Welcome to the A-Z Challenge! My theme for this year is Pet Health - information for people about their furry, four-legged family members.
Yep, just like us peoples, pets often times require dental work. And just like us peoples, no two pets are the same when it comes to their teeth. I know people who never see a dentist (I mean like, never), and they have a healthy mouth. I know people that go to the dentist every 6 months and every single tooth has a cavity, they need root canals, crowns, you name it, they got it. Same with pets: your Chihuahua will need maybe one dental in it's life, and your Lab may need 5. Your neighbor could have it opposite. No two mouths are ever created equal.
Would it shock you, though, if I told you that according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, dental disease is the #1 health issue affecting 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3?
Your pet's dental health is just one of the many reasons you should take your pet to their veterinarian at least once a year. During the annual exam, they will do a once-over on your pet, checking everything from the nose to the tail and just about everything in between. Plus, if you have any concerns, your veterinarian can answer any questions and give you information so that you can make the best decision for your pet.
For example, if your sweet little Fido has breath that makes Pepe Le Pew smell like a rose garden, there's a serious problem. Bad breath is not natural in our pets mouths. Of course, it won't smell totally awesome to us, either. But Fluffy's or Fido's breath shouldn't knock people out.
Plaque and tartar build up will cause bad breath, and can also cause infections and periodontal disease. This can lead to expensive vet bills: a dental cleaning, tooth extraction (prices vary depending on the type of tooth pulled - it's expensive either way), and antibiotics. Poor dental health can also lead to larger problems down the road, such as heart, liver, and kidney disease.
Any veterinarian or technician will tell you that dental care starts at home. It is recommended to brush your pet's teeth as often as you can. Even doing it a few times a week is better than never at all. Starting when your pet is young is often easier than starting when they are "senior citizens". Just like teaching them to take medications, getting them used to nail trims, it can just become a part of your training that eventually becomes daily routine. Doing this at home will help prevent the plaque and tartar from building up an causing problems. (I should talk, I've never brushed my cat's teeth. However, I will only do so if I have a death wish. She knows where I sleep.) Also, don't use your own toothpaste - human toothpastes can make animals sick. Always make sure you're using a toothpaste that is made specifically for pets.
Vet offices will have toothpaste, toothbrushes or finger brushes, and oral rinses available for pet owners. You can also find them at many pet stores (or if you're in the country, your local feed store might have them, too), including the retail giants of Petco and Petsmart.
When it comes to treats, it's best to give "dental" treats for your pets. While cavities in pets are rare, veterinarians have seen a rise in cavities due to the table scraps many pets will get at home. A normal diet for your pet is not high in decay-causing sugars. But we all spoil our pets with bits from the table, the trick is to keep it to a minimum. Or none at all.
Many pet owners are curious about feeding canned food versus dry kibble. Dry kibble is better at preventing plaque build-up than canned food. However, feeding a small bit of canned food shouldn't be detrimental. My cat gets maybe 1/4 of a can of canned food once a day. Sometimes it's every other day. But it's not her main diet; she is free-fed dry kibble and eats as she pleases.
If your pet will definitely require a dental cleaning, or if you just want to do a preventative cleaning every few years, here's a tip: February is Pet Dental Month and most vet clinics will offer a price break on their dental cleanings. It may not feel like it's a big break, but it's cheaper than normal. They may also offer price breaks on dental supplies for home dental care. Also, many clinics get dental treat samples from their food representatives, you can always ask if they "happen" to have any lying around.
My sources: Pet Health Network, Pet Education by Dr.'s Foster & Smith, plus my own experience working in large/small animal practices as well as my experience in a veterinary laboratory.