Despite the fact we know that dental hygiene is important in humans we often forget about it in our dogs and cats. Apart from causing bad breath, in the long term dirty teeth can cause discomfort and pain, eventually resulting in other problems in the mouth and more generalized health issues.
Dog and Cat Dentition
Although there are some differences between canine and feline dentition and their dietary requirements also differ, both dogs and cats have evolved with teeth adapted for a largely carnivorous diet. They are born with no teeth and at around a month old their milk teeth begin to appear, these should usually be fully present by 2 months old. Similarly to humans these ‘milk’ teeth are then lost and replaced by permanent adult teeth at around 6 to 7 months of age in both cats and dogs. There may be some variation of the time this occurs between breeds of dog.
Different types of teeth are found in dogs and cats mouths and these include incisors, canines, premolars and molars. Each of these is specially adapted for a particular purpose and all have a specific function whilst the animal is eating.
The Consequences of Dirty Teeth
Dirty teeth do not develop overnight. The gradual build up of plaque to form calculus and tartar can eventually cause the levels of bacteria in the mouth to become problematic. Different dogs and cats may show different symptoms if they are experiencing discomfort in their mouth but some common signs that there may be a problem are:
- Halitosis, more commonly known as smelly or bad breath.
- Damaged teeth or teeth with abnormal coloration.
- Rubbing the face or pawing at the mouth.
- Snappiness or a change in character, particularly if someone is touching an area around the mouth which is painful.
- Changes in eating habits, such as preferences for certain foods and avoiding hard foods which require chewing.
- Attempting to eat without chewing, eating more slowly or favoring one side of the mouth.
- Reddened gums, the presence of blood in the mouth and increased dribbling.
- If poor oral hygiene is a chronic problem and goes on over a long period of time weight loss may become evident.
- Pets with sensitive teeth may also change their behavior when it comes to drinking, as cold water can irritate existing sensitivity.
In addition to the direct effects of dental disease on the teeth the surrounding structures of the mouth can also become inflamed. This is called periodontal disease and is the most common dental disease in both dogs and cats as well as a key cause for tooth loss. There are different factors which can cause periodontal disease to develop, but one of the most important is plaque which accumulates near the gums. Plaque contains a lot of bacteria and can cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. If left untreated this can progress and eventually result in tooth loss.
Examining the mouth in a conscious dog or cat is often complicated and it is easy to miss things, depending on how cooperative the pet is. Often general anaesthesia is necessary for a full examination. In addition to the mouth itself other areas of the head and face should also be examined, such as the salivary glands, jaw, face muscles, lymph nodes and eyes. Bumps under dogs eyes or bumps under cats eyes and other suspicious lumps may be a result of dental problems such as a tooth abscess.
Equally there are also other health conditions which can cause secondary problems in the mouth. It is important that the veterinarian examines the whole animal to establish whether the dental disease is primary or is secondary to another condition.
Did you know that dental disease is also related to other health issues?
In addition to these signs of dental disease seen directly in the mouth poor oral hygiene can also lead to other health problems. One example of this is heart disease, where a clear statistical correlation has been shown between its occurrence and the presence of gum disease. Dental disease has also been linked to kidney disease.
What are the best ways to keep your dog or cats teeth clean?
There are a number of ways you can help to keep your pets teeth clean, and by doing so avoid, or slow the development of dental disease. Dental hygiene routines are best if introduced at a young age, so dogs and cats can get used to the feeling of brushing and mouth washes. Different types of dental homecare can be divided into two categories; active and passive. Active methods, such as tooth brushing where anti-plaque agents are applied directly to the mouth have been shown to be the most effective, although some animals, particularly cats may not tolerate these. Different homecare strategies can include:
Brushing: Daily brushing is an effective way to eliminate plaque from the mouth on a regular basis. It is the most effective way of preventing plaque build-up and also means that any other problems are often picked up on sooner, resulting in swifter treatment. It is important to introduce brushing gradually, ideally from a young age and ensure it is not a stressful experience. Veterinary toothpastes should be used to clean dogs and cats teeth and these are often flavored making them more pleasant for the animal.
Mouth washes/gels: Mouth washes and gels are a good alternative if brushing is not an option. Chlorhexidine based products are the most effective and kill a lot of bacteria present in the mouth. These products can be applied by rubbing them along the edge of the gums with a tooth brush, cotton bud or finger or using a syringe, although this is less effective.
Dental diets: These diets have both mechanical and chemical mechanisms of action. Mechanical effects are related with the way the pet eats the food and its direct effect on the teeth. Some diets may also contain chemicals which help reduce tartar formation.
Dental chews: Cats are less likely to want to chew than dogs and there are fewer products available. Some dog chews have shown a positive effect when it comes to reducing plaque, but it is important to select an appropriate product carefully, based on the scientific evidence behind it. It is important to avoid chews which are too hard and can result in fractured teeth.
Healthy lifestyle and diet: General overall health and optimum nutrition are also both important parts of ensuring healthy teeth.
Does your dog or cat need its teeth cleaning?
When tartar and calculus build up becomes severe or other types of dental disease become evident it is often necessary for dogs and cats to have their teeth cleaned and any additional problems treated under general anesthetic. It is important not to put this off for too long if it is necessary, as undergoing the procedure may help to avoid problems in the future.
Here at Caring Hands a Las Vegas Animal Hospital, we offer dog teeth cleaning and cat teeth cleaning on a routine basis in order to keep your pet happy and healthy. For the costs of pet dental cleaning please contact us directly to make an appointment and for a personalized quote. Our local Las Vegas veterinarian, Dr. Martinez and professional licensed vet technicians are highly experienced and offer the best care for your pet, hence our name Caring Hands Animal Hospital.