February is Pet Dental Health Month when dog and cat owners are reminded of the importance of brushing their four-legged friends’ teeth. The awareness event is sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which says dental disease in one of the most common problems veterinarians see in pets.
Pet dental problems can become serious if untreated and dental infection can spread to the heart, kidneys and other organs, becoming a life-threatening condition for pets. Practicing good dental hygiene with your pets is the best prevention and AVMA recommends brushing at home and regular dental cleanings by your veterinarian.
How often should pet owners brush their pet’s teeth?
“It’s ideal to do it daily but even you can do it a couple times a week, they’re still going to benefit from that,” says Dr. Julia Georgesen of Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. “Plaque can cause gum disease, bad breath and tooth decay just like in people.”
The average cost to prevent dental disease in pets is $171.82 per pet, according to a 2013 analysis conducted by VPI Pet Insurance. The analysis found the cost to treat dental disease (without preventive steps) costs $531.71.
The best and easiest preventive step is brushing your pet’s teeth. Introduce brushing gently and gradually though. “It’s best to take in stages,” says Georgesen. “Find a dog tooth brush ideally, finger brushes work for small dogs and for big dogs it’s better to get a long brush with soft bristles.”
Dental treats such as chews can also be effective, according to Georgesen, because they scrape the tooth surface and remove plaque but she says never leave your pet alone with them. “They could choke on a piece or bite off a big piece and sit in their stomach,” says Georgesen. “I wouldn’t leave a pet unattended with one.”
A variety of retail products, like plaque-retardant sprays and gels are also available. You can find a list here.
Regular dental checkups are important to maintain your pet’s dental health and professional cleanings will be required during its lifetime but you should watch for signs of dental disease, including these symptoms:
• Red, swollen gums and brownish teeth
• Bad breath (pets usually have less than fresh breath but if it becomes really stinky, similar to the smell of a rotten egg, it could be a sign of periodontal disease)
• Bleeding from the mouth
• Frequent pawing or rubbing at the face and/or mouth
• Reluctance to eat hard foods
If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.