Because cats and dogs are very skilled at covering up illness, oral disease is often not discovered until it is quite advanced and requires major treatment. But many pets suffer from it. By age 3, approximately 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats display some form of dental disease.
For Veterinary Pet Insurance, “periodontal disease, a condition that is caused by bacteria and tartar that build up around the teeth and gums, accounted for the most dental claims they received in 2014,” a whopping 26,800. Just as in humans, periodontal disease can be very serious. Besides causing pain, bad breath, loose teeth, loss of teeth and an inability to eat properly, the bacteria living in the oral cavity can easily travel through the bloodstream, causing complications with the heart, liver and kidneys.
Unlike humans, cats experience a type of cavity known as tooth resorption, where the cells inside the tooth start eating it from the inside out. Up to 72 percent of cats suffer from this ailment. No one is quite sure what causes it but usually by the time it is diagnosed, the only option is to extract the affected tooth. One of my cats lost a tooth due to resorption so I am personally familiar with the problem.
As research in dental treatment continues to advance, providing more options than ever before, orthodontics has found its way into the companion animal field. Dogs who suffer from displacement of their upper canine teeth, where the fangs are too close to the tongue and actually poke the roof of their mouth, can now have an orthodontic treatment to correct the condition. There is even an appliance called PetAlign, a version of Invisalign that can be used for dogs to correct their bite. Dogs can also have endodontic treatment to remove an infected nerve while saving the tooth, commonly known as a root canal.
So how do you know if your dog or cat has an oral disease? If they are experiencing any of the following symptoms, have them checked out: red, swollen gums; visible yellow tartar buildup; bad breath; bleeding from the mouth; frequent pawing at the mouth or rubbing at the face; or a reluctance to eat.
Of course, the best solution is prevention. And for those of you who think that giving your dog or cat dry food or treats designed to clean their teeth, or any of the other products sold to “prevent” oral disease, think again. Those products have very limited effectiveness. Instead, brush your dog or cat’s teeth every day or at least a few times a week. There are special finger brushes and toothbrushes designed for pets as well as toothpastes. Ask your veterinarian for help or watch a “how-to” video online. Also, be sure that your “furry kids” have an oral examination at least once a year with their wellness checkup. Early detection and treatment are critical and can add years to your pet’s life.
—Sari Reis is a certified humane education specialist and the owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting Services.