Have you stopped accepting kisses from your true love because their slobber is pure stank? Have their pearly whites gone a bit… brownish? If so, you’re not alone! Some even call it pet death breath. Dental health is an important, but often overlooked part of caring for an aging pet.
Why is dental healthcare so important?
For some pets, the early signs that they may be having problems with their teeth are visible (or smellable) and blatant. You can see the tartar or broken teeth and quickly and easily deduce the problem. For some, though, the first signs you might notice are a little less obvious. Your pet may stop eating or lose weight. They may act irritable or be less willing to be handled than usual. Their faces may even visibly swell or they may recoil or cry out when their mouths are touched. Less-experienced pet owners may not recognize these as signs of possible dental pain or infection and may struggle to understand the changes they’re seeing in their pet.
So the most obvious reason that dental healthcare is important is simply that rotting, loose, or broken teeth can be painful for your pet just like they’re painful for humans.
But there’s a hidden cost to poor dental health.
Perhaps your pet is getting older, but not yet showing signs of pain or illness. Maybe you don’t mind the stinky breath and grungy chompers and feel dental care is a primarily cosmetic problem. But dental and periodontal disease has an impact far beyond the mouth. In fact, the bacteria that causes dental disease in dogs and cats can also lead to serious heart disease, such as endocarditis and valvular disease. The damage doesn’t stop there- the liver and kidneys, which serve as part of the body’s defense against some of this harmful bacteria, can also be susceptible to damage due to dental disease. Any or all of these factors can seriously shorten your pet’s life- it’s way more than just bad breath.
So how do you take care of your pets’ pearly whites at home?
Well, if your pets will allow it, brushing their teeth really does help! Use toothpaste and a toothbrush made for pets and start out slowly with a lot of praise. Remember, though, that even good boys can bite and if you’ve got your hand right in the chompers, make sure you’re watching your pet for signs of stress. If they’ll tolerate it, brush their teeth regularly! Keeping your pet’s teeth bright and shiny can prevent problems from developing in the first place.
If your pet’s not down with having your fingers in their mouth, try dental treats or chews. They’re delicious (I mean, I assume, based on how my dog reacts to them. I’ve never tried one myself) and can help get rid of some of the plaque on their teeth.
Chew toys are also helpful, but make sure you choose something made for dogs and appropriate for your own dogs. You don’t want your dog breaking his teeth on the very thing you got to improve his dental health!
How can your veterinarian help with dental care?
When your pet goes for their regular checkup, your veterinarian should take a look at their teeth and may tell you your pet needs a dental cleaning or extractions. This is pretty routine and common in older animals. Smaller dogs, in particular, are very prone to dental and periodontal disease and often need a veterinary dental by middle age.
A veterinary dental is done under anesthesia. The dog or cat is put under, intubated, and the teeth are closely examined and cleaned. Loose, broken, or abscessed teeth may be extracted and the veterinarian will use a variety of dental tools to scrape plaque and tartar off the teeth and gums, leaving your pet with a sparkling mouth… and often lighter a few teeth.
Most pets look really pitiful when you pick them up. They may drool a lot or take a few days to regain their appetite. Their tongues may even hang out of their mouths at odd angles. But before long, they start to act like their old selves again!
What if your pet is old? Is it okay to put them under anesthesia for this?
This is a question I hear a lot from people trying to do the very best for their aging pets. Is it okay to put a senior pet under anesthesia for something you might see as an elective procedure?
First of all, of course, your pet’s veterinarian will be the one who can answer this best for your individual pet. Anesthesia does come with risks.
In order to minimize the chances of something going wrong, many vets will order pre-anesthesia blood work. It’s a routine general blood panel which may alert you and your vet to something that may need to be addressed before your pet goes under. Your vet should also know if your pet has a history of heart problems or of reacting poorly to anesthesia.
While your pet is under, their staff will monitor them closely in order to quickly address any problems. The huge majority of the time, dentals are uneventful and animals come through and wake up and go on to feel way better than they did before the procedure.
Sometimes, people are concerned about whether their pet, who has stopped eating as much as they used to, will have even more trouble eating after their dental. In fact, it’s usually the opposite! Once those painful problem teeth are out, their appetite and some of their spark may return.
And yes, they can still eat with just a few teeth… or even no teeth at all! Dogs and cats chew their food a little bit, but not like humans do. They may not be tearing meat from bones, but if they’re used to kibble, by all means, keep offering them kibble.
You want to take the best care of your pet and that means caring for every part of them. Regular maintenance, proper veterinary care, and attention to behavioral changes can keep your best pal smiling and help them live a long, healthy life. You will thank yourself for taking care of that pet death breath sooner rather than later.
What puts a smile on a pet’s face even quicker than a dental treat? A visit from their 4-Legged Kids buddy! Whether it’s time for a walk, a meal, a trip outside, or just some cuddle time, we’re there for all your pet’s favorite things.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.