The Doc Is In: Pet Dental Health

Wish you could spend hours learning from your veterinarian? Pet Health Central has the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Rod Van Horn, DVM, a veterinarian with a large practice, on a regular basis. The interviews always focus on an important pet health topic. This month’s topic is pet dental care. Dr. Van’s Horn’s answers to commonly asked questions on this topic will be featured in a series of posts. So sit back, read and enjoy!

Pet Health Central: Many people have had pets in the past and never really thought about their teeth. Now, more and more are educated on how important this is, but wonder: is it really important to pay attention to this?

Dr. Rod Van Horn: Pet dental health is extremely important. By the age of three, almost 85 percent of our pets will need some kind of professional dental cleaning. From the moment pets start to eat solid food, they are developing what is called a slime layer on their teeth. This in turn with time will develop to plaque and tartar. Left untreated, this material, which is composed of minerals and bacteria will lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease locally in the mouth. The bacteria can enter the blood stream via the inflamed gums and set up housekeeping on the heart valves leading to bacterial endocarditis. These same bacteria are filtered via the kidneys and liver, which can create problems as well. Ultimately, if your pet is not receiving proper dental hygiene/care, and the mouth is unhealthy, the pet’s life is shortened.

Studies have shown that keeping your pet’s mouth healthy can increase longevity by 1-3 years in some cases. This includes both home care/prevention programs starting with your puppies and kittens, and will also include periodic (often times yearly after 3-4 years of age) professional cleaning performed by your veterinarian.

Pet Health Central: For those who have new puppies or kittens, what tips do you have to ‘break them in’ to getting their teeth brushed?

Dr. Rod Van Horn: If you are fortunate enough to obtain your pet as a puppy or kitten, this is a great time to start to introduce them to at home dental care. Starting early will make you and them less frustrated in providing this daily care. Start by simply playing with their lips, lifting them up and rubbing their gums with your fingers. You can also rub the gums with a gauze pad wrapped around your finger. You can then add a specifically formulated for pets toothpaste to this process.

Once your puppy and/or kitten are comfortable with this process, then you can start with a pet toothbrush. These will have both a small and large end with an angled handle to make it easier to reach all the teeth. Even though your puppies and kittens will lose their “baby teeth” (deciduous), by starting at an early age this will help to acclimate them and you, as well as create a daily routine for this brushing process. Be patient and, of course, always give praise for good behavior.

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