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How To Add Five Years To Your Pet's Life

Updated on January 1, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


For a number of years now, statistics used by various veterinary organizations have indicated that, by age three, 80 % of dogs and 70 % of cats have periodontal disease.

Studies by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) prior to Y2K reveal that nothing's changed. I would have thought differently.

Since the mid-90's the month of February has been designated by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as pet dental health month, with veterinarians, groomers and pet supply stores calling attention to it all month.

There are more dental diets and dental treats on the market, there are pet toothbrushes and toothpaste wherever you buy your pet supplies, and professionals throughout the pet industry have raised pet owner awareness regarding pet dental health. Or so it was thought.

Yet pet dental health arguably remains the aspect of pet care most overlooked by owners.

The AAHA study mentioned earlier showed that about two thirds of pet owners don't provide the level of dental health care recommended as essential by veterinarians. I think I know why. It's not that owners don't care, but that brushing a pet's teeth is not always easy or pleasant.

Wouldn't it be great if you could simply say, "OK, Boomer, we're just gonna give the pegs a little brushing, now, so just sit still for a couple of minutes," and Boomer would sit still? But in most households, that ain't gonna happen.

Some dogs and cats will let you work their mouth to your heart's content, but most will only give you a brief moment of their time, and still others will have none of it. It's worth it, though, for you to exercise your alpha rights and provide home dental care.

Periodontal disease starts out as a simple plaque build-up, but, if unchecked, can escalate to a serious, if not life-threatening, situation. At its worst, periodontal disease can cause problems ranging from tooth loss to serious conditions of the heart, lungs and liver because bacteria circulate and infect those organs.


Chronic bad breath is usually one of the first signs of a dental problem. Owners often ask store personnel what they recommend for "doggy breath." Well, that's not always how they put it. It's more like, "My dog's breath can drop a moose. What have you got for it?"

There are doggy breath sweeteners on the market but owners should understand that chronic bad breath is a symptom. It could mean a systemic problem, but most likely it's periodontal disease. Breath fresheners don't address the problem and, in fact, can cause delay in getting necessary treatment.

If your dog occasionally gets into something that causes him to have an episode of bad breath, it's not likely that he has a serious problem. But if his "doggy breath" is chronic or at least a frequent occurrence, you should schedule a dental check up with your vet.


A thorough dental exam requires that a short term anesthetic be administered since most pets won't sit still for anything but a cursory peek. While the animal is asleep a detailed exam and cleaning can be completed.

Before the anesthesia is given, the vet will do a pretty thorough physical to make sure that the animal is a valid candidate for the anesthetic. There's a certain amount of risk associated with any medical procedure, but today's anesthesia is usually safe, even for older pets. And while they're asleep dental X-rays can be taken.

For pets with tartar build-up, scaling is called for. The vet will use instruments similar to the ones our dentist uses, get above and below the gum lines, and smooth out scratches in the enamel with a polishing paste.

Your vet can use fluoride treatments and sealants that create a barrier against future plaque build-up, but it would really help if you provide home dental care. If brushing is a particular problem for you, maybe you could just swab the teeth with a gauze pad treated with pet toothpaste.


The gauze would provide enough abrasive friction to remove plaque before it hardens into tartar (referred to as calculus in professional circles), and the enzyme action of the toothpaste would work on the hard to get stuff.

According to the AAHA you can add up to 5 years to the life of your pet with proper dental care. Now doesn’t it seem worth the effort?

Do you brush your dog's or cat's teeth?

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 9 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for stopping by, GalaxyRat. It's not uncommon for dogs to have temporary halitosis...especially when you consider all of the things they get into. But chronic bad breath is a symptom of something worth investigating. Thanks for the comment.

    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 9 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      Thanks for the article, Bob! My family dog Lola doesn't have bad breath, but she does have chewie breath! She gets these rawhide twists that my family and I call 'chewies' that are flavored chicken. After she eats those, her breath smells like chicken. But, her breath smells really bad when she gets bacon-flavored bone-shaped treats. She could knock down a horse with the stink... and the stink gets all over your hands too!

      I actually feed my rats those bacon treats occasionally... and their breath smells bad too, after eating them, LOL.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Swope, nice to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to read the hub and comment. Regards, Bob

    • Swope profile image

      Swope 5 years ago

      great hub and great photo!