Dental disease is the cause of the vast majority of cases of bad breath in animals and even mild dental disease can lead to “dog breath”. More advanced cases of dental disease can lead to severe halitosis. It is sometimes thought that dental issues and problems with teeth, will stop animals from eating thereby sending a clear signal to owners that something’s wrong, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Will pets stop eating if they have dental problems?
Animals need to eat to live, and they will therefore continue to do so until it’s not possible. Both dogs and cats are good at hiding pain, especially oral pain, and if they have oral health care issues and broken or missing teeth, they’re more likely to compensate by chewing on one side of their mouths or swallowing food without chewing, than not eat.
For an animal to stop eating because of oral pain then it must be severe, and for it to get to that point their owners will have most likely missed some important early signs of dental health issues. If they stop eating they’ll ultimately be unable to sustain life, as would be the case with us. Signs that they’re nearing the point of potentially refusing to eat, such as reluctance to eat when hungry, should be taken very seriously, and addressing the problem by giving a pet soft food is, at best, a temporary solution.
Most adult dogs and cats have dental disease
Recognising that pets have potential oral issues and addressing them promptly, can save them considerable discomfort and pain and a host of related health issues. Most dogs and cats over three years of age have dental disease that requires treatment. It is estimated that the proportion of animals to which this applies could be as high as 80% which means that pets who are well cared for and who have owners who take their general health care seriously, are still getting inadequate dental health care.
An issue that contributes to the problem is the false belief that as pets age, bad breath and tooth loss is inevitable. It’s not inevitable for us, and neither is it for them. Bad breath can mean there is infection and this can lead to tooth loss.
Bad breath doesn’t always mean infection however, and animals can have bad breath for other reasons such as consumption of something malodorous such as faeces or garbage, recently vomiting, or food lodged between teeth. Kidney disease and other metabolic diseases can also cause bad breath. If your pet has bad breath, it’s time for it to be checked by a vet, as dental disease is the most common cause of bad breath.
Animals do not naturally lose their teeth as part of the ageing process
Dogs’ and cats’ teeth are embedded deep into the bones of their faces therefore extensive damage to the ligaments and bones that support them needs to occur for teeth to be lost. This results from advanced periodontal disease.
Regular dental checks are important for animals at any age
Age is not a disease, and older animals shouldn’t be treated any differently than younger animals when it comes to regular dental check-ups and a commitment to responsible health care disciplines by their owners. In fact, older pets potentially feel pain from oral health issues more than younger animals because disease is often much more progressed in aged animals. Whilst there is some concern about anaesthetic risks in older animals, the benefits from treating dental disease generally outweigh the risk of well managed anaesthesia. Senior pets should have more frequent heath checks generally, including their oral health. If you pet is senior, talk to your vet about an appropriate schedule for check-ups.
Unfortunately, dental disease is often diagnosed for the first time when pets visit the vet for another reason. A standard physical examination commonly reveals existing oral issues. Most pet owners don’t look in their pets’ mouths therefore they’re unaware of the visual signs of problems. Dental disease can sometimes be hidden and the early signs are usually very subtle, therefore it’s important to know what to look for. Most owners are not aware of dental disease and only recognise the signs of oral pain once they are quite severe.
Visual signs of dental disease
When looking into your pet’s mouth look for signs of plaque and calculus, gingivitis and fractured teeth. All are very important signs of dental issues.
- Plaque is a fine film on teeth
- Dental calculus are the visible mineral deposits
- Gingivitis is indicated by red and inflamed gums.
If plaque and calculus aren’t routinely cleaned from pets’ teeth they can cause gingivitis and periodontal disease which eventually leads to tooth loss.
- Receding gums is when there is a separation of the gums away from the teeth, and this is a sign of gum disease. The gum tissue recedes to expose the roots of the teeth in the advanced stages.
- Bleeding gums can be a sign of advanced periodontal disease. Watch for bleeding if the gums bleed while eating, or when you’re brushing their teeth or probing their mouths.
- Loose teeth are a sign of the later stages of periodontal disease
Dropping food and having difficulty picking it up is a sign to watch for as it can mean that pets might have dental pain. Approaching the food bowl but then not eating can also be a sign that something is wrong. Other signs to keep an eye out for include, pawing at the mouth, crying or becoming aggressive when the mouth is touched, and excessive or bloodied drooling.
Don’t use other pets’ mouth as benchmarks for comparison; Even if other pets’ mouths look similar it doesn’t mean that they’re not all without disease.
Good dental health is as important to our pets as ours is to us
Pet dentistry is performed to treat disease, and the treatment is focussed on relieving pain and infection. It is therefore not an elective or cosmetic procedure. Extraction of fractured teeth is done to remove pain from broken teeth and exposure of the living part of the tooth. Scaling and polishing is performed to treat gingivitis and to resolve inflammation. All dental procedures are performed to treat disease.
Something that is uncomfortable or painful for us will also be uncomfortable for our pets. Their teeth have similar nerves to ours and those of us that have experienced dental pain will appreciate the significance of it. Bad tooth ache can be very debilitating and it’s no different for our dogs and cats.
Prevention is always better than cure
The best way to prevent gum disease in dogs and cats is to brush their teeth. Daily brushing is best, but it should be done at least three each week as a minimum. There are products such as chews and water additives that can help maintain gum health, but use only those recommended by your vet. Whilst they may help, they’re not a substitute for brushing.
Brushing pets’ teeth can be a little daunting for the inexperienced, especially when trying to brush cats’ teeth. Ask your vet to demonstrate how it’s done, and remember only to use toothpaste designed for dogs and cats. Never use human toothpaste on animals.
It is essential that pets have regular dental check-ups so that vets can check for signs of issues that pet owners may overlook. Get advice from your vet about things to watch for and ask them to point out any signs of problems in your pet’s mouth so that you’ll be able to recognise them if they occur again in future.
If you don’t brush your pet’s teeth regularly and they’ve not been checked recently by a vet, then you should contact your vet to arrange an appointment. Just because there are no obvious signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your pet is free from dental disease.