Q&A with Dr. Murray: Dental Disease in Pets
Dr. Louise Murray is Vice President of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital and author of Vet Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Protecting Your Pet’s Health.
ASPCA: What are some ways to keep your cat or dog's mouth clean and healthy?
Dr. Murray: It is a good idea to get in the habit of cleaning your pet’s teeth every day, or as often as your schedule allows. If you get a new puppy or kitten, it is best to get them accustomed to brushing at a young age. In any animal, this process should be instituted gradually. Never use human toothpaste; use a dental product formulated for pets, or even just a piece of gauze moistened with water. Cleaning your pet’s teeth can make an enormous difference in their oral and overall health, and can help stave off the need for professional dental work at the veterinarian’s office.
It is important not to avoid or delay professional dental care in a pet who needs it; dental disease such as gingivitis can lead not only to severe discomfort for the pet, but also major health issues such as disease of the kidneys or cardiovascular system. If dental work is delayed, the problems can get worse and require major intervention.
ASPCA: Is bad breath normal for cats and dogs, or could it be an indication of a more serious health problem?
Dr. Murray: If a pet’s breath becomes unpleasant, this can indicate dental disease, oral disease (such as an infection or tumor in the mouth), or another a health issue such as a digestive abnormality, kidney failure, or diabetes. If your pet’s breath changes, bring him or her to be evaluated by a veterinarian.
ASPCA: What oral signs and symptoms should prompt a cat or dog parent to call a veterinarian?
Dr. Murray: Pet parents should be concerned if their pet’s breath becomes unpleasant or changes markedly, if their pet has difficulty chewing or swallowing, if the mouth or surrounding area appears swollen, or any bleeding from the mouth or gums is noted.
ASPCA: Can the vet just scrape my pet’s teeth without sedation?
Dr. Murray: Properly cleaning the teeth requires cleaning and probing under the gum line, which an animal will not allow. In addition, it is essential to polish the teeth after cleaning, in order to smooth the surface and remove microscopic grooves left by cleaning which could invite bacterial colonization. Electronic polishing requires that an animal be under anesthesia.
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