Last month we began a conversation about aging in our dogs and cats with a discussion about the aches and pains of aging, arthritis. Another great concern in our senior pets is dental disease. Unfortunately, our pets do not routinely brush their teeth, and over the course of their all-too-short lives, they will experience significant tooth and gum disease. The resulting intolerable halitosis not only makes snuggling under a warm blanket with your faithful friend difficult, but can indicate infection may be spreading through the entire body.
Dogs and cats have similar teeth to humans, though their “fangs” (canine teeth) are longer and much, much sharper. (Ouch!) Like us, they also have incisors, premolars, and molars. Plaque can form on their teeth and they can get severe, painful root decay. Once this occurs, the pet will be reluctant to eat, greatly diminishing the quality of life. Mouth infections can then seed bacteria into the system and lead to damage any where those traveling bacteria choose to park their primitive microbial backsides. If they just happen to get off in the heart (usually on a valve), the damage they cause can lead to congestive heart failure.
For all these reasons, as well as to try to prevent the unpleasant bouquet the dental disease will bring to your pet’s mouth, your vet will check your pet’s dental condition during the recommended annual exam. Doc might also recommend different products and procedures to help improve your pet’s dental status, or may schedule your pet for a full dental cleaning. This procedure must be done under a general anesthetic. (Ever try to get an 80 pound Rottweiler or 12 pound tom cat to hold still while you clean and possibly extract diseased teeth? Not even the adrenaline junkies on the X Games would give that harrowing task a try.)
Your vet can also talk to you from your pet’s very first visit about preventing tooth and gum disease. Just as our grandmothers always told us, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Since our pets cannot do this without our help, it is essential that pet parents begin a dental hygiene regimen as early as possible in the pet’s life, and proper brushing is a big part of that. A pet-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste are helpful, but a child’s soft brush and baking soda can work, too. Also, ask your vet about other dental aids: enzymes added to the drinking water that help break down plaque; treats and foods that “brush” the teeth as the pet eats them; silicone sealants that prevent plaque from forming on the teeth.
We want our pets to live as long and happily as they possibly can, so keep your pet’s pearly whites pearly, white, and disease-free from early life to the golden years.