At Castle Vets, we see a huge number of pets every month with some form of dental disease. Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition affecting dogs and cats and is caused by plaque and tartar building up on the teeth, leading to tooth decay, infection and inflammation of the gums.
Did you know that by the age of 3 years, 80% of dogs and 70% cats have some sign of dental disease? If left untreated, dental disease can lead to premature loss of teeth and gum tissue. The bacteria in plaque can also spread to vital organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys leading to infection and further problems.
Common Signs Of Dental Disease
- Weight loss
- Not eating well
- Rubbing the face
- Bad breath
- Chattering teeth
- Increased salivation
- Loss of coat condition
- Bleeding gums
- Inflamed (very red) gums
- Receding gums
- Plaque or staining visible on the teeth
- Loose teeth
- Missing teeth
- Swelling on the side of the face (abscess)
- Chewing food slowly or only on one side of the mouth
If you notice any of these symptoms please take you pet to see your vet as soon as possible; dental problems can be extremely painful and can lead to further complications very quickly.
Some examples of dental disease
Most Dental Disease Is Preventable!
It is a good idea to start preventative health care as soon as possible in order to help avoid putting your pet through lengthy dental surgery when he or she is older. As with humans, daily brushing will keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy and help prevent bad breath.
- Brushing can be started at any age but should always be introduced slowly
- Remember to reward your pet after brushing his or her teeth
- Always use pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste can be harmful to pets
- Always use a pet toothbrush because they are designed with the shape of your pet’s teeth in mind, so will do a much better job than a human toothbrush
How to brush your pet’s teeth
Gradually build up the following stages over a period of 1-2 weeks until your pet is happy with the procedure. It is really important that you remember to reward your pet after each session to encourage acceptance.
Without using a brush, gently stroke the outside of your pets cheeks with your finger and try lifting each lip slowly for about 10 -20 seconds.
Repeat stage 1 and also offer your pet a small amount of pet toothpaste on the end of your finger or a toothbrush and let them lick it off.
Repeat stage 2 but this time start to gently run your finger or toothbrush, with a small amount of toothpaste, over your pet’s teeth for about 10-20 seconds. Don’t press hard onto the teeth or gums, just use light forward, backward, up and down motions.
Repeat stage 3 with the toothbrush, adding another 10-20 seconds to the time spent brushing. You can now start to add in circular motions over the teeth and gums with the toothbrush.
When your pet is comfortable with tooth brushing, you can build up to 1-2 minutes a day on each side of the mouth. If your pet won’t stay still for that long you could try doing one side in the morning and the other in the evening.
Hints And Tips For Successful Brushing
- The daily brushing procedure should be an enjoyable experience for your pet. If you follow up each brushing session with a really good reward your pet is more likely to accept the procedure. For cats this could be a bit of tasty fish or a cat treat, for dogs you can use food treats or follow brushing with a walk or a play session
- Take things slowly with your pet when you initially start brushing. If your pet becomes uncomfortable with a stage, go back to the previous stage and try again. If your pet becomes distressed at the procedure, stop. If you continue or force your pet the whole procedure will just become more difficult
- Try to choose a time of the day when you can spend a few minutes of relaxed contact with your pet, rather than trying to fit it in when you are rushing about
- Find a position that is comfortable for your pets. With dogs you could try lying them on their side with their head on your lap so you have easy access. With cats sometimes less restraint is better; a cat that enjoys the taste of the toothpaste may just let you raise the lips and brush
- The small teeth at the front of your pet’s mouth (incisors) tend to be more sensitive than the rest of the teeth, so don’t start brushing these until your pet is comfortable with having the rest of their teeth brushed
- The outer surfaces of the upper teeth are the ones that tend to attract the most plaque, so these should be given the most attention – fortunately they are also the easiest to get to
- You don’t necessarily need to brush the insides of your pet’s teeth as your pet’s tongue and the toothpaste will do a fairly good job there
- Make sure you include the gums when brushing teeth as the gum line is as important to keep clean as the teeth
- Some cats hate the idea of finger brushes. With these cats try a small piece of gauze over your little finger, it should be abrasive enough to clean the teeth but will be far less invasive
- We recommend you use a finger brush or a piece of gauze for tooth brushing because you will be able to feel exactly where the brush is going and the pressure you are applying. Long handled toothbrushes can bump and bruise gums which will upset your pet. We don’t recommend the use of electric toothbrushes on your pet as they can be too harsh on the teeth and gums
- If your pet won’t tolerate brushing at all don’t worry, please come in and have a chat with one of our veterinary nurses about alternative methods. Nothing is as good as brushing but some of the alternatives are far better than doing nothing at all
There are many different types of pet toothbrush available for pets. Ask one of our veterinary nurses for advice on the most suitable one for your pet.
What You Feed Your Pet Can Make A Difference
Your pet’s diet plays a major role in the development of plaque and calculus. Soft or sticky foods should be avoided, especially if you cannot brush your pet’s teeth. Commercial dry pet foods don’t work because the biscuit just crumbles when your dog or cat chews their food, so they do nothing to clean the teeth. Some pet foods have been specially formulated to assist with dental care and generally contain larger and different shaped biscuits to help keep the teeth plaque free.
Alternatives To Brushing
Although nothing beats brushing, we understand that some pets will just not tolerate it. Fortunately there are a few of other ways that you can help your pet including dental gels and mouth washes and special diets.
Logic oral hygiene gel is a medicated dental gel that helps prevent the formation of dental plaque and fights bad breath. The multi-enzyme system in Logic Oral Hygiene Gel supplements the animal’s own defence mechanism to help fight harmful bacteria in the mouth. The gel also contains a surfactant which ensures that the active ingredients remain in contact with the teeth and gums and mild abrasives that help break down existing plaque. Logic is ideally used as a toothpaste with brushing but, in the case of a pet that won’t accept brushing, it will still be beneficial due to the abrasive and enzymatic properties.
C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Rinse is a dental mouthwash and breath freshener for cats and dogs. It provides antibacterial action and plaque prevention and is effective in helping maintain oral health when used daily with or without brushing.
ProDen Plaque Off is a supplement that can be added to the pet’s food once daily. When the unique agents of Plaque Off reach the saliva they effectively prevent oral bacteria from producing plaque and tartar. Existing tartar becomes porous and loosens by itself or is easily removed through normal brushing of the teeth. Improvements are normally seen within 5-8 weeks. Plaque Off is also made from 100% natural ingredients. (Plaque Off may not be suitable for use in animals with hyperthyroidism or other chronic diseases due to the iodine content, so check with your vet first).
All of these products are available at Castle Vets
If your pet will not tolerate tooth brushing, ask your veterinary nurse which alternative product may help you keep your pet’s teeth clean.
Dental Chews, biscuits and treats
Chewing produces saliva, which can help protect your pet’s teeth and some types of dental treats can help to reduce tarter build-up and plaque. Rawhide chews, dental chews, dental biscuits and chew toys are all helpful as long as they encourage sustained chewing (15-30 minutes). Watch out for the calorie content of these products, as they can range from 30 kcal to 300 kcal per product, so it is really important to remember to reduce your pet’s normal food accordingly to avoid weight gain. You should also consider the size of the chew as well; if your pet can swallow it in one bite, it is not really going to do anything to help keep his or her teeth clean.
We recommend that you look for chews and treats that are recommended by your veterinary team or that have been approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) and have their seal on the packaging.
There is a huge range of dental chews and toys available for cats and dogs, but not all are suitable
At Castle Vets we offer free dental appointments with our veterinary nurses so you can discuss your pet’s dental health. The veterinary nurse nurse will give your pet a dental check and advise you on how to keep your pet’s teeth and gums in tip top condition. Please contact us to make an appointment.