WITH National Pet Smile Month under way, leading vet charity, PDSA, is reminding owners of the importance of taking care of their pets’ teeth. Dental disease is one of the most common diseases affecting pets, but it can be prevented with routine dental care. PDSA senior veterinary surgeon Elaine Pendlebury said: “Dental disease causes pain in the mouth and can trigger health problems around the body, including in the kidneys, heart valves, liver and lungs due to the spread of bacteria through the blood system.
“Tooth-brushing is the best way to prevent pet dental disease and this can be a daily, stress-free procedure if it is begun early in their life.”
As in humans, plaque – a mixture of saliva, blood cells and bacteria – is first deposited on the teeth. The bacteria attack the gums, causing them to become red and inflamed (called gingivitis). Over time, the plaque is mineralised, which means it becomes hard, forming tartar. This tartar sticks to the teeth and starts eroding the gum tissue. The gums separate from the teeth, creating small pockets where more bacteria, plaque and tartar build up. This in turn leads to bone loss and eventually the teeth fall out.
The best way to prevent plaque from building up is to brush cats’ and dogs’ teeth every day. If this is begun when they are kittens or puppies, it will become normal for them and part of their daily routine. But pets can be introduced to tooth brushing at any time. It is a good idea to find out how to do this properly by talking to the pet’s vet. This is also important because it is recommended to get an older pet’s teeth checked out first of all.
This is because if there is dental infection this can be painful and tooth-brushing might not be recommended until the problem has cleared up. Elaine explains: “Always use a special toothbrush and toothpaste, sold for cats and dogs. Wearing gloves, begin by gently lifting your pet’s lip and gently touching their teeth. “For this, you can use a finger toothbrush or flannel. “Just touch a few teeth at first and praise your pet when calm. “When they are happy with this, you can add a small amount of pet toothpaste to your finger.
“Let them sniff it, and then gently apply some to their teeth. Again, praise calm behaviour. Next, let them investigate a pet toothbrush and, when they seem relaxed, gently touch their teeth with it. Finally, combine the toothbrush with the toothpaste.
“By building up slowly, step by step, your pet will gradually become used to having their teeth brushed and won’t be scared of it. The same technique can be used with older animals, but it may take a little longer for them to become used to each step. Remember to think about your pet’s diet as well. “Your vet will be able to recommend what would be good for your pet’s teeth.”
Owners should be aware of the signs of possible dental disease, which include the following:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Yellow/brown teeth
- Red or bleeding gums
- Food falling from the mouth when eating
- Lack of interest in food
- Weight loss
- Rubbing the face with a paw, or along the ground
- Drooling and difficulty in swallowing
Any pet owner spotting any of these signs should contact their vet immediately.
‘Photo courtesy of Joanne Strong, www.jkphotography.org.uk’