Dental care

Dental (periodontal) disease is now thought to affect somewhere around 85% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of three years. So you can see that periodontal disease is not just limited to older pets.

Plaque – Imagine how your teeth would feel if you didn’t brush them for a week – yuck! Regular dental care is an essential part of pet care that is often neglected.  Inflamed gums (gingivitis), bad breath, salivating, pawing at the mouth, reluctance to eat and/or difficulty in eating are some of the most common symptoms.

This is due to a build up of a soft, sticky film, which harbours bacteria, known as plaque. It’s the same for your pets. It is possible to reduce the build up of plaque by regularly brushing your pet’s teeth and/or by regularly feeding special dental foods and chews.

Tartar-   When plaque accumulates, it hardens to form tartar (calculus). Tartar requires removal using special dental equipment, whilst your pet is under a general anaesthetic.When tartar is allowed to form and build up, your pet’s mouth becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Infections, which start in the gums, can spread to the jawbone and even the bloodstream.  Irreversible damage can occur to any number of teeth, resulting in unnecessary tooth loss. Not only can this be very painful for your cat/dog, but also it can lead to long term organ damage caused by the bacteria circulating in the bloodstream.

Prevention is better than cure. Brushing your pet’s teeth on a regular basis is the best way to help prevent plaque from building up on the teeth. There are many toothbrushes and pastes on the market, specifically formulated for cats and dogs. It is important not to use toothpaste designed for your own use because they are specifically made for you to spit them out. They contain high amounts of sodium and fluoride which is likely to cause your pet indigestion.  Pet toothpaste is designed so that your cat or dog can swallow it. There are a variety of flavours available to suit your pet’s palate!

Toys are available which have been designed to incorporate toothpaste, so that whilst your pet is chewing, they are also cleaning his/her teeth. There are also a variety of dental chews available, which are designed to remove plaque as your pet chews on them.

Many pets, especially cats will not allow tooth brushing and for these animals, the complete dried foods manufactured specifically to help clean teeth can be the ideal compromise. They are composed of special fibres to ensure that they do not shatter as they get bitten into and they gently wipe the tooth, removing some of the plaque. Royal Canin diets also include special ingredients which help to prevent tartar formation. The diets recommended by this practice Hills feline dental so, dental special for small dogs and dental for medium/larger dogs. Free samples are available.  We also recommend Hills Pet td (feline and canine). These diets are also an excellent compliment to tooth brushing.  Conventional dried foods tend to shatter when bitten into, minimising the amount of plaque actually removed. However, including a good quality dried food in your pet’s diet can still be of some benefit.

Whilst proper use of these products will drastically reduce the amount of veterinary attention your pet’s teeth may need, they will not necessarily rule it out completely at some stage of his/her life.

Chronic feline gingivitis/stomatitis

This is a condition that affects many cats, for no clear reason. They often have continuous or periodic bouts of oral inflammation with no significant periodontal disease. Inappetance or reluctance to eat dried food may be presenting symptoms of this condition.
Causes – For a high proportion of these affected cats, it is thought that the feline calicivirus (cat flu) may be responsible. Affected cats periodically shed the virus and one study has shown that at the time of shedding, the oral inflammation is usually at its worst.  In some cats, it is thought that an abnormal response to the normal bacteria flora in the mouth may be a contributory factor.  Whatever the cause, this condition if left untreated may result in the development of periodontal disease and in many cats; pain will be a significant problem.

As the exact cause can be difficult and expensive to determine, we usually tend to begin treatment with a course of antibiotics.  Other possible treatments can include naturopathic remedies (such as Echinacea tincture/aloe Vera gel applied directly to the gums), Co enzyme Q10, anti-inflammatory medication, such as steroids and we often prescribe anti viral treatments. Some cats respond better to one treatment than another. These cats may also respond to the use of antibacterial mouth gels/washes.  Brushing teeth may help, though in severe inflammation, most cats will refuse you access to their mouth! This condition may eventually be resolved through the extraction of teeth at the affected areas of the mouth, though this is usually a last resort.   Chronic gingivitis can also be a sign of infection with the feline Leukaemia or Feline immuno-deficiency virus (F.I.V) and it is important to rule these out as the cause.

Tooth brushing tips

1.  The younger your pet is when you first attempt toothbrushing, the more likely it is that he/she will accept it on a regular basis.  It is at this stage of development when habits are formed, though this does not mean that an older pet will not allow brushing, you will just need to approach it more carefully!

2.  Choose a time when you are not rushed and also when your pet is likely to be relaxed, perhaps in the evening. Sit with your pet on your lap or next to you, so that their mouth is within easy reach of your hands, it also means that you are able to catch them should they decide to make a dash for it!

3.  Begin by stroking your pet around the head and mouth area, then progress to touching the mouth and lifting up the lips. Offer a small amount of toothpaste on your fingers, taking time to let him/her get used to the taste of the toothpaste before you attempt brushing, this may take a few days.

4. Then progress to touching one or two front teeth with your fingers. Again, this may take a few days for  your pet to get used to.  Then try placing a very small quantity of toothpaste on one or two teeth
allowing your pet to lick it off and swallow. Then begin rubbing the toothpaste onto the tooth before your pet can lick it off.  Progress to teeth further towards the back of your pet’s mouth until he/she is
comfortable with this.

5. Then, follow stage 4, this time using a small headed toothbrush (you can always progress to a larger one  later).  Once your pet gets used to this, you can start to brush more teeth at each ‘sitting’, but only
progress as fast as your pet will allow.  Eventually, aim to brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis, but brushing your pets teeth a couple of times a week will still be beneficial.

6. Always praise and reassure your pet whilst you are working through each of the above stages. After brushing reward your pet, perhaps with a game with a favourite toy, or grooming if this is something that he/she enjoys. Even if your pet is not keen on having teeth brushed, if he/she learns that they are going to receive something they like immediately after brushing, they are more likely to “put up” withbrushing in order to receive their reward. If you really want to reward with food, use a few nuggets of dried dental food, or a dental chew, but try to avoid the use of food.

7. Never force your pet to stay and have his/her teeth brushed. It is better to give up and try again later, rather than to use force and turn it into an experience that neither you nor your pet will not want to repeat.

If you require any further advice or assistance, please contact your usual surgery, or the veterinary hospital on 01702 322222.