What is dental disease?
Dental disease, or periodontal disease, is inflammation of the teeth and gums caused by a build-up of plaque. Plaque, which is made up of food particles, saliva, and bacteria, sticks to the tooth surface and if not removed will calcify into tartar. Around 80% of cats and dogs over the age of three are suffering from some form of dental disease.
The signs of dental disease
- bad breath
- discoloured teeth
- loose teeth
- excessive drooling
- blood-stained or inflamed gums
- dropping of food from the mouth when eating, or reluctance to chew or eat at all
- pain when handled around the head
- facial swelling
- behavioural changes (e.g. lethargy, increased aggression)
- pawing at the mouth
- receding gums
How do I prevent dental disease?
For adult cats and dogs with existing dental disease, a scale and polish from your veterinarian is often necessary. This will allow us to start their prevention plan with a fresh, clean mouth.
Tips to prevent dental disease
Brush their teeth
Brushing your pet’s teeth daily can help control plaque build-up that leads to dental disease.
Selecting a toothbrush
- specially-made dog and cat toothbrushes are available to purchase
- toddler toothbrushes are great for cats and small dogs
- electric toothbrushes are easy to use and efficient, however, your pet may be frightened by the noise
- make sure you label your pet’s toothbrush and keep it separate from the family toothbrushes
Selecting a toothpaste
- do not use human toothpaste when brushing your pet’s teeth as it can upset your pet’s stomach
- special pet toothpastes in flavours like chicken or beef are available
Introducing your pet to teeth brushing
Cats and small dogs may feel more comfortable if they can sit on their owner’s lap while having their teeth brushed.
- begin slowly. Initial sessions should be kept brief
- get your pet used to the toothbrush by dipping it in tuna juice or chicken or beef stock
- offer a taste of your special pet toothpaste to your pet to get them used to it
- when your pet is comfortable with the brush, try brushing one or two strokes on a few teeth. Slowly increase the brushing as your pet becomes more comfortable
- start at the front of the mouth. Pets are often more accepting of this
Five steps to effective teeth brushing
- add toothpaste – apply a small amount of pet toothpaste to the brush (do not use human toothpaste)
- correct angle – hold brush at a 45 degree angle to gum line.
- circular motion – apply the toothbrush and use a circular motion with gentle pressure on the teeth and gum line
- brush for 30 to 60 seconds – brush for at least 30 seconds on each side of the mouth, remembering the back teeth
- reward – reward your pet for their good behaviour
Alternatives to teeth brushing
Treats and chews
Large, hard products such as pig’s ears, noses and trotters, rawhide bones, and Dentabones encourage your pets to chew. The chewing action aids in the removal of plaque via physical rubbing and the spread of protective saliva. These should not be relied on solely for dental prevention, as they are not as effective as raw bones, but could be fed once a week instead of raw bones as a change for your pet.
Many premium dry pet foods and special dental treats are available for both cats and dogs. They’re specially designed to keep pets’ teeth clean while providing them with their nutritional needs. These foods contain enzymes and ingredients similar to those found in our toothpaste which help to slow the dental disease process and help prevent plaque from forming on the teeth. Some premium pet food brands offer a money back guarantee if you or your pet aren’t satisfied (ask your Greencross Vet).
If your pet hasn’t started these specially designed foods at an early age, it is best to start them after their teeth have been professionally scaled and polished.
Oral and Dental Treatments
For pets with severe or persistent dental and gum disease or bad breath, using a rinse or gel available from your veterinary clinic may be advisable. Gum protectant applications may also be prescribed for pets with problem gums.
There are some toys available which are great at encouraging your pet to chew. Some of these toys include the ‘Kong’ and ‘Gumabone’.
Toys are a useful addition to a dental hygiene program; however, they should not be relied on solely.
Veterinary Dental Treatments
In the majority of pet’s lives, there comes a time when their teeth may require professional veterinary treatment. Treatment involves a full dental examination while your pet is under anaesthetic, including scaling, (both ultrasonically and by hand), and polishing. The procedure is similar to what you would have experienced at your own dentist.
What should I do if I suspect my pet has dental disease?
If you’re worried your pet may be developing dental disease, take them to your vet for a proper diagnosis. It’s always best to get a professional opinion. Your Greencross Vet will help you to develop the best dental plan tailored to your pet.