Brushing your pet's teeth
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What you need to know about your pet’s dental health

May 31, 2017

Each year, the BC SPCA spends more than $350,000 on dental treatments and surgeries.

Many animals come into BC SPCA care, some through cruelty investigations, with severely neglected mouths including rotten teeth, tartar build-up, broken teeth and gum disease, called periodontal disease.

What is gum disease?

By two years of age, an estimated 80 per cent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some form of gum disease.

Gum disease is an infection between the tooth and the gum. Food particles and bacteria collect along the gum line and form soft, sticky deposits called plaque.

Over time, minerals in the saliva harden the plaque into yellow-brown tartar. Tartar has a rough surface which attracts further plaque accumulation.

Plaque causes the gums to swell, resulting in gingivitis. Gingivitis is the initial, reversible form of gum disease. Swollen gums begin to separate from the teeth, leaving gaps.

Bacteria can build up

Bacteria invade the pockets, leading to infection. Eventually, teeth may begin to loosen and fall out, as the bones and ligaments that support the teeth are destroyed. This later stage of gum disease, called periodontitis, cannot be reversed, only managed.

Bacteria can also spread through the bloodstream to the kidneys, liver or heart, causing damage to those organs. Left untreated, gum disease may shorten a pet’s life span by as much as two years.

Is gum disease painful?

Yes! Pets with gum disease have sore mouths and may have difficulty eating.

As gum disease progresses, your pet may begin to chew on only one side of his mouth, or drop food from his mouth as he eats. He may lose his appetite altogether.

Pets may also be reluctant to groom, chew on toys or socialize. However, in many cases, gum disease may be present without any obvious signs of pain – and still be a significant welfare concern.

Does your pet have gum disease?

Bad breath is an indicator that your pet may have gum disease.

Other serious signs include red, swollen gums, yellowish or brownish tarter on the teeth, and blood left on chew toys.

Brush your pet’s teeth

Prevention is the key. Just as with people, regular brushing is important for pets.

Ideally, brush your pet’s teeth every day or at least every other day. Less frequently than this is of virtually no value to preventing gum disease.

Your veterinarian will demonstrate the best brushing method. Cats can be a challenge, though some tolerate brushing. Also, small dogs and breeds with flatter faces are especially at risk for gum disease because their teeth are closer together.

Veterinary clinics and pet supply stores sell toothbrushes and toothpaste made especially for dogs and cats. Avoid human toothpaste, which may contain too much fluoride and irritate your pet’s gastrointestinal system.

Chew on this!

Nylon or rubber chew toys can help to scrape away plaque and tarter. Look for ones recommended by veterinarians. Avoid hard, plastic chew toys, which can fracture teeth.

If you cannot make an indentation in it with your fingernail or it would hurt to hit yourself in the knee with it, the toy is too hard.

Supervise chewing time so your pet does not accidentally swallow any pieces of the toy. Throw the toy away before it gets too worn down.

Regular check-ups

Take your dog or cat to the veterinarian at least once a year to have their mouths checked as part of an overall health exam. Your veterinarian may recommend a professional cleaning.

This procedure, called a dental prophylaxis, requires animals to be under general anaesthetic while their teeth are cleaned.

Diet Dos and Don’ts

Using a special dental diet can also help prevent gum disease. Dental diets help slow down the formation of plaque and tartar.

As your pet chews, the kibble helps scrape teeth clean. You can also give pets veterinarian-recommended treats that are specially formulated to keep teeth healthy. Dental diets and treats can be found at veterinary clinics.

For pets to live longer, healthier lives – free of gum disease – regular home care and veterinary visits are a must.

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