Beyond Fresh Breath: The Importance of Cleaning Your Pet’s Teeth
Like many pet owners, you do all you can to ensure the health of your pet, including routinely schedule wellness exams. But did you know that if you’re not scheduling regular cleanings for your pet’s teeth, you’re neglecting an important part of his overall health and wellbeing?
Like humans, regular teeth cleanings and checkups go beyond keeping a cat or dog’s breath fresh, it can help prevent dental disease. Signs of early dental disease include bad breath, yellow tartar buildup on the teeth, and red and swollen gums. Left untreated, it can lead to chronic pain and inflammation and eventually progress into periodontal disease (an infection of the tissues that hold teeth in place), tooth loss, infection, and difficulty eating. Removing plaque from beneath the gumline is equally important. Bacteria thrive under the gumline, causing infections deep in the tooth root and jaw that can spread throughout the body and affect organs such as the heart and kidneys.
According to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, a recent national study of over 2 million cats and dogs found that 68 percent of cats and 78 percent of dogs had varying degrees of dental problems. These statistics can be greatly reduced with proper dental care and regular visits to your Austin veterinarian.
How Often Should My Pet’s Teeth Be Professionally Cleaned?
Your pet’s teeth and gums should be checked at least once a year by your Austin veterinarian to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and to identify and treat any early signs of problems. If you notice anything unusual such as bad breath, broken or loose teeth, pain in or around the mouth, bleeding from the mouth, swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth, or abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth, take your cat or dog in sooner to be evaluated.
Can I Brush My Pet’s Teeth at Home?
Yes! In fact, keeping your pet’s teeth clean in between professional cleanings plays a key role in keeping his gums healthy and teeth as plaque-free as possible. Daily brushing is best, but it’s not always possible; brushing several times a week can be effective. Getting your cat or dog to sit still while you brush his teeth can be a challenging endeavor — especially for your cat. The earlier you get him accustomed to the process, the faster he’ll get used to it and won’t put up a fuss each time you reach for his toothbrush.
Some tips we recommend at ATX Animal Clinic include easing your way into the process. Start by rubbing your finger or a soft cloth over the outer surfaces of your dog or cat’s teeth. If your pet is nervous or not tolerating having his teeth touched, focus on a few teeth at a time, gradually adding more teeth each day. Be sure to make the experience positive by praising your pet and petting him throughout the process. Once your pet is comfortable with having his teeth rubbed, let him try a bit of pet toothpaste to get used to the taste. The next step is applying some toothpaste to your finger or cloth and rubbing a few teeth. The goal is to eventually get him accustomed to having his teeth brushed with a toothbrush specially made for pets.
There are many products available that are marketed for oral pet care, including dental treats that are made to remove plaque buildup and often contain ingredients that freshen breath. There are even diets designed to aid in plaque removal. While these products can help, they’re not as effective as regular and professional cleanings. If your pet doesn’t tolerate having his teeth cleaned at home, however, these treats can help remove at least some of the plaque. Your veterinarian can recommend effective products as well as provide tips on how to get your furry loved one used to regular brushings at home.
An important note: Never use human toothpaste to clean your pet’s teeth; cleaning agents found in human toothpaste can be harmful to your cat or dog if swallowed. Look for toothpaste specifically made for pet use.
What Does a Professional Cleaning Entail?
The process begins with an oral exam of your pet’s mouth along with x-rays to evaluate the health of the roots below the gumline as well as the jaw. A thorough evaluation and dental cleaning are performed under anesthesia.
Pet owners are sometimes uneasy to learn their pet will be put under anesthesia during this process. It’s important to remember that to ensure a thorough cleaning, your pet has to sit still for a prolonged period of time — not an easy task! Anesthesia allows for a better cleaning because your pet is not moving around or trying to escape; it also reduces the risk of injury from dental equipment if they’re not squirming. Finally, it allows your vet to perform the dental procedures with less stress for your pet.
Rest assured that before anesthesia, your pet will be carefully evaluated and screened for diseases that could cause anesthetic complications. During the dental procedure, a trained professional will be continuously monitoring, recording vital signs, and communicating with the veterinarian.
Did you know that February is National Pet Dental Health Month? Make this the month you set time aside to have your pet’s teeth evaluated. For more information on the importance of cleaning your pet’s teeth as well as recommendations on products and tips on how to brush your pet’s teeth, contact our office. Our team of Austin vets at ATX Animal Clinic are experienced in preventing, locating, and treating any teeth and gum issues.