In recent times dental disease in cats and dogs has become a major component of a Vet's daily case load.
This may be because we now better recognise the discomfort this causes for our usually uncomplaining patients and potential for further disease to result from it if allowed to go un-treated.
The breed of dog also has a bearing. The small toy breeds with more delicate jaw structures seem to be more prone to trouble. Poodles, Maltese and Chihuahuas especially and with their increasing popularity, so does the incidence of disease increase. These pets also are very much part of the family and spend most of their lives in close contact with us so that dental problems are far more commonly recognised compared to when the pet lived exclusively outside. Also, more dental disease should be expected due to the average life span of cats and dogs increasing allowing it to develop more fully.
As with humans the main emphasis should be on prevention. Once periodontal disease starts its progression can be slowed but not readily stopped.
Good nutrition early in life is essential. This starts with the bitch or queen being fed a nutritious balanced diet and then the continuing on with appropriate balanced nutrition whilst the adult teeth are forming. Homemade diets can’t guarantee the quality and balance that can be found with scientifically formulated commercial products.
Once we have grown good teeth the development of plaque that turns into tartar which in turn causes gum disease (periodontal disease) is our biggest concern. Once tartar has formed we are stuck with veterinary cleaning under anaesthetic. Prevention of this is focussed on plaque removal/prevention that can be done at home .Teaching a kitten or puppy to accept tooth brushing is the ideal... But it’s not easy!!! Only a small number of Veterinarians admitted to doing it for their pets at a recent conference so even we find it difficult. Second best option is a good diet that includes food that prevents plaque build-up due to its chemical components and abrasive action .Many of the better diets are formulated with this in mind. Encouraging chewing is also a good strategy. I advise supporting their natural desire to chew whilst teething in the hope that this behaviour will persist and protect the older cat or dog. The use of bones can be controversial in this regard with pros and cons associated with their use. I think the right type of bone is beneficial but it may be best to discuss the issues fully with your Vet as some bones have the potential to cause problems for the teeth and digestive tract. Some dental diseases can’t be prevented, especially an erosive disease in cats that eats away at the teeth, causing them a lot of pain before breaking off at the gum margin. In these cases extraction can be the only successful method to help.
The symptoms to look out for are- smelly breath, dribbling, pawing at the mouth as if irritated, not eating normally, swelling about the face, abnormal salivary which stains the coat and a changed demeanour.
It can be very gratifying to witness a happier companion once the source of pain has been removed. It can also be a little scary to realise that we may not have noticed the behavioural change for quite some time because our pets really don’t want to show their problems as quickly as we would!