Saturday 20 March marks World Oral Health Day and vet charity PDSA is reminding pet owners to check their pet’s dental routine too.
Dental disease is common among our four-legged friends, which causes pain, plus it can be linked to other health problems over time. It’s often more obvious in older animals, but problems can start early.
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing says: “Just like us, plaque sticks to the surface of our pet’s teeth. If not removed, the minerals in saliva harden the plaque, turning it into tartar; a hard, brown substance that crusts onto the teeth. Problems come when plaque and tartar develop under the gums, causing discomfort and damage to the tissues surrounding the teeth. Because this is below the gums, it can’t be seen, so even if your pet’s teeth look clean, there can still be a problem.”
Dental disease damages the gums and, over time, the gums can recede to expose tooth roots, affected teeth may become loose and infected. If left untreated, bacteria can enter the blood stream, which can cause problems for the heart and other organs like the liver or kidneys.
Some chewing toys, dental chews and diets are specially designed to help remove plaque from teeth. While these can help to keep pets’ mouths healthy, always combine them with tooth brushing to stop problems developing.
Nina added: “Brushing cats’ and dogs’ teeth every day is the best way to avoid plaque. If this is gradually introduced in the right way, ideally from a young age, daily brushing will become a normal part of their routine and can even be fun!
Nina’s tips for introducing tooth brushing to your pet:
- Get your pet used to the taste of pet toothpaste by letting them lick a small amount from the end of your finger. It doesn’t have fluoride like human toothpaste so can be safely swallowed, and is usually a chicken, fish or malt flavour which your pet should enjoy.
- Get them used to the idea of touching around their mouth and gums, starting by gently touching their face, giving positive praise or a treat as a reward. Next, lift up their lips gently, pulling them back so you can look at all their teeth.
- To get them ready to accept a toothbrush, gently rub a soft cloth along their gums and teeth – this gets them used to having something in their mouth.
- Apply toothpaste to your finger and rub along the outer gums and teeth, gradually progressing to a toothbrush. At first try just a single swipe at a time and build up to daily brushing.
Remember it’s never too late to start! Follow the same introduction for older animals, but it may take a little longer for them to become used to each step.
If you notice any signs of dental disease, such as bad breath, excessive drooling or difficulty eating, make an appointment with your vet.
PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information www.pdsa.org.uk.