Teeth are fascinating. They’re unlike anything else in the body, and they go through a lot every day. Without them we wouldn’t be able to eat, and our pets wouldn’t be the animals we love. What’s a dog who isn’t keen on their supper? What’s a cat who can’t catch a mouse? What’s a rabbit who can’t eat hay all day long? But your pets’ teeth need looking after just as much as the rest of your pet does.
So how do you go about checking over your pet and looking after their teeth? The first thing is to get familiar with your pets mouth, but only if they are amenable to it. Start by getting them used to your hands being near their mouth. If they’re fine with this, gently lift their upper lip to get a good view of their teeth. Slide your fingers back as you lift the lips- you need to have a good look at those teeth at the back there, too.
Healthy teeth are milk white, with no coloured patches. The gums should be an even salmon pink (although they may be coloured black in some dogs- this is normal). The teeth should sit firmly in their sockets. If you notice a bad smell, any colouring on the teeth, loose teeth, teeth that are worn, or red or bleeding gums then it’s probably worth booking a dental check up- we’ll check your pet over and make sure they’re healthy, and suggest treatment if they aren’t. If your pet will not allow anybody else to look in his or her mouth or needs to wear a muzzle whilst at the vets, try to take a clear photograph of the problem area and bring it along to your appointment.
Do you brush your pets teeth? No? Tooth brushing is the number one way to prevent plaque and tartar build up. After all, if it’s good enough for us, surely it’s good for our pets too? Although twice daily brushing is ideal, any level of tooth brushing is going to give your pet some protection. The key is to build up to it slowly, getting them used to the process, and to reward them for allowing it. Special toothpastes should be used- partly as they have lower levels of fluoride so are safer, and partly because they are flavoured with fish or chicken to help your pet enjoy the process. Most pet toothpastes are enzymatic, meaning that just getting them on the teeth will help. Cats can have the toothpaste applied to their foot so that they spread it over their teeth and gums while licking it off. Our nurses can explain how to train your dog- or even your cat- to allow tooth brushing and give you some top tips on getting to those hard-to-reach areas.
Despite twice daily tooth brushing, we humans visit our dentists regularly and have a scale and polish to get the bits we’ve missed. This is even more important for your pet as it’s that much harder to brush the teeth and you’re very likely to be missing bits. Scaling the tartar from the teeth is a very important part of preventative care and if your pet is otherwise healthy your pet may still need an annual scale a polish under general anaesthetic at the practice. Just give us a call to arrange.
Of course, we recognise that not all pets will allow tooth brushing, and not all pets can have general anaesthetics on a regular basis. There are other tooth care options available for these harder-to-help animals. Dental diets can be very effective- these are designed to break in such a way as to clean the teeth while being eaten. Some of the dental chews are excellent too, but remember that they can carry a lot of calories- you’ll need to take this into account and reduce your dogs daily allowance accordingly. Some rubber toys are designed to clean the teeth when chewed- just apply liver paste or peanut butter to the toy and let the dogs clean their own teeth! Powders are available to sprinkle on your pets food, and pet-safe mouthwash can be put into the drinking water- these approaches do not have much evidence that they help, but they’re probably better than doing nothing if your pet refuses to allow any other intervention.
Prevention is far better than cure, and dental conditions can be painful and expensive to treat. Regular check ups and home care are key to avoiding dental problems and to treating problems that do occur as early as possible. Our nurses and vets want your pet to be happy and healthy, so if you aren’t sure how best to help your pet, just call the team or pop in to speak to reception.