Dogs and cats are affected by many of the same dental problems as people. Tooth care, especially daily brushing, is one responsibility that many pet owners brush off.
According to John Koehm, DVM, of Community Animal Hospital in Reno, periodontal disease, caused by the accumulation of plaque, is the most common disease found among dogs, cats and even humans.
“When we say it is the most common disease of any kind, that does not just mean in the mouth, it means in the entire body,” Koehm said. “Eighty percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.”
Koehm explained that periodontal disease causes inflammation in the gums, looseness of the teeth and bad breath. It can be so severe that it affects more than just the teeth: Bacteria living in the mouth and around the teeth moves into the bloodstream and organs. For example, the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys can be damaged, making it important to stop the infection in the mouth before it spreads.
It is rare for a pet owner to contemplate looking in their pet’s mouth or worry about their pet’s teeth, Koehm said, because animals do not show the same signs of pain when their mouth is hurting that humans do.
“Animals are survivors and our theory is that evolutionarily, they were pack animals and in competition with one another,” Koehm said. “So if they ever showed pain, or weakness, they would drop to the bottom of the food chain. They are more or less genetically hardwired to not show weakness or pain, so they tough it out.”
Koehm added that many owners will call him a week or so after having dental work done and report a noticeable change for the better in their pet because pain, which no one knew was there in the first place, had been relieved.
Cal Williams, DVM, of Pyramid Veterinary Hospital in Sparks, said dental problems are progressive and will only get worse if not treated.
“Money is the biggest reason people do not treat their pet’s dental health and I can tell you that it will cost more three or four years down the road when we have to pull 10 to 15 teeth,” Williams said.
The dental process for pets is long and extensive and involves cleaning, examining the perimeter of each tooth, X-rays and polishing. Animals should have their teeth cleaned once a year, and there are several ways to prevent more frequent visits, Koehm said.
Veterinarypartner.com recommends brushing a pet’s teeth at least every other day.
“Start with a soft toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste,” the website states. “Feeding dry food is preferable over canned food because it has more of a cleaning action on the teeth.”
Koehm also suggests chew toys, though he recommends they be evaluated beforehand with two rules in mind: the thumbnail rule and the bending rule. He says if you cannot put a dent in the object with your thumbnail or bend it with your hands, it is too hard to put in your pet’s mouth.
John Crumley, DVM, of Baring Boulevard Veterinary Hospital in Sparks, advises pet owners to study various websites for useful information about home dental care.
“You can take five minutes of your time and put ‘dog or cat dental health care’ into Google and find several websites with information,” Crumley said.
“Our ultimate goal in life is to not have to pull any more teeth and this can be achieved with proper home care,” Williams said.