We all love our pets and want to do what we can to keep them healthy and happy and a part of that care is their dental health! Did you know that most pets have a form of periodontal disease by the age of three?
Are your pets experiencing any of the following symptoms?
- Bad breath
- Loose or broken teeth
- Painful or bleeding gums
- Decreased appetite or avoiding harder food/treat
- Drooling, out of their normal amount
If yes, your cat or dog may be showing signs of periodontal disease. We will touch on what the disease is, what it can lead to, and how we as pet parents can help them work off the plaque and tartar. There are many options to choose from to find what works for you and your furry family.
Why is preventing periodontal disease so important?
After consuming a meal, it takes only a few hours for the bacteria, saliva, and food particles in the mouth to become plaque. It may surprise you to know that it only takes around 24 hours after eating to form tartar on their teeth. Tartar is the result of hardened plaque if it has not removed. This tartar not only builds in clear sight but also below the gum line causing inflammation and reeking havoc on our loved ones’ dental structures and can lead to infection.
If your pet is experiencing the symptoms of the disease along with a fever and weight loss, this can be signs that it is affecting multiple organs instead of just one part of the body, a systemic infection. This is due to the incredible ease of bacteria, from the plaque and tartar in the mouth, entering the bloodstream affecting the heart, liver, and kidneys. The bacteria in the heart leads to infection and inflammation in the interior (endocarditis) as well as damaging the valves. Unfortunately, there is an increased chance of our little friends getting heart disease when periodontal disease is present. The kidneys and liver run into the bacteria as their function is to filter the blood and remove harmful components like toxins and bacteria. The resulting infection leads to the poor performance of the filtering function causing systemic infection and this is when we may see our pets quite sick, not acting themselves, and even lashing out in pain.
Five ways to fight back against tartar!
As part of their ongoing oral care, us pet parents have so many choices these days and something to fit everyone’s schedules day or night and what each of us are comfortable with. Some processes may work for one pet, but not for another and some pets may need multiple interventions to get the job done.
The Traditional Toothbrushing
Brushing is always the recommended technique to try first for dental care and there are a variety of different brushes and toothpastes, available in different sizes and flavours to find your pets’ favourite. When first starting out, it is best to take it slow, introducing them to each different product and giving lots of praise and rewards, while trying to have them remain calm and happy as possible. You can start by introducing just your finger to their gums and teeth and then put toothpaste on your finger, and finally once comfortable the toothpaste and the toothbrush combined. A newer product out there is dental wipes, though the method and function is the same. Sometimes its best to do in quadrants to give them (and you) a break. This is especially a good idea with puppies and kittens and this will help get them acclimated to it. The best time to do the brushing is after their last meal to prevent as much bacterial growth overnight, though for many of us just getting it done regularly is an accomplishment to be proud of.
Water additives are a great option to add on to your dental care routine, especially those with a busy schedule who may not be able to fit in a toothbrushing regularly. This option takes very minimal time or energy but still helps the teeth and gums daily, as recommend by health professionals. The products are typically odourless, colourless, and tasteless so your pets do not even realise they are taking care of their teeth and it will not decrease water consumption, keeping them hydrated. The specially formulated ingredients help break up existing plaque and tartar while also helping to prevent new plaque from forming. An added benefit with clean teeth is much better smelling breath. This results in improved dental health overall by simply adding the recommended amount to your pets’ water.
Oral supplements for dental health, similar to water additives, is a relatively new dental care option. Just like water additives you simply add the recommended amount either directly in the mouth or to the food. The two most common forms are an oral spray or a powder. Most spray forms would be used either before or after a meal and normally twice a day. The powder form is a food additive, may be given once or twice a day (always follow the directions on label). The ingredients in the products will interact with the saliva to clean the teeth, keep plaque and tartar at bay, and maintain balance within the oral bacteria resulting in fresh breath. This is another alternative if brushing cannot fit in your schedule, though some picky eaters may not like the addition to their food and some may not cooperate with the oral spray. It is best, just like introducing toothbrushes, to take it slow with a lot of praise and rewards and know that not every method is going to work for every pet. That is what’s so great about the growth in dental care options.
Dental Toys and Chews
Chews and dental toys are great at utilizing the natural way cats and dogs chew to help alleviate the plaque and tartar. Since many see these as as special treat or toy, they are seen as high rewards and pets will really enjoy working on these options and clean their teeth at the same time. Many toys have “nubs” or “points” that help massage the gums and work off plaque, teething toys also fall under this group because they love the feeling of the toy against their gums, keeping them comfortable and clean at the same time. As always, when introducing a new chew its best to supervise to ensure this type of dental care is suitable for your furry friend. If they are able to work pieces off the toy, this may not be the option for them as we never want to risk choking or gastrointestinal blockage. Always follow the products’ guidelines as many have options for puppies, seniors, and extreme chewers to keep everyone safe and healthy. If unsure, speak with one of our healthy pet care specialists to pick out the right one.
Feeding bones is a great way to help work the plaque and tartar off teeth, massaging the gums and the pets absolutely love it. Many people have their fears and reservations, but that’s why we are here to help you navigate. Once again, this method uses the natural mechanics of dogs and cats chewing to help their teeth. To avoid injuring teeth, choking hazards, gastrointestinal issues there are a few basic guidelines to follow:
- Its always recommended to feed raw bones only, cooked bones become hard and brittle and more likely to splinter, causing a choking hazard or worse a perforated bowel.
- The bone should be completely digestible and non-weight bearing.
- Typically, you would want to avoid leg bones as they hold up a substantial amount of an animal’s weight and are very dense, so can easily chip a tooth.
- You want to make sure bones are the appropriate size and density for your pet. A good rule of thumb is that the bone should be larger/longer than their head and should be able to feel some give if you bend it over your knee. If too small they may try to swallow it whole and choke, if too big it may be too dense for them and damage their teeth or jaw.
- For cats and small dogs some recommendations would be chicken and duck bones like feet and necks. Rabbit feet are also a good size and option for those with allergies. For medium sized dogs, good choices would be chicken backs, turkey necks, or a kangaroo tail. Beef and pork ribs, beef knuckle, lamb necks or turkey necks are also great options for larger breeds.
Bones are typically recommended to feed twice a week to keep up with dental care, but each pet is different. Always keep an eye on their stool and its consistency; their stools should be firm but not too hard and they should not struggle or strain to defecate. If they are showing signs of constipation decrease the amount of bone you’re feeding.
With so many options out there to keep our pets’ teeth shining you’re bound to find the right product(s) for you and your pets and as always, our healthy pet care specialists are here and happy to help guide you or answer any questions!