Kylie Baracz discovers why bad pet breath may be more worrying than you think.
A recent survey has found a whopping 85 per cent of dogs and cats suffer from dental disease, with more 70 per cent of this going untreated. These surprising figures have encouraged veterinarians across the country to urge pet owners to tackle their pets’ bad breath before it gets too serious.
One such veterinarian is Dr Nick Taylor, director at Greencross Vets, who says there are a large number of owners who do not consider dental disease as an issue in pets and many regard bad breath as normal for a pet to have.
“Few owners, if any, in my experience have taken the time to have a look at their pet’s teeth to check for signs of disease,” he says. “At the end of the day, it is about education. We know our own dental health is important and we spend considerable time and money ensuring we keep our teeth and mouth healthy. We need to ensure that the message gets across to pet owners that dental health is equally important for their furry family members.”
Type of dental problems
According to Dr Taylor, low-grade dental disease may be limited to halitosis (bad breath) and some gingivitis. However, as disease progresses, there can be tooth compromise and loss — with the associated pain you might expect when there is a half-rotten tooth stuck in your jaw.
“Gingivitis progresses and the gums start to recede from the tooth crown, hastening further tooth loss,” says Dr Taylor. “The bacteria associated with plaque are nasty. These are the sorts of organisms associated with gangrene and decay. Could you imagine having these inside your mouth?
“These bacteria can cause significant respiratory and intestinal disease if swallowed or inhaled. These bugs can enter the bloodstream through the infected gums and lodge in the capillary networks in the heart valves, liver, kidneys and elsewhere leading to other organ disease. Long-term dental disease can cause chronic debility and may prove to be life limiting in severe cases.”
First and foremost, you need to get your pooch’s teeth clean and free from plaque and bacteria associated with plaque, says Dr Taylor. Most often, this involves a dental scale and polish using the same equipment that dentists use to clean our teeth.
“For our pets, this is carried out under a short anaesthetic to allow us to do a proper job cleaning all sides of each tooth, and to ensure that none of the plaque bacteria get accidentally swallowed or inhaled during the process,” says Dr Taylor.
“In some minor cases, treatment may involve a simple change of diet and management — perhaps feeding some dental treats or chews, utilising some food or water additives to keep the mouth clean or instituting a brushing routine for your pet.”
Preventing dental disease comes down to a number of simple tricks.
“Feed good-quality dry food as the backbone of their diet. These foods gently abrade teeth and gums as your pet eats — cleaning as they chew,” suggests Dr Taylor. “It also encourages water consumption for good general health. Feed your pet a daily treat that promotes chewing such as Greenies — many have a combination of abrasive action and enzyme action to help keep teeth clean.
“If appropriate, I encourage owners to feed a raw meaty bone two to three times a week — they are entertainment for your pet that is nutritious, and the raw bone acts as an excellent toothbrush.”
You may also choose or be advised to use an in-water or on-food additive that adds additional enzymatic oral cleaning to keep plaque bacteria at bay.
Brushing with a pet toothpaste and toothbrush is regarded as the gold standard of dental health for our pets. Most pets will require occasional dental cleaning as described above — bear in mind, with all the brushing, flossing and mouth washing we do, we still need our own teeth cleaned regularly at the dentist!
Lastly, Dr Taylor encourages all pet owners to “flip the lip”, and take the opportunity to have a look in their pets mouth and see what is going on.
“Better yet, book a visit with your vet to have a dental health assessment of your pet. They can advise you on the best way to get teeth clean and keep them clean,” he says. “Leading veterinary practices offer health management plans that provide for free consultations and dental checks and significant discounts on routine dentistry, providing owners with an easy way to do the best for their pets.”
Helpful dental products
In the first instance, Dr Taylor advocates an appropriate diet to ensure owners are not promoting dental disease in their pets.
Chewing can be beneficial for your dog’s teeth. Dr Taylor’s favourite chewy item is Greenies, which features a combination of abrasive and enzyme action to clean teeth and mouth.
Tasty Bone Dental Dog Toy
These chew toys are designed to improve your dog’s oral health and prevent the onset of disease. They are suitable for both large and small dogs.
Hartz Dentist’s Best Dental Powder
This powder aids in the removal of plaque and tartar. It works even without brushing.
Other great products
“You might use an in-water additive such as Healthy Mouth, which is clinically proven to improve oral cavity and dental health,” says Dr Taylor. “Another great product is also Plaque Off — a kelp-based bio enzyme that helps to reduce plaque and protect teeth from plaque biofilm. It is a tasty powder sprinkled on food each day and I am yet to meet a dog or cat that does not love it.”
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