How much time have you spent lifting up your dog’s lip and examining what’s underneath ? Your cat’s? Yeah, me either. Yet, we all complain about the awful breath that hits us like a slap in the face when they share those sweet licks with us. But caring for your pet’s mouth is not just about fresh breath. Understanding your pet’s dental health and investing in routine preventative home care may be the key to giving them a long and healthy life.
Many of us hear differing advice on the matter and with no shortage of pet care products out there, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know what steps to take to give your pet’s the healthiest mouth possible. That’s why I’ve enlisted the expert advice of Christine Walker, Patient Supervisor and Veterinary Technician of over 25 years, who has kindly shared some important knowledge. Along with veterinarians at Westlake Animal Hospital, Chris tackles some of the toughest mouths in Austin and gets them on track to fuller, healthier lives.
So, why should you care?
Eighty percent of dogs have some form of dental disease by the age of three. Usually, this appears in the form of tartar buildup and/or gingivitis, both of which can affect and in some cases damage major organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and brain. Some breeds are more prone to dental issues. Take smushy-faced ones like pugs, for example. These little guys sometimes show NO outward signs of dental disease, but once x-rays are reviewed, they are commonly found to have embedded teeth beneath their gums. Left untreated, these can result in dentigerous cysts (the body attacking the “foreign” tooth) and cause pain, inflammation and infection.
That leads me to the #1 piece of advice to remember, folks. Do not judge your pet’s oral health by the looks of his teeth. Unless you’re Clark Kent, you are missing the whole picture. X-RAYS ARE THE KEY TO IDENTIFYING DENTAL PROBLEMS. Read more about this here.
Furthermore, this step should only be taken under full and monitored anesthesia. So, if your groomer, veterinarian or pet sitter tells you that they can clean your pet’s teeth while they are awake or lightly sedated (i.e. twilight cleanings), please DO NOT ALLOW IT. The veterinary community has found that attempting dental scaling and oral radiographs under anything but total anesthesia is actually very dangerous and detrimental to the health of animals. Learn about that here. Unfortunately, many businesses offer these services and claim to provide the same results as those who may charge more but follow the correct and thorough protocols for this procedure. Thus, endangering your pet’s life. Rude, huh?
What should you do at home and at the vet?
First, take your dog or cat in to a reputable (preferably accredited by the Animal Hospital Association or AHAA) veterinarian for regular health screenings. The recommendation is every six months, especially in senior pets (age 7+). During the exam, your doctor should take a close look at the teeth and gums and grade the tartar index to determine the appropriate dental care for your pet. Home care will always be encouraged as it is the best tool in preventing health problems that can arise as a result of an unhealthy mouth. Not sure how? Here’s a fabulous instructional video.
But, even with excellent home care, at some point, your vet will likely recommend that you schedule a teeth cleaning. They should provide you with a detailed treatment plan explaining what is involved and a price range for the procedure. Because many problems cannot be seen until x-rays are evaluated, you will not know the exact cost until the day of the procedure but the treatment plan should help you plan and budget accordingly.
Important items to look for in these services include:
- Pre-operative blood work (to make sure your pet is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia)
- IV catheterization (provides an open line into the blood stream in case medication needs to be administered)
- Administration of IV fluids during the procedure (to keep organs happy and functioning while your pet is asleep)
- Monitoring of respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature during procedure (if problems with any of these arise, there are simple measures that can be taken to correct them)
- Dental Radiographs
If extractions are expected due to obvious tooth decay or infection, make sure that the doctor, and not the technician, will be performing the surgical part of the procedure. While dental technicians like Chris are well skilled in many ways, you want to make sure you have a surgeon there to handle any unforeseen or complicated issues.
If you live in Austin and you want to schedule your cat or dog for a dental evaluation or cleaning, the experts at Westlake Animal Hospital have decades of combined expertise and innovation in the veterinary field.
In part two of covering this important topic, I will chronicle my own dog, Fiona’s experience as she goes in for a cleaning later this month. My hope is that, through sharing my experience, I will motivate others to take a deeper interest in their animal’s dental health and give them the best chance for a happy, healthy life… plus fresher breath!
In the meantime, grab a doggie or kitty toothbrush and toothpaste and give brushing a go! It only takes three minutes a day to make a big change. Even if you can only manage it once or twice a week, it’s better than nothing and will not only prevent disease, but can keep overall health care costs down in the long haul. Check out some amazing pet dental products recommended by veterinarians here. Fiona loves the poultry flavored toothpaste!
Have questions? Leave them here! We will get you the answers you need from professionals in the field.