Your cat has begun to avoid his favorite dry food, and your dog’s breath is so strong and foul other dogs keep their distance when he is around. These conditions may appear normal, but they are signs that your pet may be suffering from dental problems. Periodontal or gum disease is the most common dental ailment in cats and dogs. According to the American Veterinary Society, more than 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs suffer from this condition from the time when they are three years old.
Characterized by infection and inflammation of the gums and tissues surrounding the teeth, periodontal disease develops in pets the same way it does in humans: through a buildup of bacteria-filled plaque and tartar on the teeth. The resulting infection causes a strong breath and bleeding of the gums, which start to recede. If not treated early, this disease could affect the teeth, which become loose and fall. In rare cases, the infection may also harm the heart, liver or kidneys.
In its early stages, periodontal disease only occurs in the gums and can be easily treated. In more advanced stages, it erodes the ligaments and bones around the teeth, and the consequences are irreversible. The best option is a preventive dental care program designed to remove plaque buildup. And the sooner you adopt it, the better it will be for your pet.
Photo: Andres Rodriguez / 123RF Stock Photo.
Take a good look at your pet’s mouth!
Ideally you should inspect your pet’s mouth once a week. Start by lifting the lips and examine the teeth and gums. The animal may resist, but be patient, he/she will gradually get used to it. You will need to take enough time to review the following:
Breath. Contrary to general belief, unpleasant breath is not healthy and could be the first sign of gum disease or problems with internal organs.
Gums. They should be pink and shiny. Some animals have dark spots or pigment in the gums. This is ok. If the gums look red, ulcerated or bleeding, it is a sign the animal is sick and should be examined by a veterinarian.
Only for cats: Check for lesions in, or slightly below, the gum line. These injuries cause gum redness, swelling and pain. When affected, cats are often reluctant to eat hard food. Fortunately, if detected early, these injuries can be treated, but as they progress, they will require a tooth extraction or a root canal.
Color. Yellowish tartar is commonly found in animals over two years old, especially in the back teeth. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and must be removed by a veterinarian.
Inflammation. This could indicate an abscess or tumor. If you notice any swelling, take your pet to the vet.
Broken teeth or exposed pulp. A red or brown stain on the surface of a tooth fracture, known as the pulp, can be very painful and can cause infection and abscesses. Seek treatment with the vet as soon as possible.
While regular screenings will help you detect the disease before it spreads, some preventive measures may protect your pet from problems with their teeth and gums. A first step is to brush your pet’s teeth every day or on alternate days. Brushing removes the accumulation of plaque that causes periodontal disease. In addition to regular brushing, follow these instructions:
Include hard, dry food in your pet´s diet. Although dry food does not clean the animal’s teeth, it will not become trapped between the molars as it happens with soft food.
Give your pet chewing toys. Raw hides, fresh raw bones and synthetic bones pose no risk and help clean your pet’s teeth.
Plan regular screenings. Veterinary dental exams are essential to keep the oral health of your pet. Most animals need a yearly check-up, along with routine physical examinations. A good cleaning includes polishing the teeth and ultrasonic scaling with special instruments.
The difficulties of brushing
Be patient and never use force. While brushing, praise the animal and when you finish give him/her a reward. This is a way to get you started:
• Start by rubbing the animal’s teeth and gums with a finger wrapped in soft chiffon.
• Later, you can switch to a plastic brush that fits the tip of your finger (available at pet stores), special toothbrush for animals, or a soft one for humans.
• Finally, use enzymatic toothpaste for pets since most animals do not like human toothpaste. Press the cream between the bristles of the brush and the animal will not eat it. Place the brush at a 45-degree angle between the teeth and gums. Brush in a circular motion, covering several teeth at once.
After 5-10 brushing sessions, your pet will feel more comfortable and will allow you to cover the front and back surfaces of the teeth, but you should prioritize the appearance of the outside of the upper teeth. ■