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Preventative Dental Care for Dogs and Cats

by: Nancy M. Gerhardt, DVM

Bad breath may be a sign of a number of health problems in dogs and cats, but it is usually the result of dental disease. Periodontal disease, broken teeth, cavities and abscesses are some of the troubles caused by heredity, diet, aging, environmental factors and poor hygiene. Ideally, proper oral care including brushing your pet's teeth, proper diet and dental checkups should begin long before the permanent teeth erupt. When all the permanent teeth are in, any deciduous ("baby") teeth remaining should be removed. In some cases, earlier strategic removal of deciduous teeth may be needed to prevent future malocclusion.

Your veterinarian will customarily examine your pet's teeth at annual or semiannual checkups to determine if your adult dog or cat needs cleaning, radiographs or further evaluation. Prescription diets and treats which remove plaque are available and are especially helpful if your pet does not permit regular brushing.

Frequency of preventative cleanings depend on many factors which affect oral health. Some people need their teeth cleaned only once a year to maintain oral health while others may require professional scaling four times a year. Similarly, one pet may go for years without needing a veterinarian to remove plaque and calculus while another may require professional cleaning more than once a year.

Fortunately, modern anesthesia for your pet is much safer than that which was available years ago. Your veterinarian can advise you about preanesthetic laboratory testing and the benefits and risk of preventative work or treatments. Keeping your pet?s mouth healthy can prevent heart, sinus, kidney and liver problems which sometimes start from a bacterial infection in the mouth. Oral tumors which may be difficult to detect when your pet is awake may be found and removed during cleaning. This is critical, as many as half of all mouth tumors in dogs and cats are cancerous.

There are veterinary dental specialists who can perform any procedure which is possible but that your regular veterinarian may prefer to refer due to its nature or complexity. Please be certain to have your pet's teeth and mouth checked regularly. Don't assume your pet is healthy because everything seems all right, when there may be an abscessed tooth or oral cancer threatening more than your pet's breath odor! Also see your veterinarian immediately if your pet has bad breath, unusual salivation or facial swelling, pain or difficulty eating. A healthy mouth means a happier pet. Schedule that dental appointment today!