By Doctor Dave
Nation wide, the most common disease of dogs and cats is often ignored by pet owners and under diagnosed by veterinarians. A disease that is more common than fleas; is most likely to cause chronic discomfort; that shortens longevity; and affects 75% of dogs and cats by age three really sounds like a tough disease; and it is! This disease is sneaky because it affects young and old, every breed and every sex and attacks the young as well as the old. It is a chronic disease that has such a slow progression; pets seldom show any symptoms for years.
The disease is Periodontal Disease. This disease is gaining public notice as we realize how serious it is. It is really quite simple, in that bacteria concentrate in saliva and form a biofilm on the teeth. This can be easily brushed away … you and I do it every day. Once it mineralizes (it steals minerals from the saliva) you have tartar which is like a living coral reef made up of minerals and millions of living bacteria (tartar is 70% bacteria). Like all living things, it reproduces (more bacteria) and makes toxic waste products. Some waste products are free to rinse down the throat, which is not ideal.
However, the tartar pressing against the gum tissue can’t rinse waste away and is so toxic that it kills the gum tissue cells (receding and bleeding) and then the bone cells beneath the gum tissue (loose teeth).
These waste products tend to be absorbed right into the bloodstream affecting liver, kidney and heart valves. This daily assault on the internal organs may not show up for years and when discovered (blood tests) may be too late to reverse.
We all love our pets and yet this #1 disease is often ignored because pets seldom show symptoms. In nature, if you don’t eat you die. In nature, if you show weakness or pain, predators seek you out. Our dogs and cats have evolved with a simple rule; you eat if at all possible!
Here are some common misconceptions that may give pet owners a false feeling that their pet’s oral health is OK:
Dry food and dog biscuits clean teeth: No! Most dental disease in pets is gumline disease and regular dry food crumbles before it reaches the gum line. The tooth crown may appear cleaner but the periodontal disease is unaffected.
Bad breath is normal in dogs and cats: No, odor indicates infection!
My pet doesn’t need a cleaning until tartar (brown stuff) is present: No! You and I don’t wait until we have tartar. By then permanent changes are occurring that can’t be reversed.
Bones are good for dog’s teeth: No! Pets who chew bones often break teeth, exposing the dentin and root canals which immediately become infected causing pain and exposing the bloodstream to more bacteria.
Pets don’t need to have their teeth brushed: Yes they do! Most humans brush, floss, gargle and go to the dentist every six months while the majority of pets go years without any dental care. If pets would stop eating, drool, paw at their mouth, cry and drop food we would react immediately, but they don’t. Over a two to three week period you can train most dogs and many cats to look forward to and enjoy daily brushing with poultry-flavored tooth paste and because of the shape of their teeth, obtain GREAT results with a 20-second commitment per day. And it’s almost free!
Dogs have better teeth than people: No! Average enamel thickness of a dog tooth is 1mm and people teeth have 3mm of enamel.
Pets don’t need professional dental cleanings: Yes they do! Our pets are living longer. Even with
good brushing, pets need a thorough professional cleaning by a veterinarian typically once a year starting before you see tartar.
Dogs and cats seldom get cavities: No! Approximately 5% of dogs develop cavities and approximately 50% of cats develop cavities, and most never show symptoms.
How do you know if your pet has dental disease? Just raise the lip while the mouth is closed and look. If you see a red gum line or any discoloration on the teeth or any mouth odor, point it out to your veterinarian.
No matter what the health status of your pet’s mouth, it’s never too late to give them a comfortable and healthy mouth. Your veterinarian can help you get started.
Dr. Dave works at Animal Hospital of North Asheville.