Dental Disease in Dogs
Canine Dental Disease
Dental disease is extremely common in elderly dogs. Periodontal disease (disease that affects the structures which support the teeth) is the most common problem, which is in contrast to humans where dental caries and decay occur more frequently. Periodontal disease begins with the formation of plaque, which is a creamy yellow substance made of saliva, proteins and bacteria. Plaque is not easily seen with the naked eye but begins to form a few minutes after brushing both in humans and animals.
After several weeks the gums become inflamed and red - this is a condition known as gingivitis. In the UK over 80% of dogs and cats suffer from gingivitis. As the disease progresses the plaque becomes mineralised by salivary calcium phosphate to form the hard brown substance called tartar. The gums then recede and bleed easily, causing pain and smelly breath. Human sufferers complain of a horrible taste in the mouth.
Once severe gingivitis has formed, bacteria can enter the bloodstream every time the animal chews. These bacteria can lodge in the kidneys, lungs or heart valves. There are therefore serious consequences to the rest of the body from dental disease, which is of particular importance in older animals.
What can we do to prevent dental disease?
This is by far the most effective way of reducing periodontal disease. It must be done as part of a daily routine. A soft/medium paediatric or specially designed dog toothbrush is the best thing to use but finger brushes are also available. Human toothpaste should NOT be used, as animals do not like the taste or the frothing action. Also human toothpaste is not designed to be swallowed and it may cause an upset tummy. There are toothpastes designed for dogs available at our reception.
There are now several diets on the market, which have been designed to assist in the prevention of dental disease. Complete diets are available that can be fed exclusively or as a treat. The special biscuits do not crumble when bitten but allow the teeth to penetrate them and therefore act to wipe the teeth clean. Please ask us for more information on any of these diets above.
Treats such as rawhide chews, pigs ears, rask biscuits and raw vegetables (carrots, cauliflower stalks) will also help clean teeth. Bones are not recommended because they are responsible for many broken teeth, and risk gut blockage or damage.
If severe periodontal disease is present then your veterinary surgeon or nurse may recommend for your animal to have its teeth professionally cleaned. For humane and safety reasons this has to be done under general anaesthesia. Your pet will be thoroughly checked by examination and blood samples taken where necessary before an anaesthetic is given. The tartar is removed from the teeth and then they are scaled ultrasonically and polished. Any teeth that are severely broken, loose or diseased can be extracted. Antibiotics may also be given after a dental if gingivitis is severe. It is very important to continue a dental hygiened regime at home and have regular veterinary checks after a dental procedure.