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Caring for your pet's teeth

The thought of brushing your pet's teeth might be a little daunting however this guide will help.

One of the most common diseases seen by vets is dental disease. Pet owners can often overlook dental issues, but bad teeth can lead to all kinds of problems.
As insurance companies rarely cover routine dental work, treatment can prove expensive. This means it’s a very good idea to look after your pet’s teeth, and address any issues quickly before the costs mount up.
Examining your pet
It’s a good idea to get your pet used to having their mouth examined when they’re young. Start by lifting their lip and then rewarding them. You can also associate a command with this action, such as ‘mouth’ or ‘teeth’.
Once they’re happy to have their front teeth examined, move on to their back teeth using the same process. You could even add a finger brush or small toothbrush with some enzymatic toothpaste. You don’t need to brush their teeth at this stage – it’s just about getting them used to the brush and paste.
Keep your training sessions short, and reward your pet for cooperating. How often you brush your pet’s teeth depends on your individual pet and what you feed them. Small dogs eating wet food may need their teeth brushing daily, whereas a larger dog on dry food may only need it once or twice a month.

Remember, never use human toothpaste for your pet – fluoride is very toxic if swallowed.

Checking for problems
Your vet will tell you if your pet has any dental problems at your annual check-up. However, you can easily check for plaque build-up at home. Look out for a soft yellow substance on the teeth, which can easily be removed with a toothbrush. If this plaque is left to build up, a hard calculus will form which can’t easily be removed. This normally starts around the gum line – keep an eye out for reddening of the gums (gingivitis).
Your pet may also develop bad breath, and may even struggle to eat if their teeth are loose. At this point, your vet will recommend a scale and polish to prevent the disease from progressing.

Preventing dental disease
Tooth brushing is the number one way to prevent dental disease. However, not all pets will tolerate this. Luckily, there are lots of diets that can help clean teeth, such as specifically designed biscuits and chews. These diets, however, only work when tooth plaque is soft. They won’t remove hardened calculus.
Some pets – particularly certain breeds of cats and small dogs - are predisposed to bad teeth, in which case, annual dental checks are recommended.
Teeth are important
Many owners don’t appreciate the effect bad teeth can have on their pet’s overall health. Pets rarely show tooth pain, so will often carry on eating as normal, but may start to lose weight. If dental disease is pronounced, it can affect your pet’s demeanour.
Having a mouth full of bacteria isn’t healthy. These bacteria can get into your pet’s bloodstream and cause heart or kidney problems.
Aside from the health problems, treating dental disease can be expensive. It’s not uncommon for older animals with dental disease to undergo an anaesthetic lasting 2 to 3 hours, which comes with its own risks.
When it comes to teeth, prevention is better than cure. Taking your pet for regular health checks and paying for a scale and polish is far cheaper than tooth extractions further down the line.
So this New Year, do your pet a favour and make a resolution to look after their teeth.