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Understanding Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Periodontal disease is the most common form of dental disease in dogs. It is a progressive condition that affects the structures supporting the teeth, including the gums, bone, and ligaments. It is caused when bacteria form a film (plaque) on the teeth. Within days this mineralizes and hardens into tartar or calculus, leading to the progressions below:
- Gingivitis: The earliest stage, where the gums become red, swollen, and may bleed easily. This stage is reversible with appropriate care.
- Early Periodontitis: Gums may start to recede slightly at this stage. There’s minor bone loss, but it might not be easily visible. The inflammation goes deeper than just the gums.
- Moderate Periodontitis: The bone loss becomes more evident, leading to gum pockets or spaces developing between the tooth and gums. This can make teeth loose and lead to bad breath.
- Advanced Periodontitis: At this critical stage, there’s significant bone loss (over 50%). The pockets deepen further, and infections are frequent. This stage often results in tooth loss and can have systemic implications, affecting the dog’s heart and other organs.
Recognizing the early signs and seeking early intervention can halt or even reverse the disease’s progression, ensuring the health and longevity of your pet’s teeth.
Dental Care Tips From a Vet
Brush your dog’s teeth daily
Brushing your dog’s teeth might seem like a daunting task, but it’s the cornerstone of good dental health. By removing plaque daily, you can prevent tartar buildup, which is a significant contributor to periodontal disease. Use a dog-specific toothpaste such as C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste (some human toothpaste contains xylitol which is toxic to dogs). You will also need an appropriately sized toothbrush or piece of gauze to wrap around your finger.
Aim to brush the outer surface of your pet’s teeth in gentle circles, focusing on the gum line. To make this routine smoother, start slow, use positive reinforcement, and pick a quiet time when your dog is relaxed. If your dog enjoys this process, it will make it much easier for you to commit to daily brushing, which is the best way to keep their teeth clean and healthy.
Use dental products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council
Dental chews and treats are not only a yummy source of entertainment for your dog but also a handy tool for scraping away soft plaque. When your dog chews, the texture can help clean the teeth, much like a toothbrush. Water additives, sprays, and gels can provide an additional layer of protection against bacteria.
There are numerous dental products available, but if you want to find the ones that are proven to actually be effective, it is key to look for an endorsement by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Additionally, it’s important to note that while these products may be beneficial, they should be used in conjunction with brushing and not as a replacement.
Consider a prescription dental diet
Dental diets are specially formulated dog foods crafted to tackle and prevent common dental challenges, such as the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Unlike typical dog food, the kibble in dental diets is often designed with a specific texture and increased size. This design ensures that as a dog bites into the kibble, it scrapes against the teeth, assisting in plaque removal (unlike regular kibble that will just shatter).
Beyond mere physical design, the ingredients also play a pivotal role. These diets often incorporate special additives or enzymes aimed at breaking down oral bacteria or modifying the saliva to make it less conducive for bacterial growth. Importantly, while promoting oral health is the primary objective, dental diets are complete and balanced and won’t neglect overall nutrition.
Avoid hard bones and chews
It’s a common misconception that bones are good for dogs. Hard bones, such as marrow bones, can fracture a dog’s teeth. Additionally, if ingested, non-edible chews can cause dangerous blockages in the digestive system. Always supervise your dog when they have a chew and opt for safer alternatives like flexible dental chews or soft toys.
Recognize when to consult a veterinarian
Even with daily bruising, regular dental check-ups are vital. This involves a dental cleaning, exam, and x-rays under anesthesia. If any teeth are determined to be damaged or diseased, your vet may recommend removing them.
The frequency that your dog will need professional dental cleanings will depend on various factors, such as your dog’s age, breed, predisposition to developing dental disease, and overall health. However, if you notice bad breath, drooling, difficulty chewing, or any swellings in the mouth or on the side of the face, it’s time to visit the vet. Early detection can make treatment more straightforward and prevent more serious complications.