DENTAL CARE – PEARLY WHITES OR GROTTY GNASHERS?
We may know that it’s important to keep our pets’ teeth and gums in good health, as we do our own, but why is this so imperative?
Unfortunately, tooth and gum disease can affect our beloved pet’s entire body. That’s right. It becomes difficult for your pet to eat and enjoy his food if his teeth are loose and sore. Bacteria naturally found in the mouth are able to form abscesses at the roots of affected teeth. Worse still, the bacteria present in infected gums are circulated throughout the body via the bloodstream. A diseased mouth, apart from smelling awful, can result in septicaemia, which can affect the heart valves, kidneys and, in extreme cases, even lead to death!
We all remember the adorable puppy – or kitty-breath that melted our hearts when we first brought our furball home. But, these days those kisses aren’t quite as pleasant…. It may be that your pet’s diet is a factor, eg. if he eats a high-fish diet, or one that gives him indigestion and causes burping. Or the pong may be a result of an underlying health problem. If you follow our step-by-step guide to great dental health for your pet and his breath is still ghastly, be sure to take him for a veterinary check-up to rule out medical causes. However, the most likely cause of less-than-fresh breath, is poor dental health.
We often forget that dogs and cats won’t “open up and say ahhhh” for their vet, as we do when we go to the dentist. A dental scale and polish for pets therefore requires a general anaesthetic. Add to this an hour or two of tooth extractions, and you’re potentially looking at a bill of up to R7000! And who doesn’t want to avoid having their pet put under anaesthetic needlessly if this can be prevented? So how can we ensure that our pets’ teeth and gums stay in good health from puppy- or kitty-hood, right through to their golden years, without us having to avoid their happy panting breath, or loving licks?
Regular brushing with a pet-friendly toothbrush and specially formulated toothpaste for dogs and cats is your first and best defence against pet dental problems. Provided your pets are introduced to this process slowly, and receive positive reinforcement throughout, most can be taught to accept tooth-brushing. Start by getting your dog or cat used to their muzzle, lips and the inside of their mouth being touched, using treats to reward them for allowing this contact. Once they are comfortable for you to inspect their mouth, move on to wrapping your forefinger with a gauze pad and gently rubbing it along the outside of the teeth and gums. Next step, include a dollop of pet-toothpaste to the gauze. These are usually available in a pleasant (for pets!) malt or poultry-flavour. Never use human toothpaste as it contains fluoride and shouldn’t be swallowed. Also, pets don’t generally enjoy the taste of mint. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to using a pet toothbrush: either one that fits over your finger, or a long handled type with two different head sizes to suit pets with various sized mouths.
Daily brushing can be a bit of a pipe dream (although there are some very diligent pet-parents who do this), but aim for three times a week at least. Remember that when your pet comes to Twisted Whiskers for his grooming visit, we will happily include a complimentary tooth-brushing as part of the treatment. We keep each pet’s personal brush and paste in a marked container, ready for their appointment.
There are many reasons why people feed their pets tinned, raw or home-cooked food, but remember that doing so eliminates the “brushing” effect the pet experiences when eating a good quality veterinary-premium kibble. If you prefer to feed soft food, or if your pet is on an exclusively soft food diet for medical reasons, you will need to pay extra attention to their dental health. Soft food is sticky, tends to collect around the back teeth and forms a plaque base for the minerals in the saliva to attach. This leads to a hard mineralised mass forming on the outside of the tooth, called calculus or tartar, which cannot be removed except by professional dental scaling. Apart from the mechanical brushing effect that kibble food has on the teeth, a number of the premium veterinary diets available from Twisted Whiskers or your veterinary clinic include a polyphosphate complex, which activates on contact with saliva and coats the teeth as the pet eats, as for hours after his meal, to prevent calcium and other minerals from attaching to plaque. How amazing that your pet’s teeth can be kept in good condition, just by eating his regular meals!
DENTAL CARE CHEWS AND TREATS
There is a confusing array of these available, all promising to keep your pet’s teeth clean and his breath fresh. At present, there is only one product available that has published studies to prove its benefit to dental health. Have a look on the label and avoid products that consist purely of a variety of vegetable gums, potato starch and contain no polyphosphates. Chlorophyll may help keep your fur-kid’s breath fresh for a short while, but it will do nothing to reduce plaque or tartar and will have no lasting effect. Just because it’s green in colour, doesn’t mean it works!
The majority of treats are gobbled up in seconds, so your chosen dental care treat also needs to promote chewing. Many dried meat treats have a beneficial effect on oral health by virtue of their fibrous nature that promotes chewing and mechanically removes plaque. Ask Twisted Whiskers staff about a daily chew that either encourages chewing, or includes a polyphosphate complex, or both, to guard against plaque formation.
MOUTH-WASHES AND WATER ADDITIVES
A number of products are available that can either be squirted onto pets’ gums and teeth or added to their water in order to reduce plaque formation and freshen breath. Again, beware! Ask your vet or TW staff member about a veterinary-endorsed water additive by a reputable manufacturer that can be helpful if your pet will not tolerate having his teeth brushed.
By all means, try this method, but bear in mind that many cats and dogs are put off by substances being added to their water. This can be a real problem if it discourages them from drinking the water they need to consume daily for their overall health and well-being. Keep a close eye on how much pets are drinking if you add dental care products to their water. If you’re going to use a mouth-spray, ensure that it has proven antibacterial ingredients or it may just mask unpleasant odours for a short while. We stock a comprehensive range at Twisted Whiskers.
While many of us grew up considering bones as part of a healthy dog or cat’s diet, this isn’t necessarily so. Yes, they may help keep teeth clean but they can also help to damage tooth enamel and fracture teeth. Even worse than this, the sharp ends of splintered bones can wreak havoc all the way down the digestive tract, puncturing tissues and organs, forming obstructions and, if they happen to travel all the way to the end, lodge in the rectum, building up into a painful mass that may need removing via enemas or even surgery. All in all, feeding bones, especially cooked ones, is a potentially costly exercise and one that has ended in tragedy for some pets. Bones are not recommended as part of a dental-care plan.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION…
The very best way to deal with dental health problems is to prevent them in the first place. Start your pet on a good-quality, veterinary-endorsed kibble diet from the moment he arrives home. While you’re house-training and socialising him, make tooth-brushing part of his regular routine and inspect your pet’s mouth regularly for plaque and calculus formation, swollen and reddened gums, broken teeth and anything else that looks abnormal. Ask your vet to check your pet’s oral health at each visit and include a quality dental chew as a daily treat. If your pet already has dental disease, visit your vet at the earliest opportunity and book a scale and polish to prevent the worsening of the disease. This will get the problem under control and you will be able to start afresh with a dedicated dental-health routine.
Here’s to many years of fresh furry kisses!
Written By Twisted Whiskers