The Dog's Mouth Influences Overall Health
I’m writing this in February, which is National Pet Dental Health Month. Bet you didn’t know that. Bet pretty much most of the country doesn’t know that. It’s not very well promoted, except maybe in vet clinics and some pet supply stores.
Some newspapers may run a press release once, and maybe a local TV station here and there has a local vet on to talk about it for 3 minutes. Other than that, it’s pretty much whispered from the mountain tops.
Sponsored by The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), other professional groups, and some commercial partners, the event is designed to call attention to the importance of good oral care for our pets, since a large percentage of pet owners aren’t aware of just how catastrophic periodontal disease can turn out to be.
Let's Shatter Some Myths
MYTH: 42% of pet parents think dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans’
FACT: Dog’s mouths are absolutely not cleaner than human mouths.
DISCUSSION: Hey…you 42%...are you @#$%& serious? Think about it a minute. He grabs a snack out of the cat’s litter box, washes it down with a big gulp from the toilet bowl, and then settles down for a long, leisurely butt lick. And now he wants to give you a kiss? You never know for sure where that mouth has been.
MYTH: 16 million pet parents think a dog’s saliva can heal human wounds.
FACT: 16 million pet parents can be wrong, and these 16 million are.
DISCUSSION: Allowing a dog to lick a cut or scrape can lead to serious infections.
MYTH: Over 60% of pet parents think it’s fine to let pets lick their faces.
FACT: People can get sick from the bacteria in their pets’ mouths.
DISCUSSION: Yet millions of us allow our pets to lick our faces and we live to tell about it. No doubt some of us get sick, and we probably attribute it to “a 24 hour bug” or “a touch of stomach flu.” We still live to tell about it. But, in some cases it can be very serious. Babies, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly are most vulnerable.
Also by Bob Bamberg
- Is It Time To Call Our Veterinarian?
We don't want to be alarmists, we don't want to incur unnecessary bills, but we want our pets to get the medical attention they need. What's a pet owner to do? Some practical advice on the subject.
- National Pet Wellness Month...huh?
Every month should be "Pet Wellness Month" but the AVMA, and a couple of commercial partners, formalize it every October to raise awareness of the importance of professional health care for pets. We think you'll agree; it really does make sense.
MYTH: 1 in 3 pet parents assume that bad breath is normal in pets.
FACT: Bad breath isn’t normal in pets.
DISCUSSION: See? They’re right when they say, “You know what happens when we assume.” Bad breath in pets is a symptom, not a condition unto itself. Usually it’s a sign of periodontal disease, but it can mean certain systemic conditions, such as liver or kidney problems.
Of course, there's the occasional bad breath that results from "dumpster diving," coprophagia (eating poop) or the road kill he consumes before you get to him. And there's the growing popularity of the use of salmon oil or fish based treats, so you'll often hear owners complain about fish breath. But those are just temporary, and explainable, episodes of halitosis. Chronic bad breath demands action.
MYTH: Over 25 million pet parents think all chewing is good for dogs’ teeth.
FACT: While most chewing is good for dogs, chewing on certain hard objects can cause problems. For instance, stuff like rocks or ice cubes can cause cracks in teeth; even so tiny that they’re hard to see with the naked eye, but ample enough to permit the introduction of bacteria, leading to more serious problems.
Sticks can splinter, allowing shards of wood to penetrate tissue anywhere from the mouth through the entire intestinal tract. Possible consequences include internal bleeding and infection.
The numbers I used above came from a display I saw at a pet supply store. The display didn’t list a source for the info, and store personnel didn’t know where it came from, but I’m using it, unverified, because the numbers don’t really matter; the issues do.
Periodontal Disease Isn't Normal, But It Seems To Be The Norm
For decades the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have said that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have periodontal disease by age three.
Despite the fact that, in most households, pets are given full family-member status and receive a high level of health care, that statistic hasn’t changed. While more and more of us are employing a regular home dental regimen for our pets, apparently not enough of us are.
Some Warning Sign To Heed
While bad breath is often the first sign of periodontal disease, there are other symptoms and behaviors to watch out for:
- Discolored, chipped or cracked teeth
- Bleeding or inflamed gums, often over an individual tooth
- Difficulty chewing
- Tilting the head while chewing food and treats
- Refusing hard food, treats or toys
- Excessive drooling
- Swelling under an eye
- Loose tooth
- Pawing the jaw or rubbing the face along the floor
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach or intestinal upset
- Depression or irritability
The quality of your pet’s dental health has significant impact on his general health and quality of life. Clearly, it’s too important to take lightly.
What Pet Dental Health Month Means To You
Of course, anytime is the right time to talk to your vet about your pet’s dental health, but during National Pet Dental Health Month some vet clinics offer discounts on cleanings, or maybe a free dental exam conducted by a vet tech who has been trained to identify various warning signs.
They may also offer special prices on dental treats or supplies, and they’re sure to have plenty of brochures and other hand-outs that educate and reinforce the message of good pet dental health. You might ask if they have a DVD to lend out that demonstrates proper techniques for brushing your dog's or cat's teeth
Some pet supply stores and general merchandisers offer discounts on dental toys, treats and supplies, while some groomers will show you how to brush your pets’ teeth.
You might also take the opportunity to re-evaluate your customary treat and toy selections. There are a bunch of both on the market that, in addition to providing mental stimulation and an opportunity for interaction with your pet, also serve to promote their good oral health.