By 2 years of age, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease (Today's Veterinary Practice). This alarming statistic is just one indication that most pets are not receiving proper dental care. In an effort to highlight this issue and spread awareness on the importance of pet dental care, veterinarians have declared February to be National Pet Dental Health Month. Here are four things you can do to help the cause:
One reason that many pets aren’t receiving adequate dental care is that some owners don’t know the level of care that is required. The first step is to educate yourself about dental care best practices and signs that could indicate that your pet might need a little more attention.
Periodontal disease progresses in two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis. Plaque and bacteria can accumulate on your pets’ teeth, eventually mineralizing into a layer of tartar. As the tartar comes into contact with the gums, it can cause inflammation, resulting in gingivitis. In as little as a week without dental care, pets can develop gingivitis. If gingivitis is not addressed, it can advance to periodontitis: the inflammation of the tissue surrounding and supporting the teeth.
Signs that your pet may be suffering from periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath
- Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- Loose or missing teeth
- Favoring one side of the mouth when chewing
- Drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
- Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
Symptoms of periodontal disease can vary, so we recommend conducting research based on your pet’s specific species and breed.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It may be tempting to rely on products like dental chews, or breath freshening treats, but these products simply won’t resolve dental health problems.The best thing you can do to treat dental health problems is to brush their teeth every day. Even after teeth are completely cleaned, plaque forms on tooth surfaces within 24 hours (Today's Veterinary Practice), so it is imperative to remain vigilant.
Despite your best intentions, your pet may resist brushing, so getting into the habit of brushing every day will require some patience. Take small steps, like getting your pet used to touching the outside of its mouth. Make sure to provide treats and ample praise with every step made. Let your pet sniff or lick our patented 45 degree toothbrush and VOHC accepted toothpaste to get acquainted with the objects before using them. Finding a flavor of toothpaste that your pet enjoys can also be a big help.
The process of training your pet to accept brushing could take several days, or even weeks, but it’s well worth it for the health benefits! Don’t rush the process, as your goal is to make brushing a positive, routine experience. For a more in-depth guide, check out our article on How to Make Toothbrush Time A Breeze.
Ask a Professional
Even if you are brushing your pet's teeth every day, it’s important to check in with a professional, such as a Veterinarian Dentist. Whether you look up a veterinarian dentist online, or are referred by a friend, make sure that they are licensed to work in your state by consulting with the American Veterinary Dental College directory. Getting regular exams will keep you informed on the state of your pet’s dental health. Brushing your pet’s teeth will remove plaque and bacteria, but once plaque has hardened into tartar, you will need the help of a veterinarian dentist to properly remove it. Your veterinarian dentist can provide professional cleanings as necessary. We recommend getting an examination at least once every 12 months, or more frequently if your pet has been diagnosed with dental problems.
Spread the Word!
As you continue to learn more about pet dental care, teach your friends and family! Challenge them to test their knowledge by taking the AMVA Dental Quiz. If you find a great toothpaste or an amazing veterinarian dentist, let people know! If you found this article helpful, share it with your fellow pet owners, or on social media! You are an important part of a huge community of animal lovers and you can make a difference in the lives of pets who aren’t getting the care they need. Even just by starting a conversation about this issue, you’ll be doing your part to spread awareness.