dentist-dog-peekingDid you know that, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, by the age of 3 more than 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some stage of periodontal disease? Those are some pretty scary numbers that can get even scarier when you add in the cost of treatment. Periodontal disease is a predominately silent but painful disease so requires a diligence from you, the pet owner, to prevent and or recognize. Regular check-ups by your veterinarian can help better spot any problems as well as outlining a dental care plan for your beloved pet. With no proper care taking or proactive treatment, periodontal disease can be devastating to the overall health of your beloved pet, ranging from tooth loss to damage to internal organs.

Believe it or not, dental care is equally as important in dogs and cats as it is for us. Just like us, almost immediately after our pets eat, bacteria, food, and various other particles start to form plaque on the teeth. Dogs’ mouths are more alkaline than humans which actually promotes plaque formation. Like any bacteria, your animal’s immune system recognizes the bacteria in plaque as a foreign body. White blood cells are sent to fight off the bacteria but the bacteria, in turn, trigger the white blood cells to release enzymes that break down gum tissue. This causes gum inflammation, tissue damage, loss of bone, and ultimately tooth loss. These bacteria can also spread through your pet’s blood stream damaging internal organs and potentially causing heart, liver, and kidney disease. The older your pet the more sensitive his/her organs will be. Certain breeds such as Rag-doll cats or toy breed dogs or animals with certain types of health conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or animals with a poor immune system are more susceptible to periodontal disease than others.

Unfortunately, because this is a silent disease the beginning signs are often difficult to notice and by the time of more obvious symptoms the disease is pretty advanced.  I frequently hear pet owners complain about their pet’s bad breath. If your pup has not adventured to the nearest kitty litter box or eaten some spoiled garbage recently, this could actually be a sign of periodontal disease. Now, normal pet breath is not necessarily a bouquet of roses so a slight wrinkle of your nose shouldn’t be problematic but if it is noticeably more offensive than usual or even makes your stomach turn over that is probably a bad sign. Other symptoms include swollen or bleeding gums, loose teeth, excess salivation, lumps or bumps in the mouth, difficulty eating or even a refusal to eat.

There are a wide variety of dental products available including chews, water additives, and rinses. Chewing while it is natural for your dog is actually also very good for their dental health. Chewing is good for massaging your dog’s gums and scraping away soft tartar and is one of the easiest ways to provide your dog with stress relieving dental care. Aside from durable textured toys, your vet may offer quality dental chews, some even containing special enzymes to aid in breaking down plaque to keep calculus (tartar) from forming on the teeth. The best way to prevent periodontal disease is by brushing your pet’s teeth daily. There are multiple types of flavored pet toothpastes available as well as toothbrushes catered uniquely to dogs and cats. Your vet can guide you through the process of brushing your pets teeth so be sure to ask at your next visit.  Human toothpaste can be toxic to pets, so please go with a pet-approved formula.  Feeding a dry kibble diet versus a canned food diet is also better for preventing plaque build-up and your vet may even sell a special dental diet for dogs especially prone to poor dental hygiene.

Prevention is the best plan of action in dealing with periodontal disease but can be time consuming. Regular vet checks and in home care are practically a must. Consulting with your vet about your capabilities in in-home care can also allow him/her to construct a home care program best suited to your pet and your lifestyle. While the thought of brushing your pets’ teeth daily may not seem very appealing it is much more beneficial to your pets health and to your wallet than the potential health problems stemming from periodontal disease.