Many pet owners underestimate the importance of a pet’s dental health. Since pets can’t speak to us, owners often forget they can fall prey to painful dental diseases, too. It’s easy to overlook your fur baby’s oral hygiene until they develop alarming symptoms you can no longer ignore. But with a little bit of at-home care, pet parents can prevent dental diseases from occurring in the first place.
In honor of Pet Dental Health Month this February, let’s take a look at why oral hygiene is so important for our furry companions.
Why pet owners should prioritize dental health
A lack of dental hygiene can result in various health problems. Dental disease causes pets a lot of pain, even if they don’t show it. It’s not a pleasant feeling to know you could’ve prevented their discomfort. Many pets endure pain simply because their owners don’t know how to take care of their gums and teeth. No loving pet parent would want their fur baby to suffer!
Pets have no way of cleaning their teeth by themselves. Cats and dogs can’t pick up a toothbrush like humans can! They rely solely on the help of pet parents to take good care of their oral health. Therefore, owners are responsible for minimizing plaque and scheduling regular checkups and cleanings with the vet.
Owners need to stay on top of their pets’ oral health, otherwise plaque and tartar buildup can turn into something more serious. Left untreated, dental disease can spread to other parts of the body. Harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream via fractures or lesions in the teeth. The bacteria can travel to vital organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Bacterial infections can damage these organs and prevent them from functioning properly—all because of a little plaque.
Common dental diseases in pets
Both cats and dogs are highly susceptible to developing gingivitis. Much like in humans, gingivitis is inflammation that occurs when plaque bacteria makes contact with the gums for too long. Although very common, gingivitis is reversible and easily avoided with proper dental care.
Gingivitis that’s left untreated can progress into periodontal disease. Plaque buildup hardens into tartar, a yellow/white substance that won’t go away with brushing alone. The inflamed gums become infected, and bacteria spreads deep into the bone. Eventually, the affected teeth will loosen and fall out.
Tooth resorption doesn’t typically appear in dogs but is extremely common in cats. This dental disease starts off with lesions growing on infected teeth. The lesions make craters that slowly become larger and let bacteria penetrate deep into the tooth. Affected teeth deteriorate from the inside out, sinking below the gum line until they have completely disappeared. The cause of tooth resorption is unknown, but poor dental hygiene exacerbates the disease.
Warning signs to watch out for
Pets with dental disease can experience a variety of symptoms. Schedule an appointment with your vet if you notice one or more of the following:
- Weight loss
- Dropping food
- Chewing on one side
- Refusal to eat
- Blood in the saliva
- Excessive drooling
- Fractured teeth
- Bad breath
- Irritability or aggression
How to promote good dental health
Pet dental care starts with annual cleanings at your veterinarian. Under general anesthesia, they will remove tartar from the gum line and assess your pet for the early signs of dental disease. Annual cleanings are crucial because vets are trained to detect dental disease before it gets out of hand. Plus, they have all the necessary tools and expertise to give your pet’s teeth a deep clean.
In addition to annual cleanings, pet parents have to keep up with consistent dental hygiene at home. Some pets will tolerate regular brushings. If so, brush their teeth a few times per week with a toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste. Don’t use human toothpaste on pets because it contains ingredients that are toxic to them!
If your pet despises having their teeth brushed, the next best options are dental treats and chew toys. Dental treats have ingredients that chemically react to remove plaque and promote strong teeth. Chew toys are made with durable materials that scrape away plaque and prevent tartar buildup. Treats and toys are fun ways to keep your pet’s teeth healthy!
While February is Pet Dental Health Month, owners should take care of their pets’ teeth all year round. Those who let oral hygiene fall by the wayside will have one miserable fur baby on their hands. Simple daily habits can keep your pet happy and healthy while saving your wallet from expensive dental procedures. Pet dental health deserves proper care as much as our own!