If you’re like us, your pets are part of the family. They have play dates and day care and regular doctor visits to make sure they’re staying healthy. They even get regular haircuts and stockings at Christmas. However, even the most conscientious pet owners easily overlook one of the most important factors affecting their pets’ health: dental care.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and it’s the perfect opportunity to get serious about your furry friend’s pearly (or not-so-pearly) whites. Just like us, dogs and cats are both susceptible to dental disease. In fact, by the time they reach three years of age, it’s estimated that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will experience some grade of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease and other dental maladies are the most common conditions that vets treat year after year, and its effects are not limited to smelly dog breath and yellow teeth. As bacteria build up under your pet’s gum line, it can break off and begin to travel through the animal’s body in the bloodstream. This can eventually cause life-threatening complications in major organs such as the heart and kidneys.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though: fortunately, dental disease is easily treated and easily prevented. Here are some easy and invaluable ways you can keep your pet’s teeth healthy and shiny for years to come.
Take Your Pet for a Dental Exam
It’s always best to start with an assessment of your pet’s current dental health, and what better time to schedule this appointment than during National Pet Dental Health Month? During this visit, your vet will evaluate the condition of your pet’s teeth, make note of any decay or disease present, and recommend a treatment plan if necessary. Your pet should have a routine dental examination like this at least once per year, regardless of whether or not he or she is exhibiting signs of disease or distress. Most pet insurance carriers (including PetFirst!) offer contract add-ons to cover the costs of routine care such as dental exams and cleanings. If you haven’t already, call your pet insurance carrier to find out more today.
Brush Your Pet’s Teeth
Your vet should be able to recommend a regimen of vitamins and supplements to boost your pet’s dental health, as well as yummy and effective specially-formulated toothpaste for pets. Most pet stores carry toothbrushes designed just for furry friends, so if you don’t already have one, pick one up to begin brushing your pet’s teeth at home. In a perfect world, we can brush our dog’s or cat’s teeth every day, but we know that most people simply don’t have the bandwidth to make that happen. We recommend brushing your pet’s teeth at least once a week to help keep plaque and tartar at bay. We find that cats are way more difficult to control during tooth-brushing sessions so you may find it in everyone’s best interest to simply schedule regular cleanings under general anesthesia at least twice per year through your vet’s office for your feline friends. Most dogs find the taste of peanut butter or salmon flavored toothpaste delightful enough that they may actually enjoy toothbrushing time, but if you need assistance in managing this, your vet or a local trainer should be able to help perfect your technique. Even if you brush regularly, though, your pets should still have dental cleanings twice per year through your vet’s office.
Know What to Look For
Bad breath is a universal invariant in the animal world, right? Maybe so, but it can also be a sign of dental disease. Also keep an eye out for the following and call your vet immediately if you witness:
- Loose or discolored teeth, covered in tartar
- Uncomfortable reactions when you pet or touch your pet’s mouth and ear areas
- Difficulty chewing hard dry food or treats
- Dropping food from the mouth while chewing
- Bleeding from the gums or mouth
- Loss of appetite and accompanying drop in weight
Provide Fun Ways to Keep Teeth Clean
Chewie bones and toys such as Dentastix and Kong toys help knock plaque and tartar off of your pet’s teeth in between cleanings, and your pets will love them, to boot. Always check with your vet before incorporating new techniques into your pet health care regimen, but toys and chews specially-designed for dental health can be invaluable tools in your pet’s dental health care journey. Personally, I give my dog Dentastix or other dental chews 2-3 times per week, but your vet may recommend more or less depending on your pet’s dental health assessment.
Consider a Specially-Formulated Food
One can find pet food formulated for any number of health conditions, from weight management to hairball elimination. Always talk to your vet before switching your pet to a new food, and ask them to recommend a food that may be beneficial to your pet’s dental health. Even if you’re not ready to switch foods entirely, even moving from wet, canned food to dry food can have a positive impact on your pet’s dental health. Dry foods help to scrape plaque and tartar build-up from the teeth, although this is not the sole solution to your pet’s dental care.
Just like in us humans, your pet’s dental health is critical to her overall health. Something as mundane and easily-treatable as gingivitis can cause potentially life-threatening complications if not corrected quickly. If you’re a PetFirst customer, ask about our Routine Care Rider, which may cover your pet’s dental exams and cleanings. Don’t wait another day; call your vet now and celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month with a checkup that may keep your best friend happy and healthy for years to come!