This month we hear all about Pet Dental Disease from Dr Cherlene Lee from the amazing team at My Vet Animal Hospital. If you live in the Sydney area, check out My Vet Animal Hospital for all your furry needs!
As a vet, I’m obsessed about dog and cat teeth. Every time I see a cute dog on a walk, it takes a level of self control to not check their teeth right after I pat them.
The importance of good oral hygiene is well-known in people but not so much in the world of furbabies – particularly in cats. I’ve become very familiar with the skeptical faces of new paw- parents when I tell them they need to brush their furbaby’s teeth every day. “You’re kidding, right? Every night?!”
What’s the fuss?
What’s the worst thing that can happen from having bad teeth – apart from increasingly smelly kisses? It’s important to understand what’s actually going on in their mouths and under their gums.
Plaque is a slimy, sticky layer builds up on teeth within 24 hours of brushing. Plaque is that gross flossy feeling that you get when you get at the end of a long day/night after prolonged period of no brushing! Plaque contains millions of bacteria and they’re having a party. If plaque is not removed, it attracts minerals from your saliva and calcifies – this is called calculi. Calculi allows for more plaque to build on top of it and you end up with layers over layers of bacteria.
The problem starts when the bacteria starts to invade under the gum lines. This is where you have – Gingivitis. Of course, the immune system doesn’t like any sort of bacteria, so inflammation along the gumline will occur. Just like any inflammation, the affected area will be tender and sore. A lot of people say “But my dog/cat is still eating.” It takes a lot for your pets to stop eating. Just because they’re eating, doesn’t mean they’re not in any discomfort or pain. You’d still eat your
lunch when you have mouth ulcers, don’t you?
The bacterial infection will spreads further to the underlying bone which supports the teeth. Eventually, the bacteria will attack the bone of the jaw, a disease called osteomyelitis. You can imagine, there’s not a lot of bones in the jaws of little dogs and cats. So if bone infection is not taken care of, it can lead to fracture of the jaw bone. Not only is it excruciatingly painful but it’s really really tricky to fix.
Things actually get worse. Once bacteria is in the bone, it can easily enter the bloodstream and cause infection of the whole body – septicaemia. Which then can lead to other diseases like heart problems and kidney problems.
Now that I’ve made you think about the layers of bacteria in your furbaby’s mouth and how much bacteria they are leaving on your face with each kiss, let’s talk about how we can prevent this from happening. Just like many things, prevention of dental disease is ALWAYS easier than treatment.
Prevention 1. Daily tooth brushing:
The solution is not rocket science. Brushing the furbaby’s teeth every day is the single most effective and cheapest way of preventing dental disease. And yes, cat owners who just avoided my eye contact, you too. If you have an adult dog or a cat, don’t expect them to let you brush their teeth overnight. You’ll have to introduce it slowly. Ask your local veterinarian how to brush your pet’s teeth. We’re always excited to talk about preventions.
Prevention 2. Chlorhexidine Spray
Many veterinary dental specialists are recommending the use of chlorhexidine spray into the dog’s mouth / on the teeth on top of the daily tooth brushing. Think of it like a doggy mouth wash (NEVER use human mouth wash for your furbaby). Remember that it does nothing without a good toothbrush session.
Prevention 3: Prescription dental food: Hill’s T/d
There are prescription food specifically designed for dental disease prevention. The principle is, the kibbles are large and fibrous, so it chips off plaque as they eat it. And it leaves a protective layer to discourage plaque build up afterwards. Hill’s t/d kibbles are also designed to clean under the gum lines – which is the most important place.
Prevention 4. Dental Chews
OraVet is the only veterinary accredited dental chew with a science to back up its efficacy. OravVet does not only clean your furbaby’s teeth by loosening and dislodging plaque to help it break away from teeth. It also cleans their teeth by forming a barrier to protect their teeth against bacteria. There’s very little regulation of what a manufacturer can sell as a “dental chew”. So, technically, you can sell a bag of dried apples and call it dog dental chew. Be careful what you’re getting.
Bones or no bones?
Bones definitely help with dental hygiene by cracking calculus off teeth. However, it can also cause fracture of teeth and if swallowed, obstruction in gastrointestinal tract. There is also a risk of contamination as you must also only feed raw bones and never cooked bones.
Once the dental disease has been there for a long time, it’s not possible to reverse the changes by tooth brushing. That’s when your furbaby has to receive a professional teeth cleaning by your local veterinarian under a full general anaesthetic. A thorough and complete examination of the teeth can only be performed under general anaesthetic by probing and examining each tooth (just like us at the dentist), with dental x-rays taken if necessary to further evaluate the
Anaesthetic free dentistry is NOT recommended because it is dangerous (pet might bite and accidentally bite down on the scaler), ineffective and also very stressful for your pet. Remember, all the important things happen under the gum lines! Cracking off the calculus does absolutely nothing in treating dental disease. Your veterinarian will clean thoroughly under the gum lines (this is where the problem starts!) and in some cases, teeth may have to be removed if the bone loss is too advanced and the tooth is loose.
Periodontal disease is a result of complex interaction between build up of oral bacteria and the animal’s immune reaction to it. Remember, the war starts under the gum lines! Even if we do everything in our power to reduce bacteria load in their mouth, there will always a time (or multiple times in a furbaby’s life) when professional dental scale and polish is required. If this is the case, don’t be disheartened! Because all your effort is paying off to increase the time between each scale and polish required! Having said that, we can achieve a good oral hygiene in most furbabies by providing a good dental prevention and routine dental scale and polish.