How clean is your (pet's) mouth?

Last week I had a long overdue check up at the dentist. Despite my appointment being at 2.30 (no word of a lie!), I’m pleased to report that the experience was uneventful. However, as I sat on the sofa afterwards eating a mars bar and drinking a coffee with 8 sugars, I was greeted by our dog, Scout, who came up and gave me a close-up yawn followed by a canine belch. The rancid miasma which permeated my nostrils was enough to put me off my confectionary and I was forced to eat some cake and ice-cream to recover. I am ashamed to say that having been rather busy in the past few months, we had neglected to monitor Scout’s dental health which had resulted in the kind of weapon’s grade halitosis which could probably get us arrested by the UN!

There are several causes of halitosis, or bad breath, but dental disease is by far and away the most common. Halitosis can also be a side effect of metabolic problems such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease. Dental disease manifests in bad breath because the waste products of bacteria in the mouth smell bad! Unhealthy mouths have inflamed gums (gingivitis) and more tartar on the teeth. Bacterial numbers increase between the tooth, tartar and gum which leads to the eye watering aroma that you may receive from your dog, cat or possibly less hygienic relative…. Dental hygiene is the pet equivalent to “how clean is your house” on television – some pets have lovely “pearly-whites”, while others would have Kim and Aggie scrabbling for the bacteriology swabs and facemasks from fifty paces!

So, what are the options for dogs and cats with halitosis?

Prevention is better than cure, so any action that you can take to prevent tartar build up is a good one. “There is no substitution for mechanical removal of plaque on a daily basis” was the mantra that was drummed into us in dentistry lectures at university – so much so that I suspect that it was some kind of mechanical device that gave the lectures in the first place. Essentially, this means brushing your pet’s teeth as often as possible. There is no denying that regular brushing of teeth is the best thing that you can do to prevent dental disease, however, it does hinge on having the time and a co-operative “brushee” in order to be successful. If their TV show is anything to go by, Kim and Aggie would probably advise cleaning teeth with lemon juice and a brillo pad, but these days, meaty flavoured toothpaste and special dog and cat toothbrushes do make the job of cleaning your pet’s teeth much easier. We have a selection of products at the surgeries.

If brushing isn’t for you, or more likely your dog or cat has made that decision, then you can influence dental hygiene with the diet that you feed. Dental chews and similar can help, but in order for diet to have a meaningful effect, dental friendly food must be fed a significant amount of the time. This is not really practical with dental chews as they are designed to be fed in addition to a diet, not as a replacement. Also, cats really aren’t fans of dental chews! There are several diets on the market which are specially designed to prevent tartar build up and keep teeth clean. They consist of kibble (biscuits) which do not shatter when they are chewed, but instead rub the tooth and remove the tartar. The kibble is larger than normal dry foods which ensures that it is crunched and not swallowed whole! Generally, feeding these diets as 30% or more of your pet’s total daily intake will significantly reduce tartar build up and keep their teeth clean. At Hawthorn, we recommend Hills Veterinary Essentials which is a maintenance diet made up of teeth cleaning kibble.

Unfortunately, there will be many pets where instigating brushing or a change of diet is “shutting the door after the horse as bolted”! Once gum disease and tartar build-up have reached a certain level, then the only way of dealing with the problem is to have a “dental” performed. This consists of removing tartar using an ultrasonic de-scaler, cleaning and polishing the healthy teeth and possibly removing any diseased or rotten dentition. Dentals have to be carried out under a general anaesthetic at the surgery.

So, what are the signs of dental disease? Dogs and cats are excellent at tolerating and hiding dental pain which would have any normal human being in mortal agony, waving a white flag, crying and praying to whichever god is listening to put them out of their misery. As you may have guessed, the primary sign to look put for is halitosis. Mildly unpleasant, and you may get away with a diet change or toothbrushing, but if you dog can melt plastic with his breath, then it’s probably time to get something done about it! Other signs to look out for are bleeding gums or blood on or around the food, dropping food whilst eating, reluctance to eat hard food and excess salivation or drooling. If your dog or cat actually stops eating as a result of dental disease, then the problem will be very far advanced and very painful.

If you think your pet may need a dental, then now is the time to act because in the months of December and January, we are running a fixed price dental offer! £110 for a cat and £140 for a dog. This includes the anaesthetic, descale, polish and any extractions. We also offer FREE dental checks with our nurses, so feel free to book an appointment if you just want to get your cat or dog’s teeth assessed. If you have any questions regarding your pet’s dental problems, then please contact us at the surgery and a member of staff will be happy to advise you.

You’ll be pleased to know that Scout’s breath is now as fresh as a summer meadow, in a “meaty” sort of way…..