Say NO to Periodontal Disease
February every year is Pet Dental Health Month, and this February we did a lot to show our customers the importance of keep their pets’ teeth clean. We offered discounted teeth brushing, and talked to everyone about different options for getting rid of plaque and bad breath. Well, it’s not February any more, but the ideas have stuck with me, and I wanted to do something a little bit more in-depth. Think from my perspective for a moment: you know how important it is to maintain your pet’s skin and coat, clip their nails, and have him or her groomed regularly. This routine is vital, because (dogs especially) can’t take care of this themselves. Well, they can’t brush their own teeth either. Imagine how you would feel if you only got a bath and brushed your teeth once a month. At the least, we are talking about bad breath, discoloration, and tooth decay. Looming above all of these problems is the prospect of periodontal disease.
People don’t get periodontal disease very often, but dogs do; nearly 80% of dogs, in fact, making it the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs. Cats get it too. It’s incredibly easy to prevent, and yet so many animals suffer painful procedures to counteract the effects once it’s too late.
Your dog or cat has bacteria in his or her mouth, and bacteria are what cause plaque formation on the surface of teeth. Plaque is soft, but the minerals in saliva cause plaque to harden into dental calculus, commonly called tartar. Plaque and tartar are visible on the surface of an animal’s tooth, but extend to beneath the gum line, where they secrete toxins and stimulate the immune system. The white blood cells that normally fight infections do not hold up well against this kind of toxin; instead they release chemicals which actually worsen the disease. At this point, the animal is experiencing tissue damage, as well as unsightly tartar buildup and bad breath.
If left untreated, a hole or “fistula” can appear in the oral cavity leading to the nasal passages. This can lead to discharge, jaw fractures, bone infection, and the possibility of bacteria entering the bloodstream and infecting internal organs. Your dog or cat can die from complications this severe. Even if periodontal disease is diagnosed, your animal may have to undergo surgery, or intensive dental cleaning while under anesthesia, not to mention the cost of medicine. It is not a problem that anyone wants their pet to have.
The best way to take care of your dog or cat’s dental health is simple home maintenance and a healthful diet. You should also ask your vet to look at your pet’s teeth during his or her checkup, and if a dental cleaning is needed they will tell you. I want to outline some easy ways for you to take care of your pet’s teeth at home, and hopefully avoid dental procedures all together.
Teeth Brushing: Brushing your pet’s teeth with a dog or cat specific toothbrush and tooth paste is the best and most effective way to control plaque buildup. Pet safe tooth pastes are safe to swallow, and flavored like chicken, beef or mint to encourage your dog to actually allow you to put your fingers in his mouth. You can begin brushing when your puppy’s adult teeth are grown in, or even practice sooner just to get your puppy used to having his mouth and teeth touched. Ideally your dog or cat should have their teeth brushed every day; less-than-ideally, brushing teeth every week will keep you in the range of safety. Every dog and cat needs a different amount of time to transition into their dental hygiene habits. Dogs may take a few weeks, and cats can take a couple months. Begin by touching the animal’s teeth with your finger tips, and then let them lick some paste off of your finger. Let them look at, sniff, and lick their new toothbrush before trying to put it in their mouth. Then you can begin to combine brush and paste, and attempt to gently rub it on to the teeth. Here at Animal Hut we like Sentry Petrodex enzymatic toothpaste: check out their site here. So your dog or cat hates having their teeth brushed? Here is option #2.
Chlorhexidine oral rinses or gels work by binding to the teeth or cheeks and releasing anti-plaque and antiseptic properties over time. An example of this sort of product is Maxi/Guard gel or HealthyMouth gel. We like and sell Tropiclean dental gel, an all-natural alternative that you can read about here. Gels and sprays are a little bit easier than brushing because they take less time; you simply apply the gel drops into the back corners of your pet’s mouth, or spray onto the inside of their cheeks. If you haven’t already watched the video at the top of this blog, now is a good time. Renee demonstrates brushing and the use of dental gel on her adorable bichon, Tommy.
And finally, there is the matter of which foods and treats are best for dental health. There are plenty of both that will claim to be specifically designed to clean teeth, and plenty of veterinary products on top of the consumer products. Some organizations like Veterinary Oral Health Council have a system for recommending oral hygiene products and foods “after reviewing data from trials conducted according to VOHC protocols”. The group was formed by various veterinary associations and the FDA-CVM in 1997, and although they don’t conduct their own tests, they are happy to endorse controlled tests at their client’s requests. After paying a submission fee and an annual maintenance fee, products can earn the VOHC seal. If you would rather not only buy products that can afford exclusive testing, here are some basic things to consider.
Food: Your pets have to eat. Eating kibble is the best thing for your animal’s teeth because it’s hard and crunchy, so it naturally cleans teeth while it’s being chewed up. Avoid foods that have any kind of added sugar, or high-glycemic ingredients (like corn). All dogs and cats like wet food, but they can be convinced to eat kibble through training and perseverance. Some kibbles even advertise a dental-healthy formula or special teeth cleaning kibble shape; in my opinion, it is more important to have a nutrient rich, high quality food as your priority.
Chews: Pets love to chew things, and have been known to chew lots of things that aren’t good for them or even edible. Cats are a little bit easier, because crunchy cat treats are easy to find and come in lots of teeth-healthy formulas. Dogs get a bit more variety, but we are going to talk about rawhide, hard treats (machine injected) and biscuits. Rawhides are great because they last a long time, and their rough texture is abrasive enough to scrub teeth. Edible, machine injected treats (we like Greenies and Paragon Whimsies) are designed to be softened by hours of chewing and saliva. They are shaped with grooves and nubs to clean teeth, and usually contain breath freshening agents. Biscuits are a good all-around treat because they are hard and crunchy; but finding biscuits with safe, healthful ingredients can be a challenge. Avoid any biscuits with dyes or artificial colors, preservatives, sugars, or weird chemicals. We like Nutro Tartar Control biscuits, which are all natural and really popular with dogs. All of our recommended products are available in-store and on this website, in the Amazon aStore.
Make the choice to take better care of your pet. Nothing is sadder than a dog condemned to eating soft foods for the rest of his life because his teeth are infected, weak, or missing. Caring for your dog’s teeth can be an easy part of your normal habits, just like clipping his nails or brushing his fur. But you have to take the initiative. Say no to periodontal disease forever, and yes to a loving relationship with healthy dogs and cats!
AVDC – Home card for cats
AVDC – Home care for dogs
Periodontal Disease – The American Veterinary Dental College
VOHC- Veterinary Oral Health Council