Dental Care for Pets

Good dental health is vital for your pet’s health, and wellbeing. While a dental disease may seem like a relatively minor issue, the damaging effects can cause several problems like halitosis (bad breath), difficulty eating, gum infections which can lead to abscess formation, and eventually bone loss and tooth loss, plaque formation leading to gingivitis. Dental disease can also have systemic implications and lead to poor general health and even liver, kidney, and heart disease. 

Regular dental care at home is extremely important in keeping your pet’s mouth healthy. Also, a regular visit to the veterinarian can help to detect severe issues like a diseased tooth, a build-up of tartar which may result in periodontal disease (infection around the teeth), gingivitis caused by autoimmune conditions (the body’s immune system attacking the gums) or foreign material such as sticks or bones becoming lodged in the soft tissues. As a thumb rule, a healthy diet, dental grooming and regular checkup (at least once a year) can help to maintain your pet’s teeth and gums healthy.

Read below to understand how to take care of your pet’s oral hygiene.

1. Dogs and Cats:

Dental Care for Pets

Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats – by the time your pet is 3 years old, he or she will very likely have some early evidence of periodontal disease, which will worsen as your pet grows older if effective preventive measures aren’t taken. Early detection and treatment are critical because advanced periodontal disease can cause severe pain and can affect your pet with diseases in the kidney, liver, and heart.  The most common reasons for poor dental health include poor diet, inappropriate husbandry, and lack of supplements for fighting dental tartar

One can observe the symptoms of deteriorating health via bad breath, sensitivity around the mouth, difficulty in chewing food, loose teeth, bleeding or inflamed gums, creamy/brown tartar built on teeth, increased drooling (in cats), and loss of appetite, etc.  In order to prevent such issues, a regular dental care routine should be followed to keep your pet’s gums and teeth healthy. This includes:

    • Regular brushing:  Lightly brushing your pet’s teeth at least twice a week is an important part of your pet’s grooming. Options for brushing include cotton swabs, gauze, finger brushes, and actual soft-bristled toothbrushes; you may need a little trial and error until you find the option that cleans your pet’s teeth and that your pet feels comfortable with. Ideally, the daily brushing of teeth begins when your pet is a puppy or kitten; animals can be affected by poor dental health as young as a year old. 

Human toothpaste should be avoided as they can be harmful to your pets. Some pets prefer flavored toothpastes while some pet owners find the animals are too interested in licking the toothpaste to allow for a thorough tooth brushing. In these circumstances, some pet owners discover that unflavored pastes work better. Animal toothbrushes have been specifically designed to contain soft bristles and shaped to fit your pet’s mouth. These should be replaced every 4 to 6 weeks. Finger brushes are also a good option to help familiarise your pet with the sensation of brushing.

One can start their pet’s dental care routine gently with first getting the pet used to lifting his or her lips and touching the gum area with their fingers. Then one can progress to getting the pet used to the feel of the cotton swab, gauze, or toothbrush before making it a routine habit. While using a toothbrush, keep the bristles at an angle so that you can clean well along the gum line. One may want to have a treat on hand to reward the pet with after brushing. Positive reinforcement can make this an easier habit to form.

Oral rinses and gels can help to reduce the build-up on the plague on your pet’s gums. Also, a lot of dental chews and bespoke dental food are available that can help to keep teeth clean without your pet even realizing it. Also, hard rubber chew toys with small bumps on also help to clean your pet’s teeth as they chew, helping to dislodge any food that may be residing in between. Chewing on these toys will also help to strengthen your pet’s teeth and gums. One can consult their vet to understand the toothbrush, paste, and gels that they can use for their pet.

  • Regular Check-up: Once your pet is over 3 years of age, it’s advisable to book regular oral health check-ups with your vet. If a dental clean-up is required, they may suggest carrying out some pre-dental checks just to establish the overall health of your pet prior to booking in the procedure. The problems usually start with a plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gumline can often easily be seen and removed, but plaque and tartar below the gum line are damaging and sets the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and the tissues that connect the tooth to the jaw bone. The treatment will be similar to humans – tartar removal, checking for cavities, gingival (gum) pockets, and removal of loose teeth.

2. Rodents:

Dental Care for Rodents

Rodents only have one set of incisor teeth and rabbits have the “peg teeth” as the second set. These incisors in small rodents like Hamsters, Guinea pigs, Mice, Rats, and Chinchillas and the cheek teeth which occur in Guinea pigs and Rabbits grow throughout their lives. Every time a rodent stops eating, reduces feed intake, or becomes anorexic, the primary reason is overgrown teeth. This problem causes huge pain and can become life-threatening. One can read about overgrown teeth here.

The best way to keep your rodent’s teeth at a normal length is to provide them with something to chew on. A high fiber diet that includes a lot of hay and fewer pellets, vegetables, and fruits helps the rodent perform the function of naturally grinding their cheek teeth and incisors to wear them down to a safe length. Even when provided with the proper forage and gnawing substrates, some rodents will still experience problems with overgrown teeth. If this is the case, it is important to schedule regular appointments with your veterinarian to have your companion rodent’s teeth trimmed.

Sometimes, your rodent may develop other oral infections which are indicated through increased salivation, teeth grinding, decreased appetite, food struck in the mouth, nasal discharge, weight loss, poor coat, constipation, etc. These dental diseases can be treated based on proper diagnosis by a veterinarian. Treatment may involve trimming and filing teeth (sometimes this requires sedation as most animals are not comfortable with having their mouth manipulated), removing food or foreign bodies from the teeth, and cleaning sores on the gums. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an antibiotic if an infection is present.

3. Exotic Birds:

Dental Care for Pets

While birds do not have the teeth and gums as other animals or mammals, they do have risks to their health from bacteria in their mouth. Also, unlike dogs and cats, who can indicate their dental health through ‘death breath’, the signs of dental problems and discomfort in exotic birds often go unnoticed. By providing proper dental care, one can reduce the risk of your parakeet, cockatiel, or parrot developing problems in their mouth or in relation to bacteria in their food.

A bird’s teeth’ are morphed into its beaks. When their beaks get dirty, they simply scrape them on rough tree bark, and nestlings are required to be groomed by their parents. At times, your bird may demonstrate signals of not being able to eat, excessive saliva, difficulty in chewing, etc. due to its beak. In such cases, it is required to get their beaks trimmed. One can consult a veterinarian to administer the process.

4. Fishes:

In fishes, there is no such procedure for their oral hygiene to be administered by humans externally. They themselves manage to maintain their oral health through natural processes.

5. Exotic Reptiles:

Dental Care for Pets

All turtles lack teeth. Snakes, lizards, crocodilians, and tuataras all have teeth. The teeth vary in their form, their attachment, and whether they are shed. Generally, the teeth of herbivorous species are broadly flattened with crushing surfaces. Those of most carnivorous reptiles are tapered to sharp points. Often, the teeth in the front of the mouth have recurved tips, which facilitate the puncture of prey during the strike, and reduce the chance of the prey escaping.

Reptiles can be vulnerable to a host of problems stemming from their mouth. The most common one that affects lizards and snakes is Mouth Rot. One can read about it here. Signs of any periodontal disease include a loss of appetite or difficulty apprehending food, pain when chewing, bleeding from the oral cavity, swelling of the upper and lower jaws of your reptile. Most of the common treatments depend on the severity of the disease. An exotic pet veterinarian may do oral radiographs or blood tests to judge your pet’s dental health and suggest an appropriate diagnosis.

The easiest way to take care of your reptile’s dental health is through regular checkups at a veterinarian’s clinic. Removing plaque and cleaning the teeth and surrounding bone is an excellent preventative medicine that needs to be done regularly.