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Dental Health Month, which means it's time to lavish some attention on your pet's teeth. It's important to
take proper care of canine and feline teeth, because if left untreated, plaque and tartar buildup can progress to painful periodontal disease. The bacteria from periodontal disease can spread to other organs and cause illnesses. More than 85 percent of cats and
dogs over four years old are affected by
periodontal disease — you don't want your four-legged companion to become part of that alarming statistic.
Here are five steps to help your
pet's teeth and gums remain healthy:
If a musky scent is coming from Fluffy's mouth, don't ignore it. This could be a warning sign that she has periodontal disease or another oral disease such as stomatitis, a common feline condition that causes painful inflammation of the gums and mouth tissues.
Other dental-health warning signs include bleeding gums, yellow or brown teeth, pawing at the mouth, and loose or missing teeth.
While it might be difficult at first, with enough patience and plenty of
yummy rewards, you can turn tooth brushing into a bonding experience with your dog or
cat. It might take several weeks to
train your four-legged friend to warm up to the toothbrush, so start by letting her smell the toothbrush and pet toothpaste, then gradually work your way to brushing for 30 seconds on each side of her mouth at least every other day. By the way, human toothpaste
isn't safe for pets, so be sure to use a product approved for your pet.
If you're scared your
dog or cat will bite you, ask your veterinarian for alternative tartar-control options.
While it's not as effective as brushing your pet's teeth, giving her treats, toys and food specifically designed to promote oral health will help her maintain healthy gums and teeth. Check for the Seal of Acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council to make sure that whatever alternative you choose meets the standards for effective plaque and tartar control.
Humans aren't the only ones who need their chompers checked by a professional; your four-legged friend needs to have her teeth and gums checked by a veterinarian. During the
dental exam, the vet will first take your pet's medical history, then ask if you've noticed any
dental health warning signs such as
bad breath. Next, he'll examine your pet, including checking the head and neck for any abnormalities. Finally, he'll check out your pet's teeth and gums for redness, bleeding and inflammation. He'll also be on the lookout for tooth loss, cracked teeth, plaque and tartar, as well as potentially cancerous
lumps and bumps.
dental exam can usually be performed without sedation, unless your pet becomes aggressive or his teeth are very painful. For a complete dental evaluation, though,
your pet will have to go under.
To thoroughly examine your pet's teeth and gums, properly get rid of nasty plaque and tartar, and really
clean your pet's pearly whites, he'll need to be anesthetized. Though sedating your dog or
cat sounds scary, it's
not as bad as it sounds — in fact, the procedure has never been safer or more comfortable. Before your vet even begins anesthesia, he may recommend prescreening tests to help ensure that your pet is healthy enough for the procedure.
When you think about it, the benefits of
dental cleaning outweigh the possible risks of anesthesia. When Fluffy wakes up, her breath will smell better, and her teeth will be shinier and healthier. And as an extra bonus, maintaining
healthy teeth and gums helps protect the body's other organs, like the
heart and kidneys, from the damaging effects of dental disease.
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