The reason why dogs and cats really do need dental care is simple: gum disease is all too common in dogs and cats, not to mention their pet parents. In fact, it’s present in most pets over three years old. The causes and effects of gum disease are similar in humans and animals, too, but treatment in pets can be more difficult. (Have you ever tried to brush your cat’s teeth? Some felines resist this procedure.)
Gum disease is not only painful, but it can also lead to all sorts of health problems in addition to tooth loss. We joke about getting our dog a breath mint, but it’s not just the bad breath we should be concerned about. Read even a little about gum disease, and you’re going to want to floss your cat’s teeth! (And probably your own!)
Why Do Vets Always Push Me to Have My Dog’s Teeth Cleaned?
Gum disease, or periodontitis, happens in pets the same way it does in humans. Traces of food (or anything else that is chewed) accumulate on the gums and plaque forms almost immediately. Plaque, as you know, is a sticky mixture of saliva and food that contains bacteria — and not the “good” kind!
This bacteria causes inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, which is the still-treatable stage of full-on gum disease. The immune system notices the presence of bacteria, so it sends out the white blood cell army to defend against these foreign bodies. Only some of this bacteria is so bad that it can actually suppress the immune system while doing its dirty work.
Without serious dental care, and with a weakened immune response, this fight can quickly become a losing battle. As the animal continues to eat without brushing between meals, unremoved plaque becomes tartar (sounds familiar, eh?), which builds up and separates teeth from gums, creating pockets that will catch more bacteria, and the beat goes on. And those pockets around the teeth? They’re filled with pus and bacteria, so why wouldn’t Fido need a breath mint? Think about that the next time you enjoy some slobbery dog kisses!
How Bad Is It, Really?
Periodontitis will destroy tissues that support teeth, allowing them to simply fall out. In later stages, bone loss can become so bad that “even a little pressure will fracture a small dog’s weakened jaw.” Cats have their own form of gum disease, called stomatitis, which inflames their whole mouth — cheeks, tongue, gums – everything. Many cats stop eating when this develops. But that’s not all that can happen.
Bacteria that enters through the mouth can be breathed into the lungs. Or it can enter the bloodstream and travel anywhere in the body. Once it settles, inflammation results, and that can lead to cancer or other diseases. In people, it has even been linked to Alzheimer’s. The kidneys, the liver, the heart, the brain, and other organs can only work so long once bacteria weaken them. The worst part? Untreated gum disease is eventually irreversible.
Treating and Preventing Gum Disease in Dogs and Cats
Treatment of advanced gum disease is painful, tricky, and expensive. Prevention is much better! So what’s a pet parent to do? Short of brushing and flossing your cat’s teeth (hat’s off if you do!), here are some easier ways:
- Feed your pets a quality diet approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Some things are only available at the vet’s office, but you can find lots of plaque-removing food and treats at pet stores or most supermarkets. My friends know that one of my personal favorites is Young Living’s Animal Scents Dental Pet Chew. I have been using their pet products and essential oils for several years now with great success!
- Add a plaque-fighting product to your pet’s water or food. These should be specially formulated for animals and are available at most pet stores. We found this highly-rated Oxyfresh water additive for dogs and cats on Amazon.
- Spray or wipe your pet’s teeth and gums with a special gel.
- Brush your fur-baby’s teeth. It can be done! Use a toothpaste for animals, though, not the people kind. Our toothpaste usually contains xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs.
Ask your vet if it’s time for your dog or cat to get their teeth cleaned professionally. Then follow through with an appointment! If you need help getting your pet to the doctor’s office, we’ve got a taxi service for you. We also know a couple of good vets in the area, so this whole thing just got a lot easier! With everything that can go wrong from gum disease, a regular dental visit is essential to keeping your pet healthy for a long, long time.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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