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Dental Disease and Dental Care in Our Pets

You’ve probably heard this before: periodontal disease is the most common disease in dogs in cats. By age 3, seventy percent of cats and eighty percent of dogs have some level of periodontal disease, and that number is likely underestimated.

How can you tell if your pet has dental disease? A lot of times you can’t – our pets rarely show signs that they are in pain or discomfort. This is a survival mechanism, much like their wild ancestors/counterparts would have. However, sometimes you can get clues such as bad breath, trouble chewing (chewing on one side, dropping food, etc.), crying when yawning, hiding or running from their food, not grooming, acting grumpy, etc. You may also see bleeding due to advanced dental disease, or even a bump under their eye from a tooth-root abscess. But it’s not always that obvious.

Pain aside, periodontal disease has direct links to heart, kidney, liver, and lung issues. It is known that this can shorten your pet’s life by 3-5 years.

So what can you do? If you get your pet as a puppy or kitten, start brushing their teeth right away. You don’t actually have to start using toothpaste or really brushing thoroughly until they are 6 or 7 months of age – but get them used to the act of brushing. Brushing daily would be amazing, but at least 3-4 times per week will be enough to make a difference. Use a finger brush, a children’s toothbrush, or a dog/cat-specific brush. Be sure to use pet-friendly toothpaste as human paste can be toxic (and probably won’t taste as good). Now, brushing is way easier said than done, and this is not always something we can realistically accomplish with our pets. While brushing will be the most effective, thankfully, we do have other options. There are many dental treats, diets, chews, water additives, etc. that can help. While bones and antlers can also keep the teeth clean, they can lead to broken teeth, which can be a dental emergency. Because of this, they are not recommended. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (http://www.vohc.org/) has a list of approved products for dogs and cats. Refer to the website to learn about what that “VOCH seal” means and what products are available for you.

Lastly, having your veterinarian perform dental x-rays and a cleaning (above and below the gums) is also an important piece of maintaining oral health. Just like humans – we brush/floss our teeth and are still advised to seek out our dentists for cleanings and radiographs. And often, we still need to have dental work done because of periodontal disease. Think of a tooth like an iceberg – there is a lot below the gum line and most disease is actually found where you cannot see.  In order to get the proper radiographs and thoroughly evaluate all aspects of each tooth, along with the tongue, gums and back of the oral cavity, anesthesia is required. Our pets don’t understand this procedure and if they are awake or only sedated, this can be frightening, painful, and dangerous. An awake pet would not allow the full evaluation or proper cleaning/polishing.  While anesthesia may sound scary, it’s the best way to address the oral issues in our pets. The American Veterinary Dental College (https://avdc.org/animal-owner-resources/) is a great site to learn more about dental procedures.

Dental disease is often a silent issue in our pets, but it can cause detrimental effects on the rest of the body. Brushing or at-home dental care can significantly reduce periodontal disease to allow your pet to live a happy and healthy life for as long as possible!

Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at [email protected].

Thank you for choosing us to be part of your pet's healthcare team!

With warmest regards,
Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital


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