Dental Care for Pets
Dogs and cats can suffer from the same dental problems as people. Most pet owners seek regular preventive medicine for their pets including regular visits to the veterinarian for vaccines, heartworm testing, feline leukemia testing, and other medical procedures. One area of their pet’s health that is often overlooked is dental care. Studies show that regular dental care is a factor in providing a longer and healthier life for your pet.
Periodontal disease is one of the most common conditions seen by veterinarians. It starts when plaque and tartar build up in your pet’s mouth. Plaque and tartar are a result of the combination of saliva and decayed food products in the mouth. Bacteria then flourishes in this environment and will infect gum tissue. The teeth may actually be affected by the bacteria, which can result in tooth loss. Bacteria also enter the bloodstream through the large blood supply in the mouth and may cause disease in other organ systems, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Developing an oral hygiene program for your pet begins with a visit to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may suggest that your pet have his/her teeth cleaned and polished. To properly clean the teeth and gums, your pet will need to be anesthetized. Proper anesthetic monitoring will assure your pet a safe procedure. Like people, pets need this professional treatment on a routine basis.
Brushing your pet’s teeth between veterinary visits will help minimize buildup of plaque and tartar. It is important to use a dentifrice made for pets, and a soft brush designed for your pet’s mouth, or a finger brush. Pet dentifrice is flavored to appeal to pets and need not be rinsed. Do not use baking soda or human toothpaste. These often contain ingredients that should not be swallowed. When brushing is not practical, an antiseptic oral rinse can be used. If used daily, these will slow the accumulation of plaque.
Your pet’s diet may also be a factor in oral health. Soft or sticky foods may contribute to buildup and subsequent disease. Dry food, hard biscuits and treats, and new dental diets can be helpful in removing buildup. In addition, there are abrasive dental chews for both dogs and cats. Providing these dental treats is often a good alternative for days when brushing cannot be done.
Signs of Poor Oral Health
- Persistent bad breath
- Bleeding, inflamed or receded gums
- Sensitivity around the mouth
- Pawing at the mouth
- Loose or missing teeth
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty eating and chewing food
As studies show, helping your pet live longer and healthier can be achieved with proper oral care. Be patient, gentle and proceed slowly. Soon both of you will look forward to the time you spend together.
This is the time of year that we as veterinarians must answer many calls about injuries related to our holiday festivities. Defuse holiday dangers.
The following information is provided to help you insure that your pet has a happy and HEALTHY holiday season.
- Chocolate – The most dangerous of all chocolate is unsweetened or baking chocolate. This form of chocolate contains 10 times the toxin theobromine than milk chocolate. As little as 1 ounce can cause death to a 10-pound dog. Theobromine is a compound that is distantly related to caffeine and has toxic symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, muscle twitches, and possible death. If you pet consumes chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately.
- Alcohol – The consumption of alcohol is usually an accidental occurrence. This often occurs with a dog getting into any leftover cocktails or beer from a holiday party. The signs that you might observe include excitability and dizziness at first but may progress to more serious problems including vomiting, lethargy, dyspnea (difficult breathing), and possibly death.
- Christmas Decorations – Many Christmas decorations can pose a health hazard to your pet. These include:
- Artificial trees may be of a concern, if ingested. They are usually made from plastic or metal. Make sure that the tree is secure and can’t be knocked over and chewed on.
- Candles are usually not of a concern but they may pose a fire hazard if they are lit and your pet knocks them over.
- Ornaments can be dangerous if eaten. They can be made of glass or thin metal, which can cause injury to the intestines. The coloring and paints that decorate the ornaments are usually non-toxic.
- Christmas trees & other evergreens contain toxic resins and oils. When consumed these products can be of concern but usually the symptoms are seen as diarrhea and vomiting.
- Tinsel is potentially dangerous, especially to cats. The tinsel will cause intestinal irritation and possible obstruction. Plastic is usually the main component in tinsel and usually is not toxic. Keep tinsel high on the tree, out of reach of your cats.
- Wrapping paper and ribbon are usually non-toxic, but can be ingested and cause intestinal irritation or obstruction.
- Holiday plants may also pose a hazard. There are many rumors and misconceptions regarding holiday plants and their toxic status. Non-toxic plants include: Bayberry, Christmas Begonia, Christmas Cactus, Christmas Cheers, Christmas Dagger Fern, Mistletoe Cactus (see Mistletoe below), and Poinsettia. Plants that are toxic to your pets’ health include: Amaryllis (bulb), Boxberry (leaves), Christmas berry (leaves), Christmas Cherry (leaves/fruit), Christmas Pepper (leaves/fruit), Christmas Rose (all), Chrysanthemum (all), Holly (berry/leaves), Mistletoe (berry/all). **Mistletoe is the most deadly of all holiday plants for both pets and humans.