February is “National Pet Dental Health Month” so it is the perfect month for you to get your beloved pet to the veterinarian for a dental check-up. This trip to the vet is the most important first step when it comes to getting great information about dental care and dental cleanings. Your veterinarian will be able to review the benefits that a healthy mouth has for your particular pet! I say, “your particular pet” because each of our dogs or cats are individuals, and while a blog can have great information, there is absolutely no replacement for a real-life examination and discussion with your veterinarian.
As an ER vet, my dental care advice is based upon what I do for my own pets versus what I have done professionally. That being said, I will refer you back to paragraph one! It’s always best to get specific advice about your pet from your pet’s very own veterinarian.
“Big Dog” vs “Small Dog” Teeth
I have always categorized the teeth in any dog’s mouth as either being “big dog teeth” or the unfortunate “little dog teeth.” Big dog teeth can be present in dogs as small as 15 pounds and they are basically “big teeth.” Big teeth are larger in general than the teeth you might see in another dog of the same size but of a different breed. If you are at doggie daycare or at a friend’s house, do some comparisons! Terriers or terrier crosses often have big dog teeth, especially when we compare them to the teeth in a Pomeranian, for example. If your dog is lucky enough to have big dog teeth, there is a chance that your dog will need very minimal dental care their whole life! A great diet, paying close attention to their teeth, watching for an accidental broken tooth, and regular check-ups for health issues might be all you need!
We know as a profession that the accumulation of a small amount of tartar (the discolored stuff on top of your dog’s teeth) does not correlate with the progression of the much more serious periodontal disease. Be sure to ask many questions and get help with differentiating between simple tartar or calculus and the much more serious periodontal disease. Be sure to get all the facts about the pros and cons of dental cleanings if your dog only has tartar.
Little dog teeth are another story when it comes to tartar accumulation and aggressive or rapidly progressive periodontal disease. I have been lucky, and even my 22-pound Chi-weenie, Buck, has big dog teeth. So that means Buck does not have any of these symptoms of dental trouble that my Dad’s 20-pound Pomeranian has.
Symptoms and Signs of Worrisome Dental Changes
Bad breath (also known as halitosis)
Excessive drooling associated with eating, drinking and all by itself
Slow eating or some difficulty eating / food drops out of mouth
Red, really pink inflamed gums that sometimes bleed (you might see blood spots on any bone or things your dog might chew on)
Obvious accumulation of dark brown tartar on many teeth
Dog seems to be prone to infections
If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, definitely see your veterinarian. Regular dental cleanings and sometimes extractions of some of the more “rotten” teeth are essential. Bad teeth are sometimes related only to genetics and there is relatively little that you can do to prevent progressive change. You can slow progressive change, so read on and absolutely get advice from your veterinarian or from a veterinary dental specialist.
What You Can Do for Your Pet’s Dental Care
If your veterinarian has expressed concerns about your pet’s teeth, there are things we can easily do at home to try and help slow the progression of dental troubles.
Good nutrition is key for dental health. Crunchy food for dogs likely helps to knock some tartar off and some of the high quality dental chews definitely are thought to be helpful when it comes to decreasing or slowing tartar accumulation. The brand name Virbac C.E.T. dental products have long been recognized as safe and great treats to help teeth. Great nutrition means we are avoiding foods with many sugars or semi-soft consistency. These foods can definitely exacerbate dental disease. Just say no to treats that are “pretend” jerky. Avoid foods for your dog like “Moist and Meaty.” For cats, high protein canned food is best for their teeth. This might seem counterintuitive but it is the carbohydrate in food that sticks to teeth, not the protein. Higher protein canned food is often better for the true carnivore cat with respect to overall health as well. When it comes to finding the best food for your cat, I highly recommend that you get specific advice from your veterinarian.
So, lucky Dr. Petryk has (very had to believe) never had to have her cats or dogs teeth cleaned. I focus on feeding high quality food such as Walthams, Science Diet, or Iams. My dogs are gentle with rawhide chews so they are at low risk for any kind of choking so they occasionally get a small rawhide or two. I don’t use any other bones or chews but Buck sure likes to shred the fuzz off tennis balls and this seems to really help keep his teeth pearly white! I feed my cats canned food for breakfast and dinner and the rest of the time they have access to high quality dry food including the dental preventative prescription food by Hill’s called Feline T/D. Good nutrition and lots of fresh water and exercise. Now, my Dad’s Pomeranian is another story, and for dear Suzie, I make sure her teeth are cleaned by a dental specialist every 8 to 12 months. Without this intensive dental care, Suzie develops horrible breath, sometimes uncontrollable coughing, and slow but sure progressive general health deterioration.
Last but not least, be sure to work hard to develop that relationship with a veterinarian that you can trust. Making great preventative healthcare decisions can be challenging (and expensive) and you really need to have great confidence in all advice you receive as it pertains to taking great care of your pet!
Trupanion and the AVMA offer some great information about dental care for your pets.