Smile! Here’s why your pet’s dental health is important.

Well, Mardi Gras is over. The parade floats have rolled back home, the costumes have been put away, and the tree branches on St. Charles are heavy with the weight of innumerable brightly colored plastic beads. It’s time to rest and recover from the Carnival season- at least until the next round of festivals comes along.  (Brunch Fest, anyone?)  So there you sit, snuggled down on your couch in your coziest pajamas, old Fido curled up next to you, scrolling through Netflix in search of a quiet evening.  Fido, ever loving, ever faithful, turns and gazes soulfully into your eyes, which promptly begin to sting and water as the full force of Fido’s breath assaults your senses.

Bad breath is a common complaint from owners regarding their pets. It’s pretty hard tolinus miss, especially if your pet’s favorite pastime is cuddling up close to breathe/pant/purr in your face.  Bad breath is often an indicator of an underlying problem, usually poor oral health or periodontal disease. As in people, a buildup of bacteria on the surface of the teeth can lead to tartar formation, gingivitis, and tooth abscesses. Left untreated, this can lead to gum recession, loose teeth, and can even cause damage to the jaw.  While bad breath may be one of the most noticeable signs of oral and dental disease, other signs that your pet may need to have his teeth and mouth evaluated are excessive drooling, teeth with tartar buildup, broken or discolored teeth, dropping food, or pain around the mouth. Some animals will have a change in appetite or stop eating altogether, however, it’s important to know that many animals will continue to eat, even if they are experiencing oral pain.  And periodontal disease doesn’t just affect the mouth. The bacteria and inflammation associated with periodontal disease may have effects on other organ systems as well, potentially compromising the overall health of your pet.

amalthea2The majority of cats and dogs over three years of age have some degree of periodontal disease and all pets, no matter their age, should have veterinary evaluation of their teeth and mouth at least once a year. If any signs of periodontal disease are noted, more frequent veterinary examination may be needed. After evaluation of your pet’s mouth, your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning under anesthesia. In cats and dogs, periodontal disease often extends below the gum line and anesthesia is needed for a full evaluation and thorough cleaning of your pet’s teeth. Your veterinarian may also take x-rays of your pet’s teeth to evaluate the health of the teeth roots and the jaws. Just as in people, teeth that appear healthy on the surface may have diseased roots, causing your pet a great deal of pain and discomfort, and sometimes necessitating extraction of the tooth. Regular dental cleanings and x-rays are invaluable in finding and addressing these problems early, before lasting damage has been done.

Oral and dental evaluation isn’t just for cats and dogs either. For some small mammals, teeth can wear unevenly, particularly if the diet is not ideal, causing pain or difficulty eating. Beak and oral health is vital to the well-being of birds and can affect their ability to eat. In horses, the molars or “cheek teeth” can be worn to sharp points, causing cuts to the cheeks and tongue. These problems can be prevented with regular dental evaluation and care.

At home, regular tooth brushing is the best way to prevent periodontal disease in dogs and cats. Even brushing 2-3 times weekly can have huge benefits for oral health. Make sure to use toothpaste designed for animals, as some of the ingredients in human toothpaste may be harmful to your pet if swallowed. Dental treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) are a good way to promote oral health as well and are available at most commercial pet stores.  Look for the seal to the left vohc-sealwhen buying dental treats to make sure you’re getting VOHC approved treats. Above all, talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s oral health and how to keep their mouth healthy and pain free.  We are always happy to discuss your pet’s oral health with you at the Louisiana SPCA’s Community Clinic. Dental consultations start at $58 dollars for the initial visit.  Don’t let your pet suffer the pain of periodontal disease. Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s dental health today.

Dr. Sarah Reardon has been a veterinarian with the Louisiana SPCA for 3 years. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Reardon has 3 dogs, all Louisiana SPCA rescues.  If you have a question for Dr. Reardon, email or visit dr-sarah-r-1