February Is Pet Dental Health Month
Too Bad It's Whispered From The Mountaintops
It started back in 1994, sponsored by the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and some commercial sponsors. But in recent years there hasn't been a lot of hoopla about National Pet Dental Health Month, except at the retail level.
Pet supply stores usually have specials on pet dental health products including food, treats, toys, and supplies. Some veterinary clinics observe the month by offering discounts on dental exams and supplies.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (https://www.avma.org) observe the month, as well. They’ve had dental health related videos and podcasts for you to access, they've invited you to submit pictures of your pets’ pearly whites, and they encourage their member veterinary practices to offer brochures and promotions.
But all year long, veterinarians do a good job of promoting pet dental health because it's a big deal. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition afflicting cats and dogs, and by age three, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs show clinical signs.
Periodontal disease is more than a lousy smile. It affects the tissue and structure supporting the animals’ teeth, is irreversible and since the untreated infection allows bacteria to migrate through the bloodstream, the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys can be affected.
Contributing factors to poor dental health include canned food, table scraps, and injuries, especially among dogs. They often catch thrown objects and chew on rocks and sticks, which can crack teeth and cut or scrape gums, opening a wound and creating a pathway for bacteria. The thing is: periodontal disease is completely preventable.
To take the disease head on the AVDS recommends a three-pronged attack: a routine physical exam, including a dental check-up, a home maintenance program and regular follow-up checks by your vet.
The home maintenance program starts with regular brushing and continues by providing dental chew toys and treats. Some contain enzymes to help remove plaque, while others scrape the teeth and massage the gums.
An important footnote about brushing
It's important to use toothpaste that's been formulated for pets. Pet toothpaste uses enzymes to attack the residue on your pet's teeth, is designed to be bushed onto the teeth for scrubbing, and to be left there so the enzymes can do their job.
Toothpaste formulated for humans is a cleanser, designed to be brushed onto the teeth for scrubbing, and then to be rinsed off. Human toothpaste can also irritate your pet's stomach. Finally, some human toothpaste brands are formulated with the artificial sweetener zylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs and cats.
There's no shortage of products that support good oral health
Veterinarians and pet supply stores (most of which have month long sales on dental products) carry enzymatic products you can spray onto food or directly into the pet’s mouth, and solutions you can add to drinking water to help fight plaque. Meaty bones have gained in popularity and availability, and owners who provide these to their dogs report excellent results. As with all chew items, your dog should not be left alone while gnawing on meaty bones.
Make pet dental health a family affair
Learn the symptoms of periodontal disease, and teach the kids to watch for them, too, hoping to catch the disease before it causes problems throughout the body. The first symptom is usually bad breath.
Of course, at some point just about all dogs have bad breath, such as after dumpster diving or snacking from the cat’s litter box. But if the bad breath is chronic, that’s not a condition unto itself, but a symptom that should be brought to the attention of the veterinarian.
There are other conditions that can cause bad breath, such as more serious problems in the mouth, or respiratory or gastrointestinal issues, or disease involving internal organs. Most often, though, it’s a problem with the teeth or gums.
Other signs include red, swollen gums, localized swelling over an individual tooth, tilting the head when eating, dropping food from the mouth, pawing at the jaws, refusing hard food, treats or toys, and depression.
Problems can occur above and below gum lines, where you can't see them, so an annual dental exam by your veterinarian is a good idea. Periodontal disease can lead to life threatening and costly health problems…but it’s preventable.
It All Starts Here
Do you brush or dog's or cat's teeth?
Perhaps the formal observance of National Pet Dental Health Month, started a generation ago, has served its purpose and may be why there isn’t a lot mentioned about it anymore. I know that in my daily dealings with pet owners, a large percentage of them are aware of the importance of their pet’s dental health and take steps to address it.
Veterinarians have been doing a good job of stressing the issue all year long, not just in February, and pet supply stores all have substantial space devoted to dental health products. But, it’s worth acknowledging the annual observance if for no other reason than to once again stress the importance of paying attention to your pets’ teeth.