By Dr. Kim Cargill, DVM
In case you haven’t heard yet, February is Dental Health Month for our pets. As a veterinarian, sometimes I struggle with conveying the importance of interventive and preventive dental health for our pets. Unlike the skin on our pets, the teeth and inside the mouth are more “hidden”. Few people open their dogs’ or cats’ mouths on regular basis to inspect their teeth and gum health; however, we are frequently petting and cuddling with our pets so we tend to notice those physical changes much sooner. The problem is that by the time we notice problems with our pets’ dental health, the disease may be far more progressed and more difficult to address.
So the challenge we face as pet owners is learning to notice the early changes in our pets’ dental health and keeping up with maintenance dental care at home. Working with our pets at an early age and on a regular basis with being comfortable having their mouths handled is a good first step. Also, making a routine of brushing their teeth with a soft bristled tooth brush and pet safe tooth paste can make a huge impact in preventive care for our pets’ teeth, similar as it does for our own. What is routine? Our pets’ metabolism is 5-7 times ours and we brush our teeth twice daily. So in theory, we should be brushing our pets’ teeth multiple times daily as well! Clearly that is not a realistic expectation. But to make a tangible difference in our pets’ health we should strive for brushing their teeth at least 3-5 times per week, and daily is ideal.
However, we do understand that for some pets brushing their teeth is simply not an option, either due to the pets’ temperaments or owner limitations. In these cases, there are diets and dental treats that can help in preventive care as well. But not all treats and diets are created equal. To help pet owners understand options they can rely on, the Veterinary Oral Health Council puts their stamp of approval on products that have been proven to truly make a difference.
A list of approved products can be found here on their website as well: http://www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm
In spite of our best efforts in preventive care, we will find many pets whose dental health has deteriorated to the point of needing intervention. Your veterinarian will help to point out concerns during your pets routine physical exams, and help to work out a plan that is best for your pet. That plan may involve a dental cleaning under anesthesia, and pets with advanced disease and infection may require extraction of affected teeth.
With all this in mind, the signs our pets show us that they are having problems with their dental health are often subtle and may go unnoticed until disease is very far progressed. Pet’s rarely stop eating until they are physically unable to or severely ill. That is why it is so important to work with your pets regularly at home and get them checked regularly by your veterinarian to help address concerns early. That is the best way to ensure the happiness for your pets and their families!
Happy healthy pets are more fun for mischievous toddlers!