Pet oral health: everything you need to know
By Charlotte Stiles
- Poor pet oral health can lead to painful conditions in the mouth and secondary problems such as weight loss.
- Preventative dental care for animals such as regular teeth brushing, and veterinary dental checks are the best ways to keep your pet’s mouth in good condition.
- Poor oral health in pets can often be prevented when methods to maintain proper dental hygiene are incorporated into their routine.
- Age, breed, diet, and diseases can also affect the condition of your pet’s mouth.
Brushing our teeth is part of our daily routine and helps us to help maintain good oral hygiene. But have you ever thought about the condition of your pet’s mouth and what you could do to improve it?
Keeping your pet’s mouth healthy by taking care of their teeth and gums, is just as important for our pets as it is for us! However, don’t be disheartened if this is news to you, in this article we’ll explain everything you need to know about pet dental care, such as:
- Why it’s important.
- Signs your pet’s oral health needs attention.
- Dental care for pets.
Let’s get started!
Why is a healthy mouth important for pets?
Aside from the dreaded dog or cat breath, there are many, perhaps even more important reasons why it’s good to know cat and dog dental health.
Healthy gums are pink in colour, but sometimes you can also find pigmented (brown or black) areas which is also normal for your pet. Their teeth should be free of calculus, strongly attached to the gums, and with clear borders within the gum line.
Unhealthy teeth and gums are often painful and can quickly decrease your pet’s quality of life. We all know how unpleasant it is when our mouth is hurting, and our pets are no different!
From playing with their toys to eating their food, a mouth in bad condition can affect your pet’s ability to perform normal daily tasks and therefore decrease their overall well-being.
Below we’ve listed some examples of conditions that can occur if your pet’s mouth is not taken care of properly:
- Inflammation (gingivitis)
- Changes or loss of jaw bones
- Breaking or rotting of teeth
- Secondary infections elsewhere in the body due to the movement of bacteria through the blood following an infection in the mouth.
Your pet uses its mouth for many of its daily activities, so maintaining good pet oral health is important for many reasons. In the next section, we’ll go through how the above conditions can have a negative impact on your pet’s quality of life.
What are the signs of poor oral health in pets?
If your pet allows you to look inside their mouth, there are a few things to look for which may indicate that your pet’s mouth is not in good condition. This includes the following:
- Smelly breath.
- Inflammation (red, warm, or swollen areas).
- Calculus (pet-specific word for tartar).
- Broken, loose, or missing teeth.
- Different coloured teeth.
Disclaimer: The above list is to be used as a guide only. If you think your pet might have a problem in its mouth, contact your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Other signs of poor oral hygiene include dropping food, difficulty chewing, and weight loss secondary to decreased food intake. Problems in the mouth are unlikely to resolve themselves and if untreated, often progress to a stage that requires a longer or more invasive form of treatment.
Since our pets explore and play using their mouth it’s not uncommon for foreign bodies such as string or sticks to become stuck in the mouth. Sometimes these will need to be removed by a veterinarian who may also give your pet pain relief and antibiotics if they think your pet also has an infection.
It’s also important to be aware that pets can succumb to problems in their mouth due to factors beyond our control as pet parents. This includes their age or breed which can also affect the anatomy of their head and associated structures such as teeth.
There are also diseases that primarily or secondarily cause changes that can be seen in the mouth. If you are worried about your pet’s condition, it’s best to talk with your veterinarian.
How can I improve my pet’s oral health?
Including techniques to improve your pet’s oral health in their daily routine is the best way to help keep your pet healthy and happy. Think of these techniques as preventative, rather than curative, just like their vaccinations and parasite treatment.
The best way to improve your pet’s oral health is by daily brushing with a special brush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Don’t be tempted to use toothpaste made for humans though, as it often contains components that can be harmful to pets.
It’s no surprise that pets who get used to pet dental care techniques such as teeth brushing from a young age are more tolerant however for some pets teeth brushing may not be an option. But don’t fear, we’ve listed some other pet dental care techniques:
- Feeding abrasive food (such as dry kibble).
- Water additives.
- Prescription dental diets.
- Specially made treats with abrasive action (not bones).
- Veterinary assessment of your pet’s mouth every 6 months.
Regular attention from a veterinarian increases the chances of problems being spotted early on when the treatment options are often less drastic.
Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian to look in your pet’s mouth during your next visit. After looking in your pet’s mouth they will be able to advise you if your pet needs an appointment for a Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment or whether you need to make any changes in your pet’s oral care routine at home.
During a dog or cat Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment, your veterinarian will start by looking and feeling for abnormalities from outside the mouth, such as in the lymph nodes.
They will then put your pet under anesthesia so that they can properly assess the condition of the structures inside your pet’s mouth. This may also involve taking an x-ray to look for otherwise hidden abnormalities below the gumline.
Anesthesia allows your veterinarian to thoroughly and quickly check your pet’s mouth and is nothing to worry about. Veterinary dentistry and anesthesia are commonly performed procedures in small animal clinics and your veterinarian will be able to answer any questions you may have.
Following their assessment, they will polish, remove, and clean the teeth as necessary and record everything in a special chart. They will then be able to advise you on their findings and any next steps, such as adjusting your pet’s oral care routine at home.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, and it’s given you an insight into why keeping your pet’s mouth in good condition is important and how easy it is to do so. There are many things you can do as a pet parent to help keep your pet happy and healthy, and taking steps to care for their mouth is one of them.