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Pet Dental Care: What You Need To Know

When it comes to taking care of our pets, dental care is usually the last thing we think of. Why is that? Well, there are seemingly bigger things to keep in mind, like diet and exercise, that keep our fluffy friends happy and healthy. But ask any veterinary dentist and they’ll tell you: Your pet’s dental health isn’t just important, it’s imperative for overall health. So, what do you need to know about pet dental care? We collaborated with Morris Animal Foundation to do an in-depth Q&A with veterinary dentist Dr. Lauren Richman to fill you in. Here’s what you need to know about pet dental care

Morris Animal Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding groundbreaking research about animals from horses to rats to koalas. They know that a world with happier animals is a world we all want to live in. Check out our roundup of Morris Animal Foundation’s biggest achievements in 2022

Brush Up on Your Pet’s Dental Health: Q&A With Dr. Lauren Richman

In this video, Dr. Lauren Richman takes us through everything we need to know about pet dental care, from how often to brush our cat’s teeth to when to see a dental specialist for your dog. If you have a question about pet dental care, odds are, she answered it in this video. 

Pet Dental Care Highlights

If you’re not able to watch the entire Q&A (we get it, you have pets to take care of after all!) we’ve rounded up some of the most important information she shared below. Though, of course, we saved some of the info for those of us who can watch the video!

Why Should We Take Care Of Our Pet’s Teeth?

It’s a pretty basic question, but a good one. Lots of pet owners ignore the advice of their veterinarians when they say, “Brush your pet’s teeth!” Why? Well, the thought of shoving our fingers inside the ferocious jaws of our house cats and dogs can seem scary, or just inconvenient. We already need to feed them, wash them, play with them… I mean come on now

But Dr. Richman explains that ignoring your pet’s dental health is extremely risky. What’s going on inside an animal’s mouth has a direct impact on their overall health.

Not to scare you (or maybe to scare you), here are the most common preventable dental diseases in pets: 

  • Periodontal disease: This is a bacterial infection that affects the gums and tissues surrounding the teeth. It is the most common dental disease in pets and can cause bad breath, gum inflammation, tooth loss, and even systemic health issues if left untreated. Regular brushing of your pet’s teeth can help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar, which are the main causes of periodontal disease.
  • Gingivitis: This is an inflammation of the gums and is often an early sign of periodontal disease. Gingivitis can cause red, swollen gums that bleed easily. 
  • Oral tumors: Pets, particularly older ones, can develop oral tumors, which can be benign or malignant. Regular dental care, including brushing your pet’s teeth, can help detect any lumps, bumps, or abnormalities in the mouth early on, allowing for prompt veterinary intervention if needed.
  • Malocclusion: Some pets may develop misaligned teeth, also known as malocclusion, which can cause issues with biting and chewing. Regular dental care, including brushing, can help detect malocclusion early on and allow for appropriate dental management, which may include orthodontics or extractions.

What If Teeth Brushing Is Out Of The Question?

For some scrunchy-face dog breeds and pets with behavioral problems, teeth brushing is just not an option. In these cases, Dr. Richman recommends other preventative measures for protecting your pet, including buying water additives, dental chews, dental toys, dental diets, or gels and oils you can rub on your pet’s gums.

How Do I Know Which Products Actually Work?

Pet dental products are considered “supplements” and thus are not regulated by the government (much like human food supplements). But don’t worry! Dr. Richman recommends that pet owners check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website. All products recommended on this website have been scientifically proven to have benefits for your pet’s teeth. 

What Are Some Common Pet Dental Care Myths?

#1 Stinky Pet Breath Is Normal

Most of us just assume stinky breath is perfectly healthy in cats and dogs. But this is a myth! If a pet has healthy dental health, they should not have bad breath at all. In fact, bad breath can be an indication that your pet may have a dental disease, and you should go to see your vet!

#2 Pet Anesthesia Is Dangerous

Pet dental cleanings require that pets undergo anesthesia. This can be really scary for pet owners, but according to Dr. Richman, it shouldn’t be. Vets conduct extensive tests to ensure that pets are physically healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. According to Dr. Richman, pet anesthesia is extremely safe.

#3 My Dog or Cat Is Too Old To Go Under Anesthesia

Again, false! Age does not have a direct effect on whether your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. The vet will take a series of health tests to determine their eligibility. 

Will My Pet Suffer If It Needs a Tooth (Or Teeth) Removal?

It turns out, no. Because our pets are no longer wild animals they no longer need to rely on their teeth to hunt and kill or chew their food. In fact, most pet foods are completely consumable without teeth. So if your fluffball loses all their teeth for some reason (bless their heart) you’ll have nothing to worry about. 

What Are The Benefits of Seeing a Vet Dental Specialist?

There are a lot of reasons why you should consider seeing a vet dental specialist. For one, they have more tools, expertise, and experience when it comes to dental care than a generalist vet. They might be able to salvage a tooth that would otherwise be extracted by performing a root canal, and they are able to remove tumors and fix fractured jaws. Vet dental specialists can even give your fluff ball braces if it would improve their comfort or teeth functionality (there is no cosmetic dentistry for pets for obvious ethical reasons!). 

Take Home Message For Pet Owners

If you have the time, we highly recommend giving this Q&A with pet dental specialist Dr. Richman a listen. But if you only have a few seconds… here’s the take home message:

Brush your pet’s teeth three times a week! 

The more the better when it comes to dental health. Don’t forget about the mouth, it’s very important for your pet’s overall health. To keep up with Morris Animal Foundation, check out their Youtube channel and website, and their guide to pet dental health. Here’s to long, healthy lives for our beloved pets!

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