Your pet’s dental and oral health is more than fresh breath and pearly white teeth. Healthy teeth and gums make a big difference in the quality of life for dogs and cats!
Have you’ve ever suffered from a toothache? You know how much pain they can cause. Just like in humans, a healthy smile is an indication your pet’s health is good.
A dog or cat with poor dental health can suffer from:
- Gum Disease
- Chipped and broken teeth
- Infection in the jaw bones
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Difficulty eating
Oral infections can become serious if not treated and may result in your pet’s life being cut short.
In this guide, I am going to cover the most common questions I get asked about veterinary dentistry and what you can do at home to improve your pet’s oral health.
Veterinary dentistry is a specialized branch of both veterinary practice and dentistry. The field is growing, and in the United States, veterinary dentistry is 1 of 20 specialized practices recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Veterinarians are choosing to specialize in dentistry as more pet owners realize a need for the service. There are now certifications and associations specific to veterinary dentistry.
In January of this year, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association took an official position on veterinary dentistry. The organization recognized the importance of the service but also highlighted the need for experienced veterinarians to be performing dental procedures.
Veterinarians will inspect an animal’s teeth during a routine checkup but not all are comfortable performing dental cleanings or surgery.
A mobile vet will inspect your dog or cat’s teeth during a checkup, but because anesthesia is required during a dental cleaning or procedure, vets making a home visit won’t perform cleanings or surgery.
In the past, there have been vets that practiced anesthesia-free dental procedures but the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has stated this practice “does not fulfill the veterinarian’s required standard of care for the animal.”
What does all this mean for you, the pet owner?
Don’t be afraid to ask your vet if they’re experienced with veterinary dentistry. Ask if they use anesthesia for dental procedures and ask if they perform the procedures themselves or delegate them to a technician.
Veterinary associations in North America are working hard to increase public awareness of pet dental health and to help promote it February has been designated Pet Dental Health Month.
Pet Breath & Warning Signs
“Oh, dog breath!” An exclamation so common it’s become a cliche.
Your dog or cat’s breath is never going to be minty fresh, but overly odorous breath is an early warning sign your pet’s dental health could be in danger.
Bad breath is often the most noticeable early indicator of a problem but it’s not the only one. If your pet is pawing at their mouth constantly it means something is irritating them. The last warning sign is your pet refusing food or behaving strangely while eating, this means the issue has become serious and they should be seen by a vet immediately.
Don’t be afraid to inspect your dog or cat’s mouth yourself. It’s not a replacement for a vet checkup, but if you’re between appointments it might be worth a few seconds of your time.
Gently part your animals lips and look for:
- Redness in the gums
- Inflamed gums
- Cracked or missing teeth
- A noticeable buildup of plaque and tartar
- Any signs of tooth decay
What does dental care cost?
You can’t put a price tag on your cat or dog’s health, but at some point, the question of “how much is this going to cost,” will need to come up, so let’s discuss it now.
Unfortunately, the only answer is, it depends. The price is determined by region, clinic, the animals size and weight, and what procedures are necessary. Because there are so many variables the price for a particular pet can’t be guessed.
The home care steps outlined in this post can go a long way in preventing serious complications and cutting down on the potential cost and there is also the option of pet insurance.
Pet insurance can help alleviate the financial burden of pet dental care. However, you shouldn’t assume your pet’s insurance will cover the cost of their dental requirements.
Pet insurance plans can differ widely and what is covered depends on the company issuing it and the animal it’s covering.
It’s not uncommon for pet insurance to only cover dental complications that are caused by an accident and only if dental procedure is carried out within a certain amount of time. Some policies don’t cover dental at all.
I am not saying pet insurance isn’t a worthy investment, but be sure to read the policy and understand what you and your pet are covered for.
Dog and Cat Dental Care at Home
Just like humans, genetics play a big role in the health of your dog and cat’s mouth. Certain individual pets and certain breeds are more likely to encounter oral problems throughout their lifetime.
Diet can also play a role in your pet’s dental health. Recent studies have suggested that dry kibble is better for a healthy mouth. One study found larger kibble was better at reducing tartar build-up in dogs.
Foods, specially formulated for improving oral health, have flooded the pet food market, but how can you know they offer actual benefits or if the claims are just clever marketing.
Don’t believe every claim on a dental product package. The health market for pets has become huge and many products don’t live up to their claims. Some could even be dangerous for your pet.
Before buying a product check the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website to see if it is an accepted product or ask your vet what they recommend.
With proper diet covered what else can you do to protect your pet’s smile?
Never let your dog chew on bones, sticks or rocks. These objects can crack and chip teeth or cut the inside of your dog’s mouth, allowing bacteria to enter and infection to develop.
Rocks pose obvious risks but what about traditional dog toys, like tennis balls? Tennis balls have been shown to erode the crowns of a dog’s teeth. Instead, give your pup toys that are specifically made for dogs.
Here’s the number 1 thing you can do to protect your pet’s oral health:
Have an annual checkup with your vet. Just like vaccinations, dental inspections need to take place annually. Whether you use a traditional vet or a mobile vet, a visual inspection of your pet’s mouth is an essential part of a routine checkup. It’s hard to tell from your pet’s behavior if they are in chronic pain.
Despite popular myth, many dogs and cats will continue to eat regularly regardless of the condition of their teeth and gums. If you suspect your pet might be suffering, do the right thing and book an appointment with their vet.
My last tip for helping maintain healthy teeth and gums is to brush your cat and dog’s teeth regularly. Just like a human’s mouth, your pet’s mouth will benefit from regular care. It’s not always an easy task to accomplish, but it is necessary.
How to clean your pet’s teeth
- Start when they’re puppies and kittens. Similar to socializing puppies and kittens, this is a good habit to introduce them to early.
- For older animals be gradual with introducing the activity and make positive reinforcement part of the process.
- Use a toothpaste specifically made for canines or felines.
- Be gentle and use a soft bristle toothbrush.
- Gently part the animal’s lips.
- Only brush the outside of the teeth, getting the inside will be too difficult for you and your pet.
- Make sure you brush the upper and lower teeth.
- Once a day is ideal but for many pet owners, 1 to 3 times a week is more realistic.
- If you’re stuck check YouTube, just don’t get sucked into cute animal videos and forget to brush your pet’s teeth.
Now that you’re educated in dental care for your pet what are you going to do to make sure your cat or dog has a beautiful healthy smile for years to come?
Will you start brushing their teeth? Change their diet? Or swap their toys and treats for dental health options? Let me know in the comments!
If you have any questions leave them in the comments and I will make sure to answer them.