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February is Pet Dental Health Awareness Month!

By January 31, 2024 Freddie's Blog

Hello Pet owners!

February is here, and along with it comes a reminder to prioritize the dental health of our pets.

Approximately 60% of dogs and 50% of cats show signs of dental disease by the age of three. This common health problem often goes unnoticed, but keeping ahead of it is very important to maintain the well-being of our animal companions.

To remind you to take your pets’ dental health seriously, we’re sending out the answers to some common questions.  Please read through to the end for an exciting offer!

  1. Are dental problems the same for people and pets?

Somewhat, with a few differences.  For people, tooth decay (cavities) is a common dental problem. In dogs, tooth decay is quite uncommon. The most common dental problem for dogs and cats is periodontal disease (often called gum disease). People definitely get periodontal disease as well, and it leads to tooth loss and eventually dentures.

Caused by plaque and tartar buildup, which is teaming with bacteria, periodontal disease can destroy the tissues that surround the teeth, eventually causing loose teeth, tooth root abscesses and tooth loss. The bacteria from periodontal disease can also enter the bloodstream and cause infections in other areas of the body, leading to heart, kidney, and liver disease.

Cats can also have painful resorptive lesions on their teeth, and both dogs and cats are prone to cracked or broken teeth.

  1. What causes plaque and tartar to form and how does this cause periodontal disease?

Just like your mouth, your pet’s mouth is home to thousands of bacteria. As these bacteria multiply on the surface of the teeth, they form an invisible layer called plaque (biofilm). While some plaque is removed by your pet’s tongue and chewing habits, some remains.

If allowed to build up over time, plaque thickens and mineralizes with the calcium in saliva to become tartar. Tartar accumulates both above and below the gum line, leading to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), further plaque and tartar accumulation, and eventually serious periodontal disease.

The periodontal ligament is the strong tissue that holds the tooth in the tooth socket. When it’s not healthy because of inflammation and bacterial infection, the tooth becomes loose and painful.

  1. How common is periodontal disease in pets?

According to the Canadian and American Veterinary Medical Associations, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by the age of three, occasionally with signs such as bad breath, difficulty eating or chewing, and/or pawing at the mouth.  On the other hand, your pet may hide any signs of oral discomfort.

  1. How can I know if my pet has gum disease or other dental disease?

There may be bad breath, red gums, bleeding gums, obvious discomfort, or nothing that you can see.  Sometimes you may not notice much because of the unfamiliarity of looking in your dog or cat’s mouth.  This is where veterinary team members are very knowledgeable. We can help assess what’s going on in your pet’s mouth.  Just ask us!

  1. How can I help prevent plaque and tartar buildup?

By incorporating dental treats and toys into your pet’s routine you may help reduce or delay plaque and tartar buildup. (Be aware: Bones, antlers, and other hard chew toys are not recommended as they can chip or fracture the teeth).  Specially designed treats and toys help to reduce plaque buildup and promote healthy gums. Not only will your pet enjoy the chewing experience, but it will also help keep their teeth clean. Ask one of our team members to show you what we have.
Some pet foods are specifically formulated as dental diets that mechanically and/or chemically help with plaque and tartar control.

Ultimately, daily brushing the teeth is the best defense against tartar buildup. The mechanical action of the brush on the tooth surface and at/under the gumline is particularly effective.  It’s the same reason you brush your teeth.

  1. Can I use human toothpaste?

You should never use human toothpaste to clean your pet’s teeth as it can cause digestive upset if swallowed by pets. Some human toothpastes also contain xylitol that can be deadly for dogs.

Instead, use pet-formulated toothpaste that your veterinarian will carry, or even use just plain water and a soft bristle brush without toothpaste.  We can help teach you how to brush your pet’s teeth.

  1. How is my pet’s dental disease treated or prevented from getting worse?

Ultimately, even with the most rigorous attention to home dental care, most pets will need occasional or regular dental cleanings and possibly tooth extraction because of too-far-gone periodontal disease.

The treatment starts with a Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment. A COHAT is performed under general anaesthetic once your pet has been examined by the veterinarian. It includes gingival and periodontal cleaning, full examination of all parts of the mouth, full mouth dental x-rays, and examination by the veterinarian who will make a treatment plan. A veterinary team member will be in communication with you during this process.  Many pets need only a deep gum cleaning, put some could need tooth extraction or other procedures.

We are happy to assess your pet’s oral health, to give recommendations, and to tell you more about the anaesthetic and dental procedures that might be required.


Call or text us at 250-489-3451.

Your friends at Steeples Veterinary Clinic

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