PETS: Dental care is crucial to pet health

Welcome back to Buckley Veterinary Hospital’s monthly pet care column. This month, we are highlighting your furry family member’s oral health. February is National Pet Dental Month, and as such we would like to shed some light on the importance of oral healthcare and the steps you can take to provide the best lives for your pets. We have combined tips from a variety of veterinary associations and providers to give you a solid basis for understanding optimal pet dental care.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “more than 85 percent of dogs and cats that are at least 4 years old have a condition in which bacteria attack the soft gum tissue.” This condition is called periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the final stage in a process that begins with the development of plaque on your pet’s teeth.

For the sake of your pet’s health and comfort, periodontal disease is a threat that can’t be ignored. Many of the clinical signs of the disease are hard to miss. Signs that your dog or cat may be suffering from dental disease can include foul breath, discolored teeth, tartar build up, swollen, receding or bleeding gums, and reluctance to eat or trouble eating. Late-stage periodontal disease can cause permanent damage, including loose teeth and tooth loss.

Periodontal disease begins when plaque, a mixture of bacteria and food debris, builds up on tooth surfaces and works its way under the gum line. Toxins released by the bacteria cause an inflammatory reaction that can lead to destruction of tissue and bone that anchor the teeth in place. If the bacteria enter the blood stream, they can even affect the heart, liver and kidneys.

Periodontal disease is not only serious, it is also more common than most pet owners realize. In fact, more than 80 percent of dogs have it by the time they’re 4 years old. So, it is easy to understand why periodontal disease is the most frequently-diagnosed health problem in pets.

There are other dental problems associated with dogs and cats. These can include fractured teeth that lead to painful cavities. Dogs commonly fracture teeth by chewing on rocks, cage doors, chain link fences and hard toys. Tooth resorption, which can take place in cat’s mouths, generally goes undetected by owners and is a leading cause of tooth loss.

Another oral issue that can arise is retained deciduous teeth, the baby teeth that do not fall out. This condition occurs in growing puppies and kittens and can lead to malpositioning of the permanent teeth. At Buckley Veterinary Hospital, our team routinely checks for this condition when adolescent dogs and cats are under anesthesia to be spayed or neutered and we will extract retained baby teeth if necessary.

Prevention is the best medicine. Ultimately our goal as pet healthcare providers is to help you, as a pet owner, provide a longer, healthier and happier life for your best friend.

Preventing periodontal disease by keeping your pet’s teeth and gums healthy is not just a job for your pet’s health providers. It is your job, too. While nothing can take the place of regular visits to the veterinarian for checkups and cleaning, ongoing follow-up oral care at home is just as important in controlling plaque and tartar formation. Proper food, chew toys and dental treats are items that can be used to supplement routine medical care.

Thank you to our readers – we welcome you back next month. As always, send questions, comments or suggestions for future columns to us at

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Hill’s Pet Nutrition and the American Veterinary Dentistry Society support an easy, three-step program to the best oral healthcare:

1: Take your pet to the veterinarian for a dental exam. Don’t wait for their yearly preventative exam if you suspect a problem.

2: Begin a dental care regimen at home. Your veterinarian can suggest steps that may include brushing your pet’s teeth. One of the most convenient and effective ways to combat oral disease is feeding specially formulated foods proven effective in combating plaque and tartar buildup.

3: Schedule regular veterinary exams. These are essential in helping your veterinarian monitor the progress of your pet’s dental health routine. At Buckley Veterinary Hospital, our team schedules complimentary oral health follow-ups to ensure a smooth recovery following anesthetic dentals and to gauge the future needs of your pet.


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