Dog (and Cat) Breath Smells Like Bigger Problems Ahead

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by Robin Brennen

Why do two-thirds of well-meaning pet owners often ignore their veterinarian's recommendations for proper dental care? I suppose we all hate going to the dentist, so maybe there is a bit of anthropomorphizing going on. But the fact is the American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. That's nothing to smile about.

Fido's and Fifi's funky breath can be an early sign that something is afoul; halitosis is often a consequence of periodontal disease. Just as in humans, bacteria in the mouth helps form plaque. Left to accumulate, tartar forms and plaque and tartar can infect the gums and cause gingivitis. The gums appear red and swollen and can bleed easily. Once plaque takes hold below the gum line, the structure of the tooth can be affected. Infection can form around the root and spread into the surrounding bone. This can result in tooth and bone loss.

Sound painful? It is. However, dogs and cats often suffer silently and will continue to eat despite considerable discomfort. Pain isn't the only issue. Bacteria that overcolonize in the mouth can enter the blood stream through the diseased and bleeding gum tissue. The bacteria are then free to lodge in the heart, liver and kidneys, resulting in damage to those organs and serious health problems. Signs of oral disease can include bad breath, red gums, drooling, difficulty chewing, food bowl avoidance, dropping of food and facial swelling.

In the wild, the canine and feline species rip and tear apart their prey, which actually helps keep their teeth and gums healthy. Domestication and manufactured diets have removed nature's built-in dental care. Therefore, your pet needs human intervention to ensure proper oral health. Regular dental checkups should be part of your pet's annual maintenance program. Routine dental cleanings may be suggested by your veterinarian as a prophylactic measure, or your pet may be in serious need of a deep cleaning that may include tooth extractions.

Owner reluctance often stems from the fact that animals need to be put under anesthesia in order to perform the dentistry properly and safely. When I think about it, I wish I had that option! I would probably visit the dentist more often.

As we all know, tooth cleaning is not a pleasant experience. If the gums are inflamed, it can be downright uncomfortable. Fortunately for our pets, they are happily asleep during the procedure. This allows for all sides of the tooth to be cleaned properly with the use of an ultrasonic scaler, as well as deep cleaning below the gum line. In addition, the teeth can be polished adequately and a thorough assessment of the oral cavity performed.

Your veterinarian can take many steps to ensure that the anesthetic procedure is as safe as possible. A pre-anesthetic exam and blood work can help assess risk and allow for the proper choice of anesthetic agents tailored to the individual pet's health status. Intra-operative patient monitoring and fluid administration enhance the safety and pain medications are often prescribe to make the recovery and post-dental period more comfortable.

Dental care should begin at a young age. Home care is an important part of overall dental health. Daily brushing should be incorporated into your routine. There are many videos on YouTube on how to get your pet acclimated to brushing. Your veterinarian may also recommend a dental diet specially formulated to help remove plaque, if your pet is prone to periodontal disease. There are chew toys on the market that also help massage the gums and remove plaque.

Nothing beats in-home monitoring. Flip up a lip and take a peek inside your pet's mouth. If you see something, say something! Don't brush aside your pet's oral health.

If you want to give your pet a dental health checkup, the animal hospitals at Bideawee have a variety of dental health care packages for dogs and cats.

Robin Brennen is chief of veterinary services and VP of operations at Bideawee.

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