Dental Diets for Pets

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Oral health problems very commonly affect our pets. Why is that so? Well, primarily, it is because it can be very difficult to keep your pet's teeth clean. To find a buildup of unwanted tartar and plaque on the teeth, when a veterinarian gives a cat or a dog a general physical examination, is quite a common occurrence. Pet owners know mouth and breath odours that result from that buildup on the teeth can certainly affect the niceness of being close to their pet.

Research shows that that at around the age of 2 years - which corresponds to an age of about 24 in people years - 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some sign of dental disease. Problems usually begin with a buildup of sticky plaque on the teeth that hardens to form tartar. If not removed, this can lead to gingivitis, a painful condition of inflamed gums. Eventually, left untreated, periodontal disease may develop. When this happens, the support structures around teeth weaken and fail and they can be lost. At the same time, cats and dogs become more prone to infections that can affect other vital body organs. 

There are a number of risk factors that may determine your pet's susceptibility to oral heath problems. Dental disease certainly becomes more common in older pets. This is because a number of changes take place with the aging process that makes it easier for plaque and tartar to become a problem. One such change is that the gums tend to recede with age, leading to exposure of tooth parts that are less resistant to buildup of those materials. Breed differences also can influence the risk for dental problems. Small dogs are more likely to have overcrowded or misaligned teeth that are difficult to keep clean, making them more prone to dental disease than dogs of the larger breeds. Finally, feeding foods that are soft and sticky can lead to more rapid buildup of plaque.

How can you tell if your pet has oral health problems? Most likely the first change you will notice is that your pet has bad breath. The yellow or brown tartar discolouring the teeth, usually worst on the upper teeth, at the rear of the mouth, is quite noticeable. The gums may appear more red than their normal pink colour and swollen and occasionally they may bleed. A pet may show evidence of a sore mouth, have difficulty eating or paw and rub at its mouth. Eventually teeth will become loose and be lost.

What can a pet owner do to promote good oral health? Following the advice of your veterinarian to achieve over all good health for your pet will be necessary. For pets with existing dental disease, a professional prophylaxis to clean the teeth is usually necessary. Brushing your pet's teeth regularly, if possible, is certainly a good idea. However, a surprisingly easy way to have a major impact on keeping your pet's teeth and gums clean and healthy is to feed a dental diet. These diets have been available now for several years and, I believe, offer pet owners a tremendous help in keeping their pet happy and healthy.
They are dry foods, for both cats and dogs that work by using a differently designed piece (kibble) to better wipe the teeth clean as your pet eats. Some also contain tartar reducing ingredients. The foods taste good, ensuring there will usually be no problem getting your pet to enjoy eating them. They are reduced calorie foods, helping your pet to maintain a healthy weight and should be fed for the lifetime of the pet. For maximum benefit, dental diet kibbles should not be soaked in water or milk and don't feed people food as treats or snacks between regular meals. The cost to provide a dental diet for your pet should be no more than to feed any good quality pet food. Besides, just think of the savings if you can increase the interval between professional cleaning of your pet's teeth. February is Pet Dental Health Month, what better a time to ask your veterinarian for more information about a dental diet for your pet.