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. I guess it’s not a big deal any more, though, this National Pet Dental Health Month
I went on the web site of the American Veterinary Dental Society (http://www.avds-online.org) in researching this column and their home page features a half-page invitation to visit their online store, a promotion for the 13th World Veterinary Dental Congress to be held in California at the end of October, 2015, and a panel touting the site’s new features. Didn’t see anything about National Pet Dental Health Month.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (https://www.avma.org) did a little better. They’ve got some dental health related videos and podcasts for you to access, they invite you to submit pictures of your pets’ pearly whites, and they encourage their member veterinary practices to offer brochures and promotions.
But pet dental health is a big deal. A very big deal. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition afflicting cats and dogs, and by age three, 70 per cent of cats and 80 per cent 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 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.
When they have a mind to, 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 (using pet toothpaste since human toothpaste can irritate your pet's stomach), and providing dental chew toys and treats, some of which contain enzymes to help remove plaque Others scrape the teeth and massage the gums.
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.
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 National Pet Dental Health Month, started 21 years ago, has served its purpose and may be why there isn’t a lot of hoopla 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 that to once again stress the importance of paying attention to your pets’ teeth.