We all know the importance of looking after our own teeth and gums, but sadly it’s something that can easily get neglected in our pets’ care. The crazy thing is that with a bit of forward planning, patience, and perseverance it can make a huge difference to the quality of your pets’ life with very little effort.
In an ideal world I would say to begin dental care in your puppy, kitten or ferret as early as you can; although if you have rescued, inherited, or are fostering an older fur-baby it’s never too late to start. In the beginning, keep the sessions short and fun; maybe introduce the special animal toothpaste first (of which there are lots of different flavours to try). It is vital that you do use toothpaste specifically for animal use, as these are safe for them to swallow – and trust me, they will do a lot of this!
As with us humans, the more something is done, the more it just becomes part of the normal routine. Once they’ve got used to the taste of the toothpaste, you can gradually get them used to having their mouths touched with a soft cloth. At this point you might experience the odd chomp as they get familiar with their mouths being opened and something strange waggling around in it; don’t scold them, it’s all part of the process and they won’t mean to hurt you. The main thing is to keep the sessions short, give plenty of praise, and keep the situation relaxed.
Once your pet has accepted the soft cloth you can then move on to a tooth brush that fits over your finger and gently move that over the teeth and gums. You might find that this phase is quicker to move through now that they’re used to having something in their mouths. The final stage is to use a conventional shaped toothbrush with soft bristles, and these come in many sizes for all breeds of animal.
I would advise checking inside your pets mouth weekly, even if you don’t clean their teeth each time; it keeps them familiar with the process of having their mouths opened and lets you check that all is well with their “laughing gear”. Over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats suffer some degree of gum disease and tooth problems by the age of 3! Dental disease is the number 1 illness affecting pets, and it can cause all kinds of problems with their hearts, lungs, and kidney function.
Signs of dental disease can include bad breath all the time (not just post-meal times), yellow/brown coloured teeth, red or bleeding gums, difficulty in eating or not wanting to eat, dropping food from the mouth, decreased weight, rubbing their face, and dribbling. I should add at this point that cats can suffer from a specific condition called Feline Orthodontic Resorptive Lesions (FORL) which is erosions of the teeth where they meet the gum, and this can be really painful for them. Not what any of us want for our kitties.
I know I always say it, but prevention really is better than cure; we can do plaque removal and/or teeth extraction at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre but it has to be done under general anaesthetic, which carries its own risk. If you do have any concerns at all about your pets’ dental health then please don’t hesitate to contact us – it’s why we’re here.
For dogs, cats, and ferrets I would definitely recommend feeding them crunchy food (kibble/biscuits) rather than wet pouches or tinned meat, simply because it doesn’t stick to their teeth as much and
encourage the formation of plaque. Over time, plaque can cause painful cavities in teeth, gum problems, and even tooth loss (more so in dogs), so it’s best avoided as much as possible.
Dogs are quite lucky in that there is a huge range of toys available for them that are shaped to clean their teeth as they chomp away at them; this makes oral care fun too J Dental chews and specialist foods definitely have their place, but I would use them with caution as they can make your pooch pile on the pounds, and we certainly don’t want that! Another simple thing to do is not to feed them sugary treats, as this encourages plaque to form.
If the idea of brushing your pets’ teeth doesn’t appeal, or you don’t have the time to do it, there are a couple of options available from the SLVC team. We stock a seaweed extract powder that is simply sprinkled onto Fido or Kitty’s food (called Plaque off) or Dentagen liquid which is added to their drinking water; both of these products reduce the build up of tartar.
There are special toothpastes for cats that you can also use on your ferret; usually in the form of a gel that is applied daily between the cheeks and teeth. This product neutralises the plaque acid produced by the bacteria in their mouths and also helps with bad breath. You can also use the food and water additive products to reduce plaque formation in your ferret.
Again, specialist diets that are available for cats, and the same advice applies – use with caution. At Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we stock a diet called Hills TD which is a dry kibble designed to physically remove tartar from your fur babys teeth (canine as well as feline) as they crunch away merrily on itJ
I did mention the importance of a high fibre diet for Rabbits in a previous blog, but it’s also crucial from an oral hygiene perspective too. Chewing on fibre (hay) keeps bunnies’ teeth worn down naturally, but if they are allowed to overgrow then they meet the opposing teeth at abnormal angles (something we call Malocclusion). Overgrown teeth may develop sharp edges called spurs, which if left untreated often cut into tongues and cheeks, causing soft tissue damage, ulceration, and abscesses. Due to the abnormal pressure loads that maloccluded teeth put on each other, root impaction and elongation of the teeth is often seen, along with jaw abscesses.
Sadly, once a rabbit is affected by malocclusion it’s very unlikely to ever have normal teeth again. If you adopt a rabbit that has this nasty condition then the only course of treatment is to come to us on a regular basis to have the teeth filed down; unfortunately the only way to do this is under anaesthetic. The good news is that it is so easy to prevent –just feed Flopsy what he/she was designed to eat!
I hope this has given you an insight in what you can do to help keep your pets’ Gnashers nice. Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂