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Table of Contents
Dental disease is the most common ailment affecting our pets – 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some degree of dental disease by the age of three years.1
Maintaining good dental hygiene is the best way to prevent dental disease. Prevention is better than a cure!
Signs of Dental Disease
- Pain and discomfort in and around the mouth area
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Staining and build-up on teeth
- Red, swollen and/or bleeding gums
- Blood apparent on toys (excluding teething puppies)
- Mouth ulcers and/or lumps
- Missing and/or loose teeth
- Favouring one side of the mouth when eating
- Reluctance to play with toys or eat
- Swelling under the eye(s)
- Pawing at mouth
Stages of Dental Disease
- Grade 0 – Normal healthy teeth with no signs of dental disease
- Grade 1 – Gingivitis
- Grade 2 – Early periodontitis
- Grade 3 – Moderate periodontitis
- Grade 4 – Advanced periodontitis
Consequences of Dental Disease
In addition to affecting the mouth, dental disease can contribute to a range of other health conditions including male sterility2, heart disease and kidney disease, and shorten the lifespan of your pet.
Factors that can increase the likelihood of a dog or cat having dental disease are:
- Genetic Disposition
- Certain Breeds – such as Greyhounds and small & toy breed dogs.
- Older Age – this is particularly relevant in small & toy breed dogs as they have longer lifespans.
- Being Overweight
- Soft Diet – pets that are fed soft food, such as tinned food, do not get the mechanical abrasion provided by bones and biscuits. Soft food is also more likely to get stuck in-between teeth.
- High Carbohydrate Diet – cheap kibble, biscuit bones and greyhound racing biscuits usually contain cereal, which is high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates feed the oral bacteria that attack enamel.
- An Aversion to Chewing – some pets don’t like chewing bones or toys, or are very soft-mouthed when doing so. Some “inhale” their food instead of chewing it. Greyhounds are known for being lazy chewers.
- Inadequate Prior Care – rescues (including ex-racing greyhounds) have often had their dental care neglected in their past life.
- Malocclusion (misalignment of teeth) – such as an overbite, underbite or crossbite. Overbites are common in Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds. Underbites are common in brachycephalic breeds.
- Crowded Teeth – overlapping of teeth results in food getting trapped in hard-to-reach places. Crowded teeth are common in small & toy breed dogs, due to their mouths being so small.
- Persistent Deciduous Teeth (when baby teeth remain) – this is common in small & toy breed dogs.
- Narrow Muzzle – a narrow muzzle can lead to periodontal pockets that accumulate bacteria.
- Cleft Palate
- Stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth) – CUPS (Chronic Ulcerative Paradental Stomatitis) is common in greyhounds. FCGS (Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis) is also known as Feline Stomatitis.
- Certain Medical Conditions – such as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), FCV (Feline Calicivirus), FHV (Feline Herpesvirus), FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) and bartonella.
- Certain Medications – some medications can cause gingival hyperplasia.
The medical term for bad breath is Halitosis. It is unpleasant for us as well as our pets!
- Dental disease
- Certain medical conditions such as tonsillitis
- Coprophagia (eating faeces)
- Licking of anus – can be due to full/irritated/infected anal glands, worms, consuming spicy food, or sores due to passing sharp bone fragments or other objects
- Stick or bone fragments, or rotting food, stuck in teeth or lodged in the back of the mouth/throat
Preventing & Treating Dental Disease
Our teeth need to be regularly cleaned and maintained, and so do our pets’! Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent and treat dental disease and bad breath.
Pet dental care is not a one-size-fits-all approach, nor can any one thing get the job done. Find out what works best for both you and your pet.
Veterinary Checkups & Cleaning
Just like humans, dogs and cats also need to visit the dentist! A dental check-up should be performed once a year by a veterinarian. A dental scale and polish (known as a “Dental”) may be recommended – most dogs and cats require a few of these during their lifetime. During a Dental your pet will be put under a general anaesthetic. The procedure is routine, quick and safe. Dental Month in Australia is August so during this time many vets have promotions on Dentals.
Anaesthesia-free (also known as non-sedation) Dentals are now becoming popular, however, this method is not recommended by the Australian Veterinary Association (see https://www.ava.com.au/policy-advocacy/policies/companion-animals-health/anaesthesia-free-dentistry-in-dogs-and-cats/).
The majority of pet owner feed their cats and dogs kibble (also known as cat/dog biscuits or dry food). Whilst dogs and cats often prefer the texture of wet (canned) food, kibble is better for their teeth due to its texture. The dry rough surface of kibble provides good mechanical abrasion that helps to scrub away plaque, and is also less likely than wet food to get stuck in gaps between teeth. If your pet scoffs their kibble they may not be getting the full benefit, so try a slow feeder bowl (also known as a gulper bowl).
There are a number of good quality kibble products available that have been specifically developed for dental care:
- Advance Triple Action Dental Care Small Breed, Medium Breed, Large Breed
- Delicate Care Dental Diet*
- Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d, t/d Small Bites*
- Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care
- Royal Canin Dental Care Mini, Medium, Maxi
- Royal Canin Veterinary Dental, Dental Special Small Dog*
- Advance Triple Action Dental Care
- Delicate Care Dental Diet*
- Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d*
- Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care
- Royal Canin Oral
- Royal Canin Veterinary Dental*
* available through veterinarians only
Fresh food diets (referred to as “Raw”) are becoming increasingly popular for both dogs and cats. Raw feeding helps maintain good dental hygiene as they are low in carbohydrates and incorporate bones.
Bones & Chews
Bones and chews both clean teeth and provide mental enrichment. Their hardness scrapes plaque from teeth, whilst the saliva generated from the prolonged chewing action helps to wash away food particles and neutralise acids.
It’s not just dogs that eat bones, cats can have them too! Bones can either be given recreationally, or as part of your pet’s regular diet. Choose a bone that is suitable for the size of your pet. Supervise pets that are new to bones or that scoff their food. Never feed your pet cooked bones, and remember to practise good hygiene when handling raw meat. Pet nutritionists do not recommend feeding weight bearing bones from large animals (such as beef marrow bones) as their density can result in cracked teeth.
- Beef hide rolls
- Bully sticks (also known as beef pizzle, bull penis, doodle noodles or d**k sticks)
- Cow hooves
- Goat horns
- Shark skin rolls
Functional Treats for Dogs
Functional Treats for Cats
Whilst brushing your pet’s teeth is one of the most effective ways of maintaining their dental hygiene, it is certainly not one of the easiest!
It is best to start training your pet to accept their teeth being brushed when they are a puppy/kitten.
There are two different types of toothbrushes available for pets – the finger brush and the “normal” style toothbrush. If you are worried about your pet accidentally (or purposely) biting your fingers, then a normal style toothbrush is a better choice as it keeps you at a greater distance from their teeth. Choosing a toothbrush with a multi-angled head will provide greater coverage across the surface areas of the teeth.
Effective alternatives to toothbrushes include a piece of pantyhose, gauze or flannel.
You can also use your thumbnail to loosen plaque.
You don’t have to use toothpaste with a toothbrush, but it will increase the efficacy. Do not use toothpastes made for humans – they may contain ingredients such as Xylitol that are toxic to pets. They can also contain too much fluoride which can be harmful to your pet as unlike us they do not spit the toothpaste out. There are lots of recipes available on the internet if you are keen to make your own toothpaste.
Any toy that encourages mouth-play will be beneficial to your pet’s dental health, due to the mechanical action applied to teeth and gums. This includes plushies (also known as soft toys), rope toys, chew toys and dental toys. Playing tug is a great way to clean your dog’s teeth whilst having fun. Dogs will often have a bite grip that is different for playing, tugging and eating, so toys can help to clean different areas of the mouth.
There are several toys specifically designed for dental benefits. If your pet requires a bit of encouragement to chew on a dental toy, try smearing a little Vegemite or peanut butter on it.
- Dogit Design Gumi
- Hartz Chew ‘n Clean
- Kong dental range
- Nylabone chew toys
- PetSafe Busy Buddy Bristle Bone
- Sporn Marrow
- Petstages dental cat toys
- Ascophyllum nodosum – a species of seaweed proven to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-plaque properties. Our favourite brand is Simply Seaweed of course!
- Some pet owner’s find adding parsley, mint and/or charcoal to their pet’s food can help to combat bad breath.
- Prozym Solution
- TropiClean Fresh Breath Water Additives, Drops
- Virbac Aquadent Fr3sh
- Virbac Hexarinse
Sprays, Wipes & Gels
- Imperial Pet Co. Deer Velvet and Manuka Oral Spray
- Maxi/Guard Wipes, Drops, Gel, Spray
- TropiClean Fresh Breath Wipes, Gels, Sprays
- Calculus – An off-white, yellow or brown hardened form of Plaque. More difficult to remove than Plaque. Leads to Halitosis, Tooth Decay and Periodontal Disease.
- Cavity – Another term for Tooth Decay.
- Dental Caries – Another term for Tooth Decay.
- Dental Disease – Usually another term for Periodontal Disease but may also refer to Tooth Decay.
- Feline Stomatitis – A painful inflammatory condition of the mouth in cats. Also known as Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis (FCGS).
- Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gums, a mild form of Periodontal Disease.
- Gum Disease – Another term for Periodontal Disease.
- Halitosis – The medical term for bad breath.
- Oral Disease – A health condition affecting the mouth, such as Periodontal Disease, Tooth Decay, cancer etc.
- Periodontal Disease – Inflammation and infection of the gums.
- Periodontitis – Another term for Periodontal Disease.
- Plaque – A colourless or pale-yellow film of bacteria that sticks to the teeth. Leads to Calculus, Halitosis, Tooth Decay and Periodontal Disease.
- Tartar – Another term for Calculus.
- Tooth Decay – Breakdown of teeth. Permanent damage. Caused by Plaque.
1 RSPCA Australia Knowledge Base. (2019, September 23). How Should I Take Care of My Cat or Dog’s Teeth. Retrieved from https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-should-i-take-care-of-my-cat-or-dogs-teeth/
2 Savant Harris, M. (2005). Canine Reproduction and Whelping: A Dog Breeder’s Guide. Dogwise Publishing.
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