By Susan Richards
It has been thousands of years since dogs and cats first became domesticated, and it’s now estimated that 68% of U.S. households – or approximately 85 million families – own some type of pet, including canine, feline, and exotic. Pet ownership made significant cultural news when a sequestered population added new furry family members in record numbers. According to a Forbes survey, a full 78% of pet owners said they acquired new pets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amount of money Americans spent on their animals also went up, with two-thirds of respondents admitting to spending more to make up for returning to work and leaving their pets alone. Ideally, some of those expenses went to oral healthcare.
Although it tends to be neglected by even the most well-intentioned pet owner, pets also need their own regular dental checkups and cleanings.
Just Like Us
Before domestication, cats and dogs had much different eating habits which helped protect their oral health and keep their teeth strong. However, today’s processed food and treats simply don’t provide the same natural benefits.
Just like their human companions, pets are susceptible to dental disease as a result of tartar buildup, plaque, and bacteria. The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) estimates that more than 70% of dogs and cats have some level of oral disease by age three. And because only about 25% of a pet’s tooth is actually showing, many dental problems may not even be visible to owners or a cursory veterinarian examination.
Unfortunately, unlike us, Fido and Fluffy can’t voice their pain or discomfort to their humans or vets, and they’re even pretty good at hiding it. It’s therefore important to be aware of the indicators of a dental problem, including:
- Bad breath
- Loose or broken teeth
- Excessive salivating
- Swelling or bleeding gums
- Appetite loss or refusal to eat
- Trouble chewing or dropping food while eating
- Facial swelling
- Discolored teeth
- Pawing at their face
- Sensitivity to being touched around the face
Cavities are less common for pets than people, but the animals are similarly at risk for periodontal disease, infected teeth, malocclusion, mouth tumors, and more. And just like us, oral health problems can contribute to concerns with the kidney, heart, and liver, not to mention chronic pain that impacts quality of life.
Proactive Dental Care for Pets
Fortunately, waiting for signs of pets in distress is unnecessary. Preventative care can begin at home by brushing the dog or cat’s teeth daily with special toothbrushes. There are even flavored toothpastes that are more palatable for pets – remember, human paste contains toxic ingredients for animals, and they’re unable to spit it out as we do.
There are also dental wipes and water additives that can help prevent tartar buildup, especially with pets who aren’t amenable to brushing or prone to biting. Chew sticks and pet dental treats may be effective for improving oral hygiene, but the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends looking for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval – and understanding that they’re not a substitute for dental care.
Additionally, they discourage using toys such as antlers and synthetic bones that don’t bend or break since they can cause tooth fractures.
The Particulars of Pet Dentistry
The AAHA also recommends annual dental evaluations as part of their normal healthcare check. Radiographs are as essential for diagnosis as they are for general dentists, however the only safe way to x-ray, clean, or thoroughly evaluate a pet’s teeth is with anesthesia.
Like our own safe and effective sedation dentistry, the animal doctor or veterinary dental specialist will screen the patient beforehand, monitor vital signs, and allay the fears of the family member/pet owner. Depending on the treatment involved, the four-legged patient may be sedated longer to rest comfortably or prescribed pain medication for home care.
Ultimately, everyone from proud parents of a “pandemic puppy” to people under the impression that they “own” a cat should all make a point to keep up with their pet’s oral health. Ask your veterinarian what steps to take to protect those fuzzy-faced friends.
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Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.