Oral hygiene is just as important for pets as it is for people. In fact, 50% of dogs and cats older than three years have gum (periodontal) disease, making it the most common disease suffered by small pets.
Periodontal disease develops when plaque builds up on teeth and hardens into tartar. This creates pockets of space between the teeth and gums where bacteria thrive. These bacteria not only cause problems like painful tooth decay inside the mouth, but can also enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body, harming the heart, liver and kidneys.
Signs and symptoms of early periodontal disease include bad breath, plaque build-up on teeth and red or irritated gums. Signs and symptoms of advanced periodontal disease include tooth discoloration, loose teeth, swelling in or around the jaw area, difficulty eating and drinking or loss of appetite, and dropping toys or food frequently.
Veterinarians say the best way to prevent gum disease is with regular dental care, including professional exams and cleanings and at-home care. There are several steps pet owners can take at home to maintain the oral health of your cat or dog.
One is brushing with a soft-bristled brush, which is recommended daily to keep teeth and gums healthy. There are toothpastes specifically formulated for pets that use a comfortable, soft-bristled brush. Chewing on special toys and treats specially designed to promote oral health is another recommendation. There also is a pet dental diet formulated to decrease tartar.
Veterinarians say pets should avoid chewing on antlers, bones, rocks or knotted rawhides, all of which can fracture the teeth. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends adult pets (age one year and older) have an annual dental exam. For the safety of pets, the AAHA also requires that dental cleanings for cats and dogs be performed under general anesthesia. QCBN
By Sara Olsen