Dental Care Needs for Your Pets
We spoke with a board-certified dental veterinarian for advice on pet dental care
February is National Pet Dental Health month and a good time to remind pet owners that their pets’ teeth should be checked at least annually. Just like for people, an animal’s oral health has a direct bearing on their overall health.
To get the scoop on pet dental care, I chose to interview a board-certified dental veterinarian—someone who completed their veterinary training, has taken at least three years of additional dental residency training that’s accredited by the American Veterinary Dental College and has passed both a written (knowledge) test and a practical (skills) test to become a Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College. Dr. Glenn Brigden of Pacific Coast Veterinary Dentistry & Oral Surgery in North County (pcvetdentistry.com) was happy to take time out of his busy day to chat with me.
How important is taking your dog or cat for a dental check-up?
Periodontal health is just as important for our pets as it is for us. The disease process is essentially the same in pets as it is for us.
Are there pet insurance companies that cover dental?
There are some pet insurance companies, and they all cover some oral problems, but few will cover routine periodontal therapy (cleanings) or even extractions due to periodontal disease. Most will only cover oral trauma. It is best to research the companies and read the fine print to see which coverage would give your pets the best protection.
At what age should we start dental cleanings for our pets?
Dental cleanings are generally needed around the age of 3 to 4 years, but daily oral home care can be started much earlier as puppies and kittens. Daily tooth brushing is the gold standard prevention for our pets—just like it is for us.
Brushing dog teeth is usually not a pleasant experience for either the dog or the dog’s human. Any tips?
There is no fool-proof way to get around the resistance with every dog, but I usually recommend positive reinforcement. It definitely helps to start at an early age, acclimating your pet to having your fingers in their mouths. Give your dog a small sample of the pet toothpaste as a treat. I recommend spreading the paste on the teeth by using your fingers first. Then slowly introduce the dog toothbrush in combination with the fingers, until you are only using the brush. Pushing the paste into the bristles will help keep the paste where it needs to be during the treatment, instead of being licked off the brush before it touches the teeth. Always reward the dog afterwards with words and petting or even a favorite game.
Brushing your cat’s teeth uses the same process but you can try dipping your finger in tuna water to make the experience more agreeable.
Note: Always use toothpaste made especially for your pets. Human toothpaste or baking soda can be harmful.
What diseases can occur from dental problems?
Periodontal disease is the number one disease in our pets, and it is estimated that 80 percent of pets over the age of 3 years have it. Periodontal disease can lead to abscesses, loose teeth, loss of teeth, as well as chronic pain and infections.
What symptoms indicate a dental problem?
Bad breath is not normal and is usually the first indication that periodontal therapy may be needed.
The signs of chronic pain-infection are usually not noticed by owners until after the teeth have been treated. Some owners report that the pets have more energy, eat better, and seem happier after treatments. Before treatment, most of these owners attributed any of this to simply getting older.
Is there a special diet or food that is good for prevention?
There are many “dental” diets that have either ingredients or textures that help reduce the plaque accumulation on the teeth. Some of these foods can be found on the Veterinary Oral Health Council listing (vohc.org).
I recommend consulting your veterinarian before making changes to the diet, especially when on prescription diets.
How about products for preventive dental care?
In general, I would recommend products that have been accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. I would be wary of the really hard treats and chew toys that can fracture teeth.