Just like us, your dog or cat needs good oral hygiene to ensure that they keep a healthy set of teeth and gums throughout their life.  Worryingly, by the age of three years old 80% of dogs and cats will have some form of dental disease, so the earlier you start thinking about your pet’s dental health the better.

In the early stages, plaque accumulates on the surfaces of the teeth.   Plaque is formed from a mixture of bacteria, food debris and protein in saliva and if it is not removed it will harden to form tartar.  As the layers of tartar build up they start to irritate the gums causing inflammation and infection (gingivitis), seen in your pet’s mouth as redness of the gums along the base of the teeth.  At this stage you will also start to notice that your pet’s breath is becoming rather smelly (halitosis).  If untreated, bleeding of the gums, gum recession and tooth loss will result.  This can cause your pet pain as well as sometimes making eating difficult.

Dental disease can have more serious consequences. Once gingivitis has developed, bacteria can enter the bloodstream causing systemic infection and sometimes causing worsening of pre-existing heart or kidney problems as the bacteria settle on the damaged organs.

So how do we prevent dental disease in our pets?  Just like us, the most effective way to prevent plaque building up is regular tooth brushing with a small soft toothbrush and specially formulated pet toothpaste.  As with most things, the earlier you introduce this into your pet’s routine the more likely they are to tolerate it.  Dental chews and oral gels are an option if tooth brushing is impossible but they are not as effective as a brush.

Dry complete foods help to prevent dental disease and we see far more dental problems in animals fed a tinned or soft diet. Dental prescription diets have kibbles specially designed to help remove plaque and tartar from the teeth as your pet chews its food.  Most veterinary surgeons would not recommend the feeding of bones as we see pets with obstructions in their guts as well as damage to their mouths after bone eating.  However “raw food” diets are becoming increasingly popular.  This is a controversial area with strong views on both sides.  If you are considering this as an option you should seek advice from your veterinary practice.

Getting your pet’s teeth checked on an annual basis by your veterinary practice is very important as they will be able to pick up signs of dental disease before it causes significant problems.  Annual vaccination time is a good opportunity for this to be done.

If there is significant dental disease it may be necessary for your pet to have some dental work performed under general anaesthesia.  Descaling the teeth to remove the build-up of tartar followed by polishing them may be all that is required to restore your pet’s mouth to top condition.  In more severe cases some extractions may be required.

In all cases the sooner you start thinking about your pet’s dental health the better.