ByNorth Shore Animal League America Think dental care is only for people? Think again. Pet lovers who are dedicated to the care and lifelong well-being of their companion animals should include dental hygiene in their animals' regular health and wellness routine. "Dental hygiene is as important to your pets' overall health as nutrition and exercise," said Dr. Mark Verdino, vice president and chief of veterinary staff at North Shore Animal League America, which operates a full-service Pet Dental Suite at its Pet Health Center in Port Washington, N.Y. Poor dental hygiene can cause dental disease, which creates bacteria in the mouth. "Dental disease can cause numerous problems for your animals, including oral pain, halitosis, tooth loss and periodontal disease," Verdino said. "It can even affect the heart, kidneys, intestinal tract and joints." In addition, a pet in dental pain is not a happy pet, and the pain can affect his/her ability to eat. Preventative care is the first line of defense against dental disease. Verdino advises pet owners to take the following steps: It's important to brush your pets' teeth as early as possible. Their adult teeth are in at about 6 to 9 months old, and that's the best time to start a tooth-brushing regimen. Avoid dental products containing Xylitol, as it is highly toxic to dogs and questionable for cats. NEVER use human toothpaste to clean pets' teeth and gums. Your pets should have annual dental checkups by their veterinarians. Dental care for dogs and cats should never be neglected. However, since dental problems often develop gradually, it is easy to miss the signs (such as reluctance to eat or lack of activity) until there is a bad infection or serious cavity. During a medical exam, your veterinarian will determine the status of your pet's dental needs. If your pet needs more advanced dental care, a veterinarian will recommend the treatments needed and the approximate costs involved. Remember, good dental hygiene can add years to your pet's life-and prevent you from spending lots of money on treatments for complex problems related to dental disease. North Shore Animal League America
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