Dental Care for Pets: Knowing the Warning Signs

walking the dogFebruary is National Pet Dental Care Month. This February, take a moment to consider your pet’s dental health. Much like your own pearly whites, your pet’s teeth need routine care, attention, and cleaning. A lack of dental hygiene for your dog or cat can lead to some serious issues for their health. This goes far beyond just bad doggy breath, although that is often the first sign of a dental problem for your pooch or kitty.

Tooth decay and gum inflammation is not only very painful for your pet, it is also the doorway to serious infections that can get into the bones or bloodstream and become life-threatening conditions. Alternately, bad breath and other related signs of dental problems might actually be linked to deeper issues, such as gastronomical complications and discomfort. The first step, either in improving your pet’s dental health or catching the deeper problems, is knowing what to look for.

Know your pet’s norm:
When you know your pet’s norm, you’re more likely to notice when something seems off. Is your dog a regular drooler? If he’s not and you suddenly notice a lot more drool, that can be a warning sign. What does your pet’s breath normally smell like? If you don’t know, go take a whiff. You won’t know when it’s bad if you don’t know what is normal. Other factors to take note of include energy level, food intake, waste output, sleep schedule, and general appearance. As a loving and involved pet owner, you will already have a good idea of your pet’s norm, but consciously taking note of it will certainly increase the likelihood and speed with which you’ll be able to identify unusual behavior in your pet.

Know the signs of dental problems:
The clearest indication of dental problems is of course discolored, loose, missing, or rotten teeth. If your pet’s teeth are not looking good, take them to the vet or to a professional cleaner to get a full evaluation of your pet’s dental condition.

Bad breath
In addition to the appearance of your pet’s teeth, there are some more indicators of bad oral health. First on the list is bad breath. Bad breath in pets (and in people) can be caused by odor-producing bacteria in the mouth or other parts of the digestive or respiratory system. In the mouth, this bacteria is most often linked to tooth decay or gum disease. Pets are susceptible to plaque and tartar build-up, and as a result, they too can experience rotten teeth and infected gums. If you notice that your pet has bad breath, check their mouth for signs of dental problems and act to clear them up. If there are no warning signs of oral disease yet the bad breath persists, take your pet in for a veterinary check up. It’s possible that your pet may have a deeper medical problem. Diabetes, kidney disease, and liver problems all have links to bad breath.

A second indicator of oral disease is excessive drooling. When tartar builds up on your dog’s teeth, it rubs against the inside of the cheek, causing irritation. Your dog’s mouth reacts by creating more drool to counteract the abrasion. If you notice that your dog is more slobbery than usual, or that your cat has developed a drooling condition, it’s time to check out their teeth and the inner lining of their cheeks. If the inner cheek appears damaged or irritated, your pet probably has a case of bad tartar.

Bad gum health
Some other very clear signs of oral disease include inflamed gums or tumors on the gums. Unfortunately, visual indications of gum disease come pretty late in the game after the problem has become quite advanced. Discoloration and swelling of the gums indicate a reaction against infection or perhaps some sort of abrasion, such as a scratch resulting from your dog having chewed on a sharp object. A silent battle is waged in which the immune system tries to fight the bacteria (inflammation). Over time, the gums begin to break down or recede and the infection spreads, causing a weakening of tissue and bone. If you notice that your dog’s gums are in trouble, chances are he’s already in some amount of pain. Consult with your veterinarian on the proper steps for dealing with gum or periodontal disease.

When you know your pet’s norm and you know the warning signs to look for, you’re well on your way to keeping your pet’s dental health in great shape.



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