Time to brush up on pets’ dental health

Preventative veterinary medicine is becoming much more common, with vaccination, neutering, flea and worm treatments undertaken routinely by most pet owners. But how many are as proactive about their dogs’ and cats’ dental health?

On a recent camping trip, I found myself up close and personal with my own dog Alfie’s halitosis, and on discovering a damaged molar tooth, I strengthened my resolve to brush his teeth daily again. I had started with best intentions of daily brushing, a routine that had lapsed into a less-than-weekly event that often correlated with him eating something particularly offensive.

Many factors contribute to dental disease, from diet and trauma to breed and age, but there are things we can do to help prevent and treat it.

Sarah Haggie, Robson and Prescott vet

Dental disease will affect most pets and can be a source of chronic pain and discomfort. Most will not show any outward signs. Things to look out for are difficulty eating or eating on one side, pawing at the mouth, salivation, weight loss, poor grooming, tartar and gum inflammation, and death breath.

If there is infection, it can allow bacteria into the bloodstream and cause infections in the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver, so dental problems should never be ignored.

Many factors contribute to dental disease, from diet and trauma to breed and age, but there are things we can do to help prevent and treat it.

Tooth-brushing is the best way. Both dogs and cats will tolerate brushing if started as a routine at an early age. A soft pet toothbrush and pet toothpaste, or just water, will help to remove plaque and so reduce tartar build-up and associated inflammation and infection. Human toothpaste should not be used.

Regular dental checks with your vet are advised, and if necessary, scaling and polishing, repairs and extractions, with the aim to maintain cleaner teeth with regular brushing. It is far better to address issues earlier.

Good-quality, complete dry foods are recommended over wet foods as the latter tend to stick to the teeth, allowing plaque and tartar to form quickly. Often dry foods have specific kibble sizes and shapes to help clean the teeth and contain enzymes to reduce plaque formation.

Dental chews can be useful so long as owners are aware that they contain quite a lot of calories and adjust diet accordingly. Bones and harder chews can cause tooth fractures and splinters and cause problems elsewhere.

Armed with a new dog toothbrush, I am now brushing Alfie’s teeth every day and hope that other pet owners will be doing the same.

By SARAH HAGGIE, Vet