By AAHA Practice Accreditation
Can you imagine what your teeth would be like if you didn’t brush them for a year? Talk about bad breath! Considering your pet can’t brush his own teeth, this is kind of what he experiences. February is National Pet Dental Health Month and a great reminder that dental health is more than just teeth; your pet’s oral hygiene affects his overall health. Diseases of the mouth can often be painful and can contribute to additional problems. Having regular dental checkups and having your pet’s teeth cleaned are important to ensuring a positive quality of life.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age three, often indicated by bad breath, a change in eating or chewing habits, pawing at the face and mouth, bleeding gums, and depression. “In the vast majority of cases, however, there are little to no outward clinical signs of the disease process, and therefore, therapy often comes very late in the disease course,” explains Brook A. Neimeic, DVM, DAVDC, FAVD and chief of staff at Southern California Veterinary Dentistry Specialties. “Consequently, periodontal disease is also the most under-treated animal health problem.”
Pet Dental Health Campaign spokesperson Dr. Linda J. DeBowes, veterinarian at Shoreline Veterinary Dental Clinic in Seattle, warns pet owners trying to save money not to skimp on regular veterinary care for their pets. "The expenses associated with professional dental treatment may be significant; however, if this preventative care is not done, the cost to the owner may well be much higher in diagnostics and management of dental disease," DeBowes said.
“I tell clients that dental care for their pets is like changing the oil in their car,” says Neimeic. “It is an expense, and it’s time-consuming, but it is cheaper than replacing the engine. At least once a week, I am forced to extract half, if not more, of a pet’s teeth due to severe periodontal disease. My record is 38 at one sitting. This can cost up to $6,000, which is less than annual cleanings every year for the life of the dog!”
Your veterinary team is highly trained and a great resource for helping you provide preventative dental care for your pet. Regular dental checkups are a good start to preventative care for your pet. AAHA recommends that you talk to your veterinarian about how often “regular” refers to and develop a dental plan specific to your pet, based on her unique life stage circumstances.
During one of these preventative dental exams, your AAHA-accredited veterinary team will take a thorough history, assess pain, chart any irregularities and determine an overall treatment plan for your pet. They may recommend diagnostic testing, which could include:
- Blood work to determine your pet’s overall health status and ability to metabolize anesthesia
- Radiographs (X-rays), especially if they determine your pet may need extractions
- Recommendations for a dry food diet, special foods, treats, rinses and chew toys
- Prescription for antibiotics and/or pain medications
In addition to professional dental care, DeBowes advises pet owners to make oral home care part of their pet’s routine as a way to prevent tooth decay.
You can help by taking an active role in your pet’s dental health care:
- Learn to brush your pet’s teeth. Ask your veterinarian to teach you the best and safest way to brush your pet’s teeth to avoid being bitten. Although daily tooth brushing is advised for both dogs and cats, only 2% of dog owners follow through. It’s best to start at an early age, but adult dogs and cats can learn to tolerate brushing. Use a specially-formulated toothpaste, because the kind for humans may upset your pet’s stomach.
- Feed your pet a high-quality diet. Ask your veterinarian about foods and treats with proven benefits in plaque and tartar removal.
- Provide chew toys that stimulate gums and help clean teeth.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) created the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines to help veterinarians and their teams provide excellent dental care for dogs and cats and to educate pet owners about the importance of proper dental care throughout their pets’ lives. Check out this article on www.healthypet.com for more information on dental care for your pet and the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines.