Welcome to part three of the “Did you know…” pet health series.  Today’s edition will highlight common dental issues with adult cats and dogs, with helpful hints on how to avoid them.

Fido and Fluffy have teeth, too.  Like their human counterparts, regular home dental care is important to keep their mouths healthy.  Periodic professional dental cleanings and assessments are important, too.  And, like human children, kittens and puppies have unique dental issues that need to be addressed when they are young.  These topics were discussed in parts one and two of this popular series.

Here are helpful hints to keep your pet smiling:

  • Did you know… some common dog toys and games can harm your pet’s teeth?

The problem?  Dogs use their teeth like hands, to grasp, chew, and play with objects.  This activity damages teeth.  Tennis balls are common culprits.  Their rough surface files teeth like sandpaper, rapidly wearing down enamel and damaging tooth pulp.  Worn teeth throb and are prone to abscesses.  Other common culprits are marrow and knuckle bones.  These popular treats are very hard and can fracture teeth, requiring root canal or extraction.  Even popular games such as tug-of-war can damage teeth, leading to pulp death and oral pain.

What to do?  Safe chew toys, such as Kong balls, are available at pet stores.  You can encourage your pooch to play with these by smearing peanut butter inside.

  • Did you know… pets experience many of the same dental problems as people?

The problem?  In many way, pets’ mouths are like ours.  A big difference is that they generally receive far less dental care than we do – both at home and professionally.  Gingivitis, tooth abscesses, fractured teeth, pulp disease, oral tumors, and cavities and resorption are common in pets.  These conditions are painful and can affect general health.

What to do?  Talk to your veterinary team about getting Fido and Fluffy on a schedule for home and professional dental care.  Painful conditions can be addressed, and your pet will thank you.

  • Did you know… general anesthesia is a “must” for all professional pet dental care?

The problem?   Dental cleanings on your awake pet may sound appealing, but they can do more harm than good.  Professional dental cleanings involve sharp instruments in the mouth.  Properly examining the oral cavity is another important aspect of dental procedures.  Exams also involve dental radiographs with x-ray film positioned inside the mouth.  Risks of injury or incomplete dental care are inevitable unless the patient rests quietly with an open mouth for extended periods.

What to do?  General anesthesia in pets is safe when best practices are followed.  Talk to your veterinarian to make sure they use safe anesthetic protocols for patient drug choices, intubation, and monitoring.  The American Animal Hospital Association evaluates hospital anesthesia standards; look for the “AAHA-accredited” sign at the veterinary hospital to make sure they passed the test.

  • Did you know… dental cleanings and extractions require medical training?

The problem?  Sometimes, pet dental procedures are performed by improperly trained individuals.  Some groomers like to clean teeth on awake patients.  This is not a good idea.  Just like you wouldn’t want your hairdresser cleaning your teeth, Fido’s and Fluffy’s hairdresser shouldn’t touch their teeth.  Not only are sharp instruments in a moving pet’s mouth dangerous, but groomers have no proper training in pet dental hygiene.  Certainly, their intentions are good and they want to help the pet.  Dental disease, though, occurs under the gumline.  Scraping the tooth surface does little to address that, it and may cause more harm.

Many veterinary technicians are trained in pet dental cleanings.  They are the dental hygienists of veterinary care.  However, tooth extractions are oral surgery and should be performed by trained veterinarians only.  You may want to ask your veterinary team who performs the extractions in the practice.  Complete root extraction is important, and gingiva should be sutured to aid healing.  Massachusetts prohibits veterinary technicians or nurses from performing surgery, including tooth extractions.

What to do?  Leave haircoat and nails to the groomer, dental cleanings to the technician, and extractions to the doctor.

  • Did you know… signs of dental pain are often overlooked by pet owners?

The problem?   Animals are masters at hiding signs of chronic pain.  They usually continue eating, despite significant oral pain.  They rarely vocalize or cry.  Their signs are subtle and include messy eating, chewing on one side of mouth, and general “slowing down”.  Owners may not notice this, or they may attribute it to general aging.

What to do?  Recognize that your pets experience dental pain just like you do.  People don’t wait to see their dentist until they are losing weight and unable to eat.  Bad breath, inflamed gums, bleeding mouths, and fractured teeth need to be addressed.