Have you ever halted cuddle sessions with your favorite feline or slobbery kisses from your loving pup because of your pet’s smelly breath? Doggy breath is not a normal part of living with a pet, and may indicate that your pet is suffering from dental disease. Bad breath is often the first clue that your pet’s mouth is unhealthy. Pets, especially cats, are experts at hiding signs of illness or disease, and knowing if your pet’s mouth is painful or their teeth are causing problems is difficult. Dental disease often starts when pets are young—in fact, by the time they reach 3 years of age, more than 80% of dogs and cats will have some form of dental disease. Caring for your pet’s teeth may seem like a chore, but like people, dental health is vital for overall health and wellness. Our Columbia Park Animal Hospital team wants to ensure your pet’s smile is always sparkling, so we offer three dental health tips for your furry friends.  

#1: Schedule regular preventive care and dental cleanings for your pet

Regular preventive care visits are vital to ensure your four-legged companion remains by your side and healthy throughout their life. Many U.S. dogs and cats have not seen a veterinarian in the past year for check- ups and preventive health care. A 2013 study by Bayer HealthCare and the American Association of Feline Practitioners found that more than half of U.S. cats had not seen a veterinarian for needed checkups. Pets are wonderful communicators, especially when they want a treat or a trip to the park, but cannot communicate that their teeth need a professional cleaning, or something feels painful. Subtle behavior changes are often the only clue that something is wrong with your pet. Fortunately, your veterinarian is able to identify these subtle changes.

At your pet’s preventive care visit, your veterinarian will take a detailed history, and examine your pet from nose to tail, including an oral exam, to get to the root—pun intended—of your pet’s dental problems. Yearly, or more frequent, veterinary preventive care visits will help ensure your pet does not suffer from severe, painful dental disease. Dental disease also puts pets at risk for other medical issues, because oral bacteria can travel through the bloodstream and cause life-threatening kidney, liver, or heart infections.

Your veterinarian may also recommend an in-depth oral exam and dental cleaning while your pet is under anesthesia. You may be reluctant for your pet to be anesthetized, but that is the safest, most effective, stress-free method for performing this procedure. Unfortunately, pets won’t remain still and keep their mouths open like people. All pets who undergo an anesthetic dental exam and cleaning are closely monitored with advanced medical equipment and expert staff. Additionally, your veterinarian will run blood work to ensure your pet’s organs can properly process the anesthetic agents. Your pet’s professional dental cleaning and oral exam may include:

  • Intravenous fluids to support their organs and blood pressure during the procedure
  • Specialized warming pads and blankets to maintain body temperature
  • Dental X-rays to examine teeth below the gumline 
  • Cleaning with specialized tools, including an ultrasonic scaler
  • A fluoride-infused polish to prevent plaque buildup
  • Tooth repair, or extraction of loose or damaged teeth 

#2: Start a home pet oral health care routine

People brush their teeth twice daily, and similar routine brushing of your pet’s teeth is recommended. It’s never too early or too late to start brushing your pet’s teeth, because regular brushing is the most effective way to ensure their teeth remain healthy between professional veterinary cleanings. Twice daily toothbrushing is best for your pet, but a minimum three times a week is also beneficial. The best routine is one that is realistic for you and your pet’s lifestyle and limitations. Guidelines for brushing your pet’s teeth include:

  • Toothpaste — Choose a pet-safe toothpaste that your pet likes and that is approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Many flavors are available, so don’t give up if your pet resists the first toothpaste. Also, never use human toothpaste, which contains ingredients, like xylitol, toxic to pets.
  • Toothbrush — Use a pet-specific or child-sized toothbrush, since human brushes don’t fit well in your pet’s mouth.

At-home dental care should complement professional veterinary cleanings, not replace them. 

#3:Recognize dental disease signs in your pet

The most common, easily recognizable dental disease sign in your pet is bad breath. Other dental disease signs, which indicate a veterinary evaluation is required, include:

  • Decreased appetite 
  • Blood on chew toys
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Abnormal chewing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dropping food from their mouth while eating
  • Behavior changes (i.e., irritability, or cats who are hiding more)

Our Columbia Park Animal Hospital team wants to ensure your pet’s chompers are healthy through all their life stages. Call our office if you have any questions about their dental health, or to schedule an appointment.