OUR pets might not chug energy drinks or snack on candy, but they’re still at risk for dental issues that can lead to serious medical problems down the road, according to area veterinarians.
Humans know it’s necessary to maintain our dental health, but it’s equally important for our pets. Unlike humans, the biggest threat to a pet’s oral health is not cavities but periodontal disease around the gums, said Brooke Finke Case, veterinarian with Athens Animal Clinic in Columbus.
“Pets are living longer these days due to better care and nutrition,” said David Davidson, veterinarian with Hope Veterinary Clinic in Columbus. “But what tends to get ignored is dental care. People never look in their pet’s mouth.”
A dog should not have bad breath, Case said. And the same goes for cats.
If your animal has horrid breath that could clear a room, there’s an issue.
Bacteria and tartar build up around an animal’s teeth and, with time, can cause serious damage. If the animal’s gums get infected, an abscess can form, putting the animal at risk for potentially life-threatening complications including kidney failure, Case said.
“It can’t necessarily lead to organ decline,” Case said. “But it can contribute to an existing condition.”
Those who’ve had a toothache or bad cavity know how uncomfortable it can be. Animals have no way of telling us when they’re in pain. Instead, they’ll adapt their behavior in a way we might not notice, Case said.
“If their tooth hurts, they won’t stop eating,” Case said. “They’ll just eat on the other side of their mouth.”
A dental visit for an animal involves the same process as a human exam. The only real difference is the use of anesthesia, because even the best animal is not going to let you clean under the gum line without some form of sedation, Case said.
Doug Bell’s four dogs, ranging in age from 6 to 11, have a standing appointment with the veterinarian each February to get their teeth cleaned. The Columbus resident considers the annual checkups an insurance policy.
“No one likes to pay for insurance, but if you ever have that medical expense, you’re glad you had that insurance,” Bell said. “I’m like that with dental care. I’m avoiding potential pain and large veterinary expenses down the road.”
Pre-cleaning bloodwork on your pet should be conducted to check for any potential issues that could complicate the procedure or interfere with the use of anesthesia, Case said. Red flags include clotting issues, impaired kidney or liver function or an elevated white blood cell count that could indicate infection.
A hand cleaning or water-based ultrasonic scaling is used to remove tartar from above and below the gum line. Each tooth is examined to make sure it is strong and structurally sound. If a tooth is loose, abscessed or in too bad of shape, it is extracted to prevent additional problems, Davidson said.
Finally, each tooth is polished.
“Polishing after a cleaning is critical,” Davidson said. “Because it helps to keep additional plaque from forming.”
Area clinics offer dentistry services starting around $200.
Daniel Vermillion, veterinarian with the Columbus Animal Hospital, said daily brushing, either with a toothbrush or gauze, is the gold standard when it comes to maintaining your pet’s dental health between cleanings.
“We tell people when they get a new puppy or kitten to rub the animal’s teeth so the animal gets used to having its mouth messed with,” Vermillion said.
If your pet won’t stand for brushing, there are alternatives, including dental treats formulated to help fight tartar, rinses you can add to your pet’s water dish and sprays, Case said.
But Case said those steps never should substitute for a cleaning.
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