When we think of a smiling cat, we might think of the Cheshire Cat, whose beautiful smile was the only thing visible when he disappeared. Sadly, for the majority of both cats and dogs kept as pets, their teeth are not so healthy. It's up to you to make sure your pet's smile is bright and clean!
Problems with an animal’s teeth can be an indication of other health issues, but dental care for pets is often not much of a priority for owners. Many folks think that doggy breath – or kitty breath – is inevitable. While it’s true that even at its best a pet’s breath may not smell sweet, it should not be really odorous. So what’s a concerned owner to do?
The ASPCA has some suggestions for keeping your pet’s teeth healthy, starting with – you guessed it – the smell test. Bad breath is an indication of poor dental hygiene. It’s a good idea to lift your pet’s lips away from its teeth to check the gums. They should be pink, not white and not red, which indicates inflammation or irritation. You should not be able to see brownish crusty tartar along the gum line. Left untreated, tartar build-up could cause your furry friend to develop gingivitis, or an infection, or a loose tooth that would make eating uncomfortable.
Sometimes inflammation in the mouth area can be an indication of health problems elsewhere in the animal’s body. A visit to your veterinarian’s office may be needed to check things out and have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned. For dogs and cats, that usually means general anesthesia because they are unlikely to sit still and “open wide”.
In addition to regularly examining your pet’s teeth and gums, you can keep everything healthier by brushing. Before dismissing the idea, consider how your mouth feels when you can’t brush your teeth. The ASPCA website at ASPCA.org has step-by-step instructions for getting started - for both dogs and cats - and the Vet’s Association website at avma.org even has a helpful video. Just make sure you use toothpaste specially designed for the kind of pet you have. Never use human toothpaste, which could make your pet sick.
Three-fourths of all dogs and cats show signs of dental disease by the time they are three years old. February is Pet Dental Health Month, a good time to remember that clean teeth and healthy gums can help your best friend live longer and feel better. That’s something worth smiling about, when you’re speaking of pets.