How to look after your pet's teeth01.03.17
Did you know that dental disease is the most common disease that vets see in general practice? Almost every animal will suffer with a varying degree of dental disease at some point in their life, and a lot of pets will need several teeth (and some, all of their teeth!) extracted during their lives. So keep those canines in top condition with our comprehensive tips below.
What are plaque and tartar?
Plaque is that furry stuff you can feel on your teeth when you wake up in the morning. It’s a soft, colourless film where millions of bacteria live, but can easily be removed with brushing.
Tartar is formed when plaque is left on the teeth for more than 24 hours and starts to mineralise. Layers of this mineralised tartar will build up and form hard, brown, crusty deposit on the teeth. Tartar can only be removed with professional scaling and polishing - basically, what your dental hygienist is doing during your visit.
Why are these important?
A build-up of tartar traps bacteria and harmful acids, causing progressive tooth and gum disease. The results are bad breath, gingivitis, loose teeth and a lot of mouth pain.
But the problems don’t stop there. Tartar amounts to a constant source of infection in the mouth, causing tiny balls of bacteria to enter the blood stream and travel to other organs.
The result of this could be a full-blown organ or blood stream infection, or more minor but frequent micro-abscesses in the organs. These micro-abscesses cause chronic damage and can result in organ failure, such as chronic renal failure, heart valve failure and other problems.
So, looking after your pet’s teeth isn’t just about the avoiding that ‘dog breath’, it’s really important for your pet’s organ health. Besides, imagine never brushing your teeth… Yuck! To help you further, we’ve detailed the 4 main pillars of pet dental care below.
A) Regular checks
Your vet can assess if your pet has healthy teeth and gums, and give you pointers on how to keep them healthy. They’ll also recommend and carry out routine dental care, including extraction of diseased teeth. Having your pet’s teeth cleaned before they get into a poor state will help them retain as many healthy teeth as possible, and protect their organs from infection.
B) Brushing their teeth
This is the ‘gold standard’ in taking care of your pet’s teeth and it’s important to do it daily in order to brush off plaque before it mineralises into tartar. Brushing will not remove tartar once it forms, so it’s important to remove plaque daily. I’d recommend using pet toothpaste only – never use human toothpaste.
Kibbled diet (biscuits): Wet (tinned or pouched) food tends to stick to your pet’s teeth, causing faster build-up of plaque, whereas the action of chewing kibble not only stimulates more saliva production but also helps to physically clean the teeth while chewing. For this reason, I’d recommend a kibbled diet, unless your pet has a medical condition that requires a wet food diet.
Prescription diets: There are also diets that have dental care formulae included within the food (e.g. Hills T/D, Royal Canin Dental Diet, Purina Pro Plan Dental Crunch). These can contain enzymes to help break down plaque, anti-microbial agents to reduce bacterial loads, and/or fibres aligned within the kibble to clean plaque off as your pet chews. These are more expensive than most pet food brands but are easy to use and may save you money on anaesthesia and dental cleaning at your vet.
Dental chews: These can help contribute to keeping teeth clean and gums healthy through enzymatic, anti-microbial and chewing action. Be aware that these contain calories so don’t add them to your pet’s diet without taking away some food allowance.
Chew toys and raw hide chews: These can aid in saliva production and scraping action on the teeth. You can also smear pet toothpaste or oral gel onto your pet’s chew toys to add in enzymatic and anti-microbial action. Make sure you supervise the toys and chews to ensure that pieces that could cause obstruction don’t get swallowed.
Bones: A lot of people (including some vets) swear by bones. From my personal perspective, I’ve seen a lot of broken and damaged teeth with their enamel worn off as a result of chewing bones. I’ve also seen bones that have shredded or obstructed everywhere from the mouth to the oesophagus and the intestines. Chewing bones can cause agonising deaths, so I would never allow my own pets to eat them. It’s a contentious subject but I could never, in good conscience, advocate the use of bones for my patients after seeing some really nasty and unnecessary deaths from every type of bone, including raw bones. There are many dogs that have chewed bones for years without problems, but in my mind it is not worth the risk as there are safer things to give your dog to chew.
Plaque-off is a 100% natural, seaweed product that can be added to your cat or dog’s food. It is secreted in their saliva and works to break down the bacterial biofilm on your pet’s teeth.
Mouthwashes formulated for dogs and cats can be added to their water or used to rinse their mouths. There are plenty of home-made recipes and commercial formulas available. Healthy Mouth, for example, has a comprehensive range of washes, sprays and supplements.
Oral gels and toothpastes can be smeared directly onto your pet’s teeth, lips and paws (the latter works well for cats as they will lick it off), or onto food or chew toys. These have enzymatic and/or anti-microbial properties. For animals that need strong anti-microbial action, such as cats with viral infections, I recommend using a product that contains chlorhexidine as it binds to the enamel and provides about 12 hours of anti-bacterial protection. Petdent oral gel or toothpaste is my usual recommendation.
It’s important to adopt a holistic approach to controlling plaque and looking after your pet’s teeth and gums. Daily brushing is by far the most effective tool to combat plaque and tartar, but using other methods of dental care (such as those mentioned above) to complement brushing is a really good idea. The more weapons you have in your arsenal, the more likely you are to win the battle against dental disease.
So just get started and keep going. Looking after your pets’ teeth is one of the biggest favours you can do for them.