By Doug Jimerson

February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Cuddling up with your pet on a cold winter’s night is a great way to bond with your cat and dog. But if your pet has bad breath that bonding moment might come to a very quick end. Bad breath in pets generally indicates that your animal is suffering from periodontal disease, or gum disease. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of gum disease by the time they are 2 years old.

Gum disease begins when bacteria in your pet’s mouth form plaque that clings to the surface of the teeth. Plaque eventually hardens into tartar, which can then cause more serious problems if it spreads below the gum line. Ultimately, this can result in tooth loss and the bacteria may enter the animal’s bloodstream where it can damage your pet’s liver, kidneys and heart.

The best way to prevent dental problems is to brush your pet’s teeth a few times a week. Toothbrushes and paste designed for pets are available at most pet supply stores, but it’s best to check with your veterinarian first.

Of course, if your pets (particularly cats) are not used to having their teeth cleaned they may balk at your first attempts but, over time, they may come to even enjoy it, especially since most pet toothpastes come in various flavors. Just don’t try to force your pet into submission. Let them taste the toothpaste and if they seem interested you can begin the brushing process. Don’t rush things, stay calm and upbeat, and do something fun with your pet when you are done so they (and you) won’t dread the process in the future.

It’s also smart to start your pet out when they are young. Kittens and puppies are generally happy to get any type of attention so if you start early, they’ll think of dental care as just another way to spend time with you. Young animals may also need professional help shedding some their baby teeth if they don’t fall out on their own.

Older pets and smaller breeds of dogs often seem to suffer the most from gum disease, so keep a close eye on them. At the first sign of any problems, get them to your veterinarian.

Most importantly, an annual dental exam and cleaning at your veterinarian’s office is the most effective way of keeping your pet healthy.  Because cats and dogs are sedated during the procedure the cleaning process is not stressful at all.

Between exams, you can also offer your pet dental chew toys to help remove plaque as it builds up. But not all chew toys and treats are created equal. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations that fit your pet’s specific needs.