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Why you should pay attention to your pet's teeth

Your pet may not show signs of toothache. But it's important to get an annual check up done to ensure dental issues don't turn fatal

Loss of appetite is one of the symptoms of a dental issue in a pet
Loss of appetite is one of the symptoms of a dental issue in a pet (iStock)

We frequently take great pride in our pearly whites and will go to considerable measures to maintain their lustre and health. Our pets, on the other hand, do not smile the way we do when we are happy. As a result, oral health is one of the most neglected aspects of pet parenting.

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Hira, a domestic short-haired cat of three years, was found pawing her mouth one day. She was silently suffering from a dental disease (periodontal disease or gum inflammation). Despite the fact that she was suffering from a toothache, she continued to eat. This is what most pets do; they have a higher pain tolerance and will not stop eating until the pain gets unbearable. This contributes to a delay in diagnosing any dental issues and treating their pain earlier.

While pets rarely get cavities, they usually are prone to periodontal disease. Their gums get inflamed after prolonged build-up of plaque and tartar on their teeth. This gum inflammation or gingivitis, appears as a red line along their gum and can be brutally painful.

Periodontal disease can be detected in dogs and cats as young as three years. Hence, it’s a good idea to get a dental examination done with a vet on a regular basis once they turn three. Of course, some breeds are more susceptible to the disease than others depending on the structure of their skulls. If you have a flat faced breed such as a pug, shih tzu or a Persian cat, you need to be all the more careful with their oral health. Gingivitis and periodontal disease is also caused by Calicivirus, a virus that infects most kittens found on the streets. Parents of such rescue kittens must consider getting their oral examination done sooner than later.

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There are several ways to determine if your pet may be suffering from a dental disease. Neo, a five-year- old German Shepherd began drooling everyday until her parents discovered blood stained saliva on her sheet. They immediately took brought him for a check-up. 

Some parents complain about their pet’s bad breath without realising that it is an early indicator of dental problems. The very obvious symptoms are lack of appetite (this is one of the obvious symptoms that pet parents don't notice sooner), getting agitated when the mouth is handled, or just change in demeanour associated with pain.

Pets are almost always brought in by parents when it is far too late. When this happens, the only option that we are left with is to extract the damaged teeth. Some cats have had such foul mouths that we have also had situations where all the teeth from the mouth have needed to be removed. While it is understandable to be concerned about how the cat will eat once the teeth have been removed, having rotting teeth in the mouth is far more uncomfortable. Even pets that have had a full mouth extraction eat better than they did before the procedure.

All this to say that dental issues should not be taken lightly. We have had to treat cats diagnosed with kidney failure, only to find that their oral hygiene was ignored for far too long. Bacteria from a diseased mouth can enter the bloodstream and cause serious infections and damage to other organs such as the kidneys. Sometimes, we also encounter loss of teeth and surrounding bone tissue, making the skull fragile and prone to jaw fractures.

Brushing your pet’s teeth on a daily basis will keep any diseases at bay for a longer period of time. Getting a kitten or a puppy used to a brush at an early age is the best course of action, and they are more comfortable with a finger brush in their mouth. Only use pet toothpaste and not the one we use as it contains Xylitol, which is hazardous for pets.

Since flossing is difficult, tartar-prevention powders (like Plaque Off, available on Amazon) can be added to their food. Dental treats are also offered by various dog food companies that prevent plaque build-up. It is a good practice to inspect your pet’s mouth regularly to check for gingivitis. Annual vet visits and dental scaling are recommended once they turn three. It will ensure a simple plaque and tartar build-up doesn’t snowball into a serious illness.

Pets brighten our lives and bring a smile to our faces. It is only fair that we take equal care of their gnashers. As Dr. Seuss would say, “Teeth are always in style”.

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.

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