To celebrate Pet Dental Health Month we've spoken to Veterinary Nurse, Meg Richards who shares her expert advice and top tips on we can keep our furries' teeth as healthy as possible.
My name is Meg, and I am a Registered Veterinary Nurse, working in a referral practice in Cornwall.
I am very passionate about equipping pet owners with up to date, relevant information in order to best take care of their animals. An important part of pet ownership that is so often overlooked is providing dental care at home. Most pet parents will understand how tricky it can be to keep their pet’s mouth smelling fresh and their teeth sparkling!
Good oral hygiene is essential for our animal companions, not only just to reduce that smelly breath; a clean mouth means a healthy and happy pet.
What can I do at home?
As with most things, prevention is key! Starting a good dental hygiene habit from when you first get your pet, and keeping up with the routine, will mean they get used to having their teeth brushed and mouth examined and will therefore not resent this in the future. This includes getting your pet used to the vet or vet nurse examining the mouth at their puppy, kitten or new pet checks or vaccinations. Your vet or vet nurse may advise you to start brushing your dog or cat’s teeth – the bristles help to break down plaque and keep breath fresh.
If you have never cleaned your pet’s teeth or examined their mouths before, here are my top tips for getting them used to the gentle introduction of all things mouth maintenance!
I would advise if you are just starting your pet dental journey, to head to your veterinary practice for a nurse clinic appointment. Most practices offer this service for free, and the nurse will be able to tailor a dental home care plan to your pet. This is particularly important if your dog or cat is anxious or fractious, as trying to establish a routine on your own may exacerbate their worries.
If your pet is receptive to you starting by lifting their gum and checking their teeth, you could start by doing this a few times a day. Introducing tooth brushing may take some time, and this could start with putting some pet friendly toothpaste on your finger and allowing your pet to lick it off. It is essential that a specific pet friendly toothpaste is selected as some pastes can contain xylitol which is toxic! Stage two - once your pet is comfortable with the toothpaste, is to try to encourage them to lick the toothpaste from a soft bristled finger brush. After a few weeks of completing this once daily, and once they are comfortable, you can try and gently scrub the teeth with the finger brush, changing this to a pet toothbrush if they will allow.
For our small furry pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and rats, tooth brushing would not be suitable. As their teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime and grind with food and treats, should there be a problem, your rabbit, guinea pig or rat will need to see a vet who can manually shave down the teeth to improve comfort levels.
Why is dental health so important?
Just as in humans, dental disease in our animals can cause all manner of problems, but with a good dental hygiene routine you can ensure your pet’s teeth remain clean and healthy.
Dental disease tends to begin with plaque and tartar, which build up and cause redness and swelling, known as gingivitis. When left untreated, gingivitis can worsen into periodontal disease, a much more severe dental issue which can potentially result in decay of the gums or bone within the mouth. When this occurs, dental abscesses can form and cause other complications.
Symptoms of dental disease can include:
Redness or bleeding of the gums
Pain – with infection and inflammation in the mouth, swelling can occur, causing pain and discomfort. You may notice that your pet is pawing at their mouth
Inappetence – if our pets are uncomfortable in their mouths, they are unlikely to be able to eat properly and therefore may become increasingly fussy or picky, and often stop eating at all
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary advice. Dental treatment requires a general anaesthetic and may require extractions; however, we can see brilliant results – getting teeth sparkling and oral hygiene back into tip top shape.
Other preventative care:
Dental chews – in order for dental chews to be effective, they should be approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). There will be a stamp of approval on any products that are approved and proven to reduce plaque and promote oral health.
Dental powder – a simple supplement that can be sprinkled on food daily, which can help maintain clean teeth and fresh breath
Dry diet – a dry diet that makes the pet crunch and chew can help break down plaque and tartar on the teeth. If your dog is predisposed to dental disease, a specific dental diet may be indicated. The specifically formulated fibres within the biscuits are designed to clean your dog’s teeth as they chew, getting in those hard-to-reach areas and in-between the teeth
Avoid allowing your dog to chew on sticks or balls as these can wear down the teeth
Dental powder – cat specific dental powder can be added to their food to clean teeth and freshen breath
Dry diet – in exactly the same way that a dry diet, or specific dental diet if required, works for dogs, we can see a huge improvement in dental health in cats using these methods
Don’t forget that the older our pets get, the more prone they are to dental disease, so getting them regularly checked by your vet, especially over the age of 7, is highly recommended
Rabbits and small furry pets
Good diet – rabbits should be fed predominantly on a diet of hay and grass. As their teeth are growing constantly, unlike our cats and dogs, a healthy diet allows them to chew using all teeth, wearing them down as they do so. There is some fantastic information on the care of rabbits on the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund website
Plenty of opportunity to gnaw – treats and gnawing toys can really help with grind down teeth and keeping them healthy
If your small furry pet is not eating, they should be seen by the vet urgently
Rosewood products to help with your home dental care regime:
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