Dental Disease: The most common health problem seen in dogs and cats!
Periodontal disease in animals is quite similar, although not identical, to the disease process that occurs in people. Anyone who has ever had sore gums or a toothache can tell you just how uncomfortable these things can be! Preventing this pain is the main reason we want to focus on taking better care of our pet’s teeth. No one wants to see their animals in pain! The tough part, it turns out, is recognizing that pain.
Instinctively, most pets tend to cover their pain and continue acting relatively normal. This may be because in the wild, animals that are weak or sick are much more likely to be attacked by a predator, lose their rank in the pack, and simply put, stand much less chance for survival. It is in their best interest to continue acting normal and healthy as long as they can. In our dog and cat population, the scenario is very similar. It does them no good to complain or act weak, so they simply continue to do their favorite activities long after pain has set in, acting fit and healthy. Over time, however, pets will be unable to keep up this act, and we may finally catch on to some more obvious clues. By this time, unfortunately, more severe periodontal disease has set in, and often the disease has progressed to the point that infection has affected the heart, liver, and/or general health of our pets. Frequently, by the time a pet is acting painful, we find that a tooth or often multiple teeth need to be surgically removed to solve the problem.
Below are some of the more difficult to recognize signs of oral pain:
-Chewing on one side of the mouth
-Acting hungry, but then eating less or not at all
-Dropping food when trying to eat
-Refusing to play with toys
-Rubbing the face or pawing at the face
Signs of oral disease that don’t necessarily indicate pain but may be a clue to oral cavity disease include:
When in doubt…check it out! The vague signs of “slowing down” or just “getting older” doesn’t necessarily indicated oral disease/pain but is a good sign that your pet should be examined to rule out dental disease as well as other illness.
So, how can we best prevent oral pain and disease in our pets? Of course, just as in people, start by having a professional cleaning and evaluation if needed. We may be able to tell you if we suspect that your pet has been hiding his/her pain. Interestingly, although your pet may not be good at telling you that he or she is feeling sick or painful, they will certainly let you know when they are feeling better! Time and time again we’ve been pleasantly surprised by a much happier, younger acting pet after the cause of oral pain has been removed! After a professional dental evaluation, follow up with home dental care.
What does home dental care mean? The absolute best way to provide home dental care is to brush your pet’s teeth daily. We have a short how-to video to help you get started. Of course, this is by far the most labor intensive way to care for pet’s teeth but it is also the most effective. There are many veterinary toothpastes and brushes available. You can even use a pediatric human toothbrush with soft bristles. However, it is generally best to avoid use of human tooth paste, as the fluoride can cause GI upset. Veterinary toothpaste is often flavored and quite enjoyed by pets. Sometimes, they enjoy it too much and will want to chew the brush/paste. If this is the case, simply the mechanical action of brushing is good enough without any paste at all. The trick to teaching your pet to accept brushing is to proceed slowly week by week asking your pet to tolerate more. Ideally, you can try to achieve 30 seconds of brushing on the outside surface of all 4 dental arcades, upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right. Our website has a wonderful video regarding home care titled Complete Dental Care.
If brushing doesn’t work for you, then other options include specially formulated dental diets. Often these are prescription diets available at a veterinary office, but there are also some good over the counter options available at our local stores. Several drinking water additives, treats, and toys are also available.
It is important to recognize that not all treats, foods, and chew toys available are created equal. Fortunately for us pet owners; there is an organization, Veterinary Oral Health Council, whose purpose it is to evaluate products through independent testing to determine whether these products actually work! If a product is awarded the VOHC seal of approval, it has been determined that it indeed functions to reduce periodontal disease when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. There is a complete list of these veterinary and retail products available on their website, VOHC.org.
Good luck starting the New Year with a new approach to recognizing the importance of good dental care in your dogs and cats. Please call our office if you have more specific questions about dental care in your individual pet.
-Dr Marcie Hoover