Dental care for dogs and cats

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An often over-looked part of animal care is oral hygiene.

Pet owners should pay careful attention to the condition of their companion animal’s teeth. Dogs can often chip their teeth by biting on hard objects.

If you’ve ever had a dog with the characteristic “puppy breath,” that’s a sign of some underlying dental problems. Halitosis, or bad breath, is usually caused by bacteria in the mouth.

Tartar in a dog or cat’s mouth can build up walls of plaque along the canine teeth or even some of those hard to reach molars in the back of the mouth. Left unattended, gingivitis can set in and further dental complications can occur.

As a former U.S. Army veterinary technician, it was my duty to perform dental prophylaxis, or cleanings, once a year on the military working dogs under my care. We also offered the service to privately owned animals belonging to servicemen and women.

The procedure required anesthetizing the animal (whether cat or dog) and intubation. While the animal was under anesthesia, I would use dental tools (scaler, curette, and ultrasonic scaler) to break plaque off the surface of the teeth. Depending on the condition of the teeth, the procedure could take up to an hour.

Poor dental hygiene in animals could result in cavities, abscesses, or other maladies requiring extraction.

In any case, the best medicine is prevention. So what can you, the pet owner, do to help prevent dental disease in your pets?

Brush your pet’s teeth at least once a week. Daily is preferred but sometimes it is not always practical. Introduce brushing when your cat or dog is still in the kitten or puppy phase. This will help acclimate your furbaby to the process.

Schedule annual dental exams with your veterinarian and have the teeth cleaned as necessary. It’s important to minimize the number of times your pet goes under anesthesia, and some vets will advise against dental cleanings as your pet attains senior status.

Now is a good time to start the conversation with your vet about taking action to improve your pet’s dental health.

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