If your pet’s breath has you holding your nose, it may be time for a visit to your vet. Bad breath in dogs and cats can be a sign of serious health problems, ones that can damage your pet’s teeth and gums and even threaten their internal organs.
Just like in humans, oral hygiene plays a critical role in your pet’s overall health. Unfortunately, many dog and cat owners forget to include regular dental check-ups and cleaning in their pet care routines. As a result, the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) reports, cases of gingivitis and periodontal disease in dogs and cats have become widespread. The American Veterinary Dental Society agrees, reporting that more than 85 percent of dogs and cats show signs of some type of oral disease by the age of four.
So what can pet owners do to take care of their pets’ oral, and overall, health?
First, make sure to include a dental check-up in your pet’s annual exam. Your vet can check your dog or cat for early signs of periodontal disease and recommend a proper course of prevention and treatment.
Second, know the signs of oral disease in dogs and cats. The early signs of dental problems in pets include:
- bad breath
- tartar build-up or discoloration on teeth
- abnormal drooling or chewing
- swollen, receding, or bleeding gums
- broken, loose, or abscessed teeth
- changes in eating habits, including reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- signs of pain around the mouth (wincing, pulling away from touch, growling/aggressive behavior when touched)
If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, take them to your vet for a check-up.
Third, include regular brushing as a part of your pet’s grooming routine. You can purchase special toothbrushes and toothpaste for your pet, and even special foods, treats, and chew toys designed to help prevent the accumulation of plaque, tartar, and calculus on their teeth. Your vet can recommend the best products for your pet’s needs.Most pets will be wary of having their teeth brushed at first, so be patient and try to make the process fun with special treats and lots of praise! The beef-flavored toothpaste won’t hurt, either.
Fourth, be prepared for your pet’s dental treatment. Professional teeth cleaning is a bit more complicated for dogs and cats than it is for people. Most importantly, your pet will need to be put under general anesthesia for the cleaning. This is where the majority of the risk – and the cost – of the procedure comes in.
Depending on your pet’s age, your vet might recommend conducting blood tests, radiography, or other diagnostic tests to make sure your pet’s liver, kidneys, and heart are healthy and strong enough for anesthesia.
Once your pet is comfortably asleep under anesthesia, your vet will use ultrasonic and hand scaling to remove tartar and calculus build-up from the teeth and will take radiographs to detect any cavities that need to be filled or any root canals that can be repaired. If your pet has any teeth that are broken or diseased beyond repair, they will need to be extracted; this will involve stitches and some extra recovery time, during which your pet will need to be on a soft food diet. Finally, your vet will polish your pet’s teeth to slow down the formation of any new tartar, plaque, and calculus.
Professional dental cleaning and repair in pets can be expensive, ranging from $200 to $1000 depending on the state of your pet’s mouth, and most pet health insurance plans won’t cover general oral healthcare unless your pet injured his teeth or mouth in an accident. So dental health prevention is truly your best option to keep your pet – and your wallet – happy and healthy!