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Vet Notes : dogs

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Dental Health For Your Pet

Puppies and kittens are born with deciduous, or baby, teeth. These teeth tend to be very sharp and also somewhat fragile. They begin falling out at about 12 weeks of age, starting with the small front teeth called incisors. Many people do not notice when their pets lose their baby teeth because they are either swallowed or caught in a chew toy. Your veterinarian should examine your puppy or kitten’s mouth at every check-up to make sure that the baby teeth are falling out appropriately. If an adult tooth comes in and the baby tooth doesn’t fall out, this is called a retained deciduous tooth. This tooth can cause problems for the health of the adult teeth and needs to be removed. Retained deciduous teeth are commonly removed while your puppy or kitten is anesthetized for spay or neuter surgery.

The best way to prevent your dog or cat from developing dental disease as they get older, is to start young. Adult dogs have 42 teeth and adult cats have 30 teeth that need care and attention. Most puppies and kittens will allow their teeth to be brushed regularly to remove plaque before it turns to tartar. Pet dental kits are available to make this easier on everyone involved. Do not use your own toothpaste, because the foaming agent can cause your pet to have an upset stomach.

Does your pet have doggy or kitty breath?  This may be a sign of dental disease. All pets have a distinct odor to their breath, affected by what they eat. This should not be a foul or offensive odor, though. If it is, there may be some underlying dental disease acting as the culprit. Look at your pet’s mouth. If you see a yellow, orange, or brownish material stuck to the surface of the teeth, you are most likely looking at tartar. If the gums are red along the edge of the tooth, this is a symptom of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Visible tartar on the surface of the tooth is only part of the problem. If you can see the tartar, it is also on the surface of the tooth under the gum (where you can’t see it). This is what starts the process of gingivitis. Inflamed gums bleed more readily than healthy gums. This can allow access of bacteria that live in the mouth into the bloodstream. If bacteria enter the bloodstream, serious health problems can result. Bacteria tend to settle on the heart valves (causing damage and murmurs), in the kidneys (causing renal compromise), and in the liver (causing hepatic disease). Gingivitis can be treated with veterinary care, but the more advanced disease called periodontitis is permanent. At this point, the structures supporting the teeth have been damaged and control is all that is possible. Prolonged dental disease makes these serious health concerns all the more likely, while increasing the chance of your pet losing teeth.

Regular veterinary care for your pet, including a dental exam, can stop the progression of dental disease. Routine dental prophylaxis involves general anesthesia (preceded by blood tests), ultrasonic scaling of the teeth, and polishing of the teeth. Sometimes antibiotics are used prior to, during, and after the procedure to help prevent bacteria from causing any illness. Antibiotic usage is usually determined on an individual basis and is based on the severity of the dental disease.

While some pets have healthy teeth and mouths for their entire lives without any dental care, most pets need regular dental care. For these pets, regular brushing (5-7 times per week), as well as regular veterinary care will help maintain good dental health. Take care of your pet’s mouth to help keep him as healthy as he can be.

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