is most useful in dogs and cats which will not tolerate tooth-brushing. As seaweed is high in iodine, this product is not suitable for cats with an overactive thyroid gland.
By keeping your pet’s mouth healthy, you will be helping to keep their whole body healthy. Starting toothbrush training as soon as you get your new puppy or kitten will help make the procedure a normal part of life.