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How to take care of your pet’s dental health

How often do you look in your pet's mouth? Do you track the development of plaque and tartar that is sadly inevitable in most cats and dogs? Would you know what signs of poor dental health to look out for?

The build-up of plaque and tartar on teeth can lead to periodontal disease, the infection of the tissues supporting the teeth. It's not always easy to tell if your pet is suffering from dental problems, especially if they won't let you lift their lip for a good look. An often painful condition, poor dental health can lead to additional complications, even heart disease in dogs, as well as anorexia and weight loss. So because the vast majority of pets will suffer with it at some point in their life, it is important that owners and veterinary professionals alike, are vigilant on the matter and take steps to prevent and treat dental deterioration.

What should you look out for? Classic signs include a 'dirty-looking' build up of plaque on the teeth. Redness to the gums is another classic sign, and if you're able to look very closely at your pets’ teeth you might notice receding gum lines which expose more sensitive parts of the tooth. So, what if you can't look for these things without fearing for your fingers? Bad breath can be a good indicator, as can a pet who is losing weight or choosing not to crunch their biscuits or treats as they once did. There are many things we can do to help these pets, so we’ll take you through them here.

Daily brushing of your pet’s teeth has to be the highest standard of mouth care, if they'll tolerate it that is! It is best started at a young age so as to get your pet used to the sensation early. Older pets can be taught however, with careful, gentle and slow introduction and using a tasty poultry- or fish-flavoured paste. Small finger-mounted brushes are available to help get started as they are discrete and soft, before moving on to a larger toothbrush. It is important to brush all edges of the teeth but especially the outer sides. Ask us if you'd like to know more about brushing and training techniques and remember: NEVER use human toothpaste on pets, it can be toxic, but it’s difficult to tell a cat or a dog not to swallow!

For cats and dogs who won't tolerate brushing, there are a few other options and although they won't always produce the same results as brushing, they could help a little. Water additives (for your pet’s water bowl) and pastes (applied directly to the teeth) work enzymatically to break plaque down, by inhibiting bacterial growth, or by creating a film that won’t allow bacteria to adhere to the teeth and gums. Certain dry foods have kibble shaped such that it helps keep plaque in check by mechanically removing it as the pet chews. Similarly, certain chews are available, in particular for dogs, which claim to work in the same way. Ask us for more information on which diets and chews are best for you pet. 

When things get a little beyond what is controllable at home, or when a pet begins to show signs of discomfort, it's worth thinking about whether veterinary intervention might be appropriate. Pre-emptive scaling and polishing of teeth, even before periodontal disease has developed, is increasingly being taken up by owners for cats and dogs. This is a positive and forward thinking trend which helps pets live with the healthiest and most comfortable mouths. 

Of course these procedures can't be carried out without anaesthesia, and we know that many pet owners worry about the associated risks. Sadly, the evidence suggests that anaesthetic-free dental treatment only improves the cosmetic appearance of the teeth, rather than improving their health below the gum line. Whilst no anaesthetic is without risk, veterinary anaesthetic protocols have improved dramatically in recent years and some take the view that a short, elective anaesthetic for a scale and polish of a younger animal, could prevent a longer, non-elective anaesthetic in an aging pet later down the line. Our Pet Health Club clients enjoy 10% discount on dental procedures because we know how important an issue it is. In addition, in our bid for better pet dental health, we are pleased to be running a special offer of scaling and polishing throughout January and February 2019, just ask for more information.

Regular health checks at the vets are an important part of a pet's dental health care plan; we can help you assess and plan preventative treatment to suit your pet, their specific issues and what is realistic and effective for them. So don’t struggle in silence, if you feel that all is not well with your pet’s pearly-whites, we are here to help.