(by Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM) We always try to provide our beloved dog or cat with a soft bed, a balanced diet, regular visits to the vet, exercise, play, etc., but how often do we think about the importance of oral hygiene?
Most of us consider our pet to be a family member, and any member of the family knows how vital teeth hygiene is to the whole body's health, not just the oral cavity.
Just as we humans should go for a regular check-up, so should our pets - we should take them to an annual check-up at the vet's clinic to make sure everything is under control.
Have you ever wondered what our teeth would look like if we didn't brush them at all? Brushing our teeth is part of our daily routine, and some people brush their teeth more than twice a day, or at least after every meal. Early studies show that many medical conditions, even deaths, were caused by dental diseases. Dental care and oral hygiene have revolutionized medicine, and life expectancy in humans has increased considerably since then.
The same thing happens with pets - oral hygiene is crucial for the whole body's health, not only the teeth and the oral cavity. Do you think that teeth conditions do not affect the health of our pets?
Oral Hygiene in Pets
In dogs and cats, dental diseases rank first in the list of conditions. They usually appear after the age of 3 and affect over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats. The causes of dental diseases are the lack of brushing, improper diet, dental abscesses, tartar, bacterial plaque, cracking or breaking of a tooth, advanced age, etc.
Lack of oral hygiene or poor oral hygiene in pets can result in bad breath, teeth loss, gum problems, difficulty feeding (especially chewing), and can even cause medical issues throughout the body such as hepatic, renal, or cardiac diseases.
You should start teaching your pet to accept brushing its teeth around the age of 8 - 12 weeks old, but it is never too late! At this age, though ultra-energetic, pets are easy to train. You do not have to use toothpaste from the beginning; dogs and cats must first adjust to brushing their teeth.
For this, you will wrap a piece of gauze around your index finger, over which you will put a little bit of pate or fish paste (especially for cats). This method is how you will get your puppy or kitten used to the routine of brushing its teeth! Once your fluffy friend is used to this daily routine, you can replace the gauze with a finger toothbrush or a very soft toothbrush, over which you will put the toothpaste (approved by your veterinarian).
If, however, you are afraid to start brushing your pet's teeth regularly or your dog/cat is too old to learn to do so, veterinarians recommend teeth scaling under total anesthesia at the clinic. Why under anesthesia and not without it? If we scale a pet without anesthesia, all the bacterial plaque and tartar under the gum will not be removed. Therefore, the bacteria will attach much faster to the tooth surface (being cleaned). The teeth will look white and clean, but what remains under the gums can lead to dental diseases.
Suppose you disagree with teeth scaling under total anesthesia. In that case, your veterinarian may prescribe dental diets, chew toys - which help clean its teeth, some (not all brands are good) dental treats, or specific substances that can be added into your pet's drinking water to sanitize its mouth. If, however, your pet still has bad breath, mouth bleeding, pain when you touch the mouth area, etc., it may be a sign of poor oral health, and I recommend checking that up at a veterinary clinic.
The Most Common Oral Conditions in Dogs
In dogs, dental conditions can occur at any age, regardless of their breed. They are extremely painful and can also lead to internal diseases.
- Plaque and tartar - represent the accumulation of food and bacteria on the teeth and under the gums. It has an orange-brown color and, if left untreated, the disease begins to damage the teeth, which will eventually swell and rot. Bacteria present on the teeth can enter the body and reach organs, such as the kidneys, heart, and liver.
- Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) - causes pain, tenderness, and sometimes bleeding. It is an effect of the accumulation of plaque and tartar at this level.
- Tooth breaking or cracking occurs if the dog has experienced physical trauma or if its teeth have been weakened due to a medical condition (such as periodontitis), and the teeth no longer resist and begin to crack or break at the root. Teeth can also damage due to bone consumption. Bones can also cause bacterial plaque and tartar to fall off or can puncture and enter the gums, leading to bleeding, gingivitis, and subsequent local infection (due to the bacteria in the mouth) if not treated in time.
- Dental abscess - an abscess is a bag of pus that forms at the tooth's root, inflaming the entire cheek area, which can extend under the eyes. The most affected teeth are usually those on the upper jaw. If the abscess is big and antibiotics didn't do the trick, the tooth will need to be removed and the abscess cleaned. In severe cases, the infection can spread through the blood vessels into the organs.
The Most Common Oral Conditions in Cats
Unlike dogs, in cats, dental diseases generally occur in the elderly, worsening over time. In addition to the dental diseases previously mentioned in dogs, cats may also suffer from resorptive lesions or gingivostomatitis.
- Resorptive lesions (odontoclastic resorptive lesions) - these are similar to cavities, which are very rare in cats. Erosions of the tooth represent them, and they appear at or near the cementoenamel junction, at the tooth base; the cause of their occurrence is unknown. They are painful and can lead to tooth breakage over time, and the affected teeth must be removed. This type of dental disease is found in most cats (67%), the most affected breeds being Siamese, Abyssinian, and Persian. It may cause a lack of appetite, oral pain, and changing food preferences (from kibbles to wet food).
- Gingivostomatitis is a severe form of gingivitis that cats may suffer and occurs when the immune system targets plaque and tartar. This condition causes inflammation of the entire mouth (oral mucosa), not just the gums, hypersalivation, lack of appetite, shortness of breath, changes in behavior, and lack of grooming. It can be extremely painful.
Causes of Bad Breath in Pets
In dogs, the leading cause of bad breath is periodontitis - a dental condition found in over 80% of dogs after the age of 3 years old. This is because food debris mixes with the bacteria in the pet's mouth, and if the dog's teeth are not brushed shortly after eating, a film forms on the teeth called plaque. This bacterial plaque can harden into tartar, and if it is not removed (through scaling), over time, it can accumulate under the gums, leading to periodontal disease.
Periodontitis is an inflammation of the periodontium, the tissue that supports and fixes the teeth in the jaw bone and can lead to tooth loss by destroying the soft tissue and the bone that supports the teeth. Other diseases that lead to bad breath in pets are diabetes, liver and kidney diseases, or gastrointestinal problems.
Bad Breath Remedies
- Coconut oil is known to have many benefits for the body and antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It can be added to the dog's food in small quantities or used when brushing your pet's teeth.
- Apple cider vinegar - a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar added to your dog's drinking water can help with bad breath.
- Parsley - is known to be rich in vitamin C but is also used as a fragrance. You can put a teaspoon of chopped parsley at 20 kg body weight over the food or mix it in the drinking water of your fluffy friend. Use only curly parsley.
- Carrots and apple slices - in addition to making a healthy snack, carrots and apple slices also have the property of cleaning the teeth, helping to keep them clean and a fresh breath.
- DIY toothbrush - as we mentioned at the beginning of the article (how to teach puppies or kittens to accept brushing their teeth), a good "toothbrush" can be made from a gauze wrapped around the finger. Over it, you can use toothpaste for pets (human toothpaste is toxic because it contains xylitol).
- Probiotics - help maintain the balance of the oral flora, therefore a fresh breath.
If, however, your dog or cat has a smelly breath constantly and you also notice other changes (lack of appetite, mobile teeth, tooth loss, excessive salivation, etc.), take your beloved pet to the vet for a consultation and adequate treatment.
Spring Naturals Nutrition
Along with dental care, help keep your pet healthier with a healthy protein, low-carb, low-glycemic diet with human-grade meats and nutrient-dense superfoods.
Our secret is six superfoods for pets at Spring Naturals, including whole, market-fresh fruits, and vegetables such as quinoa, blueberries, cranberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, and carrots. You can check out our handcrafted recipes for felines and canines in several delicious flavors at SpringNaturals.com.
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic at her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.