You come home from a long day at work so excited to see your loyal, dedicated, unfaltering best fur baby friend that has been waiting patiently all day to see you. Their adorable, little pink nose, their relentless wagging tail, cute hello barks and sweet, slobbery kisses are the best things to come home to after a long day. You lean in for a big hello kiss, and your pet’s breath stops you in your tracks. How could this adorable, sweet moment be ruined by such horrible, pungent breath?
If you’ve ever thought, “My dog has bad breath,” you are not alone. I commonly see the case of horrible breath at my small animal hospital, and my pet parents learn that this is the most common clinical sign of periodontal disease in dogs and cats. Recognizing the importance of dental health in our pets is imperative for their overall health and well-being. Just like in humans, poor dental health can result in serious health issues for our pets, such as heart disease, increased risk of cancer, increased risk of diabetes and pancreatic disease, amongst other dog diseases.
So what can we do as pet owners to ensure our pets live longer and happier lives by preventing periodontal disease in dogs and cats? Recognizing the signs of periodontal disease and having your pet evaluated by your veterinarian is the first step in improving your pet’s oral care and overall health.
Clinical Signs of Periodontal Disease
The following are some clinical signs that your pet may be suffering from periodontal cat or dog disease:
- Halitosis (bad breath). Persistent bad breath is generally the first sign my pet parents notice.
- Gums that bleed easily. Is there blood on your pet’s bones or toys? This is a sign of possible gingivitis that should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
- Changes in eating behaviors. Is your pet is eating slower, or do they chew only on one side of their mouth? These can be signs of pain and possible periodontal disease in dogs and cats.
- Loss of appetite. Always have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian if she is not eating.
- Pawing at the mouth. This can be a sign of oral pain.
- Sensitivity around the mouth. If your pet no longer allows you to rub their chin or mouth area, this may be a sign of discomfort due to dental disease.
- Loose or missing teeth.Rotting teeth may come loose or fall out.
- Yellow or brown hardened material on the tooth. This is usually tartar and needs to be cleaned professionally by your veterinarian with a scaler and ultrasonic cleaner.
- Discoloration of a tooth. This may be a sign of a tooth root abscess or decaying tooth.
- Purulent exudate (pus) around the tooth. This may be a sign of an infection.
- Gums that are inflamed (red), hyperplastic or receding. This may be a sign of gingivitis.
- Swelling under the eye. This may suggest a possible tooth root abscess and needs to be addressed immediately by your veterinarian.
- Constant nasal discharge. This may be a sign of periodontal disease.
- No signs at all. Many pets will not show any clinical signs that they are suffering with periodontal disease. It is imperative to visit your veterinarian for a thorough examination and dental cleaning annually or biannually.
Proper Dental Care and Dog Disease Prevention
Now that we can recognize periodontal disease in our pets, what can we do help maintain proper dental care and prevent other dog diseases from developing? There are many steps you can take at home to not only improve your pets’ oral hygiene, but also to improve their quality of life. The following are some great ways to improve dental care, and your pet’s overall health:
- At-home dental care. The single most important measure you can take to prevent periodontal disease in dogs and cats is to start brushing their teeth. Whenever I see new puppies and kittens, I motivate my clients to start teaching them how to tolerate and even enjoy getting their cat and dog teeth cleaned. If you have an adult pet, although more challenging, I encourage you to try to start cleaning their teeth using lots of positive reinforcement. The key is to use a soft-bristle toothbrush and pet-formulated toothpaste. It is important to make sure the toothpaste is specifically made to be safe for pets, as they normally swallow the toothpaste. Follow up with a proper rinse that is pet-safe to finish the cleaning. I recommend brushing every day, but if you can do it twice weekly, you are way ahead of the game.
- Dental rinses and wipes. Use dental rinses or wipes daily.
- Prescription dental diet. Dental diets are formulated for reducing the amount of plaque and tartar that accumulates on the teeth, and in some cases, may even prevent serious oral disease. The larger kibble is composed of fibers that actually scrub the teeth’s’ surface to reduce plaque. Ask your veterinarian if a prescription dental diet is appropriate for your pet. I commonly prescribe Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care Chicken Flavor Small Bites Dry Dog Food and Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care Chicken Flavor Dry Cat Food.
- Dental chews. One dental chew or treat a day keeps the veterinarian away! I love the Hill’s Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews Dog Treats. The unique shape of these treats work like a toothbrush and dental floss all in one to reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
- No sugars. Avoid treats that are high in sugar, as they may worsen or cause more dental health problems.
- Veterinarian dental check-ups. Visit your veterinarian for a thorough dental cleaning and examination annually or biannually. I need to stress that even if you are brushing your cat’s or dog’s teeth regularly, it is still important to get them in at least once a year for a proper teeth cleaning under anesthesia with an ultrasonic scaler and polisher. Just like us, pets need a thorough cleaning that removes the plaque and tartar under their gum lines that you cannot reach with a toothbrush. The oral examination is imperative to check for cat or dog disease and ensure dental and overall health.
I hope this helps inspire all my pet parents to take the best care of their pets’ teeth. I know how much my clients and I adore and love their pets. As keeping them healthy and living a long life is top priority, dental health should be part an integral part of their routine care.