Welcome to the second of a three-part series on pet dental health.  Today’s column is all about babies.  Fur-babies, that is.  Pediatric pet dental care is important, because puppies and kittens have teeth, too.

Last month, we highlighted preventive dental care for pets.  This included home dental care, such as tooth brushing and VOHC-approved chews, and what you should expect with quality professional veterinary dental care.  Next month’s column will discuss common pet dental disease and what you can do about it.

When your bundle of furry joy comes home, dental care may be the last thing on your mind.  But the next few weeks and months are a busy time for those little mouths.

  • Did you know… Like human infants, puppies and kittens are born without teeth? Baby teeth erupt when they are about one month old.  By the time of adoption, your fur-baby should have a set of sharp baby teeth.  At four months of age, Fido begins to lose these teeth.  Kittens start a few weeks earlier.  Within six to eight weeks, these adolescent pets should have lost all their baby teeth and have a full set of adult teeth.

The problem?  The four-to-six month age for pets is a busy time for little mouths.  Developmental oral problems can develop quickly and should be identified and addressed promptly.

What to do?  Your puppy or kitten should have a monthly pediatric visit at this age.  Among other routine issues, make sure your veterinarian checks the mouth to ensure everything looks normal.  Promptly addressing dental issues in puppies and kittens is better for their health and better for your pocketbook.

  • Did you know… The five-month checkup is very important to identify and address puppy and kitten dental issues?  Abnormal bites, and whether they will lead to chronic, painful problems, are best identified at this age.

The problem?  Quite often, vaccines are finished by four months of age, and the five-month checkup is overlooked.  This is a critical time to check for abnormal bite issues.  Examples include underbites or overbites (common in some breeds, but sometimes painful), and base narrow (when lower fang teeth traumatize the palate, causing chronic pain).

What to do?  Be sure to schedule the five-month exam for your puppy or kitten.  If your veterinarian is keen on pediatric dentistry, they will make this appointment for you.  Veterinarians have various areas of expertise, and dentistry is not a special interest for all of them.  Make sure your veterinarian is comfortable identifying and addressing abnormal bite issues in your fur-baby.

  • Did you know… Adult dogs should have 42 teeth, and adult cats, 30?

The problem?  Apparently, not all pets read the memo on how many teeth they should have.  Extra teeth and missing teeth are common problems, especially in dogs.  If Fido has more than 42 teeth, he may have retained baby teeth.  This is especially common at the fangs of smaller breeds.  Retained baby teeth have a domino effect in the mouth, forcing the adult teeth into abnormal positions, predisposing the pet to early periodontal disease, and causing chronic mouth pain.  Separately, if Fido has fewer than 42 teeth, or Fluffy has fewer than 30, then your pet has missing teeth.  This is not good, either.  An adult tooth that is formed but unerupted can lead to a dangerous high-pressure cyst within the jaw, causing significant bone destruction.  This is called a dentigerous cyst; more information can be found online at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135042/.

What to do?  Make sure your veterinarian counts your adolescent pet’s teeth.  Extra or missing teeth should be investigated, and oral radiographs are needed.  If your veterinarian is not comfortable addressing this, or does not have dental radiograph equipment, find one that does.

  • Did you know… Brachycephalic pets are more prone to various dental issues?  Brachycephalic dogs are short-nosed, including pugs, puggles, boxers, bulldogs, and shih tzus.  Brachycephalic cats include Persians.

The problem?   Mother Nature did not design brachycephalic pets.  Just think about it – wild canines have long, thin snouts.  These short-nosed breeds are man-made and bred for this feature.  Although brachycephalic pets are cute, their short snout translates into inevitable dental problems.  Underbites are common, as are rotated teeth, missing teeth, dentigerous cysts, and early periodontal disease.

What to do?  If your Fido or Fluffy is short-nosed, extra attention is needed to keep his mouth healthy and comfortable.  Talk to your veterinarian about regular home dental care and periodic professional dental care.  The goal is a pain-free mouth for your pet.

  • Did you know… Starting regular tooth brushing is important when pets are young?

The problem?  Teaching pets to enjoy tooth brushing is easier when they are young.  A regular routine helps prevent periodontal disease.

What to do?  Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to brush your fur-baby’s teeth.