Good oral health is just as important for our dogs and cats as it is for us. That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association and several other veterinary groups have declared February to be National Pet Dental Health Month.
It’s also a good time to brush up on this often-neglected part of our furry friends’ healthcare with these nine fun facts and tips.
- Young cats and dogs have a full set of baby (deciduous) teeth that are replaced with adult (permanent) teeth — just like us. Sometimes a baby tooth is retained after the permanent tooth has erupted. If your puppy or kitten has a retained baby tooth at the time of neuter or spay at 6 months of age, your veterinarian will likely remove it during surgery.
- Dogs have 42 permanent teeth; cats have 30. For comparison, most adult humans have 32 permanent teeth.
- Contrary to what you may have heard, a dog’s mouth is not cleaner than a human’s mouth. Interestingly, a study done in the United Kingdom found that the bacterial species in dogs’ mouths are substantially different from those in our mouths. And the majority of those bacteria have yet to be named.
- According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, up to 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats that don’t receive proper dental care may show signs of periodontal (gum) disease by the time they’re three years old. That makes periodontal disease the most common oral problem seen in dogs and cats — even though it’s completely preventable!
- Up to two-thirds of a tooth sits below the gum line. That means most periodontal disease also occurs under the gum line where you can’t see it. In fact, dental X-rays are often needed to find problems such as tooth resorption in cats and tooth root abscesses.
- The most common sign of periodontal disease is bad breath — aka halitosis or doggy breath! Other signs of trouble include:
- Reddened, receding or bleeding gums
- Loose or missing teeth
- Reluctance to chew hard food, bones or toys
- Pawing at the mouth
- Irritability or other personality changes
- Increased salivation (drooling), possibly with blood
- Nasal discharge
- Facial swelling
- Inadequate oral care impacts more than just your pet’s mouth. Diseased gums allow bacteria to enter your pet’s bloodstream. Once inside, bacteria can travel to, infect and damage other organs, including the heart, kidneys and liver.
- Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do between professional teeth cleanings to help protect your furry friend’s smile — and health.
- Use only toothpaste that’s approved for pets when brushing your dog’s or cat’s teeth. Human toothpaste usually contains fluoride and some products include xylitol for its oral-bacteria-reducing effects. Since dogs and cats can’t spit, they end up swallowing the toothpaste. These ingredients help human teeth, but can cause serious health problems for our pets when swallowed.
If it’s been a while since your dog or cat had a professional cleaning, you’ll want to contact your clinic now. Many veterinary clinics offer discounts on cleanings and other oral health products during National Pet Dental Health Month, so now’s the time to get it done!