Pets’ Dental Disease Prevalent, but Preventable

Oct 22, 2012 / Preventive Health / Cats / Dogs

“Offensive breath is a big clue that your pet may have a problem in its mouth.”

Dental disease is the problem most commonly diagnosed by veterinarians today. A recent national study of over 2 million cats and dogs found that 68 percent of cats and 78 percent of dogs had varying degrees of dental problems.

And yet, according to Dr. Sandra Manfra Marretta, a veterinary dentist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, very many oral health problems could be prevented with regular veterinary checkups and routine home care.

Dr. Manfra is one of the founders of the dentistry specialty in veterinary medicine. She would like pet owners to recognize the signs of dental disease and understand the consequences of letting those problems go untreated.

“Offensive breath is a big clue that your pet may have a problem in its mouth,” says Dr. Manfra.

“Additional signs a pet may have dental disease include chewing with only one side of the mouth, food falling from a pet’s mouth, facial swelling, blood in the water bowl or on chew toys, excessive drooling and recurrent wounds on the face that will not heal,” she says.

Because it hurts them to eat, cats sometimes hiss at their food when they have mouth problems. Dr. Manfra also advises owners that changes in a pet’s behavior, such as not wanting to play with toys or a new preference in a certain food or treats, may be signs there is something going on with the mouth.

For example, Dr. Manfra described a case in which an alpha dog by nature had become more reclusive and just wasn’t himself. The veterinarian diagnosed the dog as having dental disease, and after treatment the dog was back to being ‘top dog.’

The most common dental issues in dogs are periodontal disease and tooth fractures from hard chew toys.

“Periodontal disease, also known as gingivitis or gum disease, comes from a buildup of plaque on the tooth surface,” explains Dr. Manfra. “The plaque contains bacteria that, if not cleaned from the teeth, will become hard and form tartar. Resulting inflammation of the gums will cause the teeth to become loose and eventually fall out.”

Less common dental problems in dogs include jaw fractures and oral tumors.

Cats, like dogs, commonly have periodontal disease and can also have “resorptive lesions.”

“Resorptive lesions start out as small erosions of the tooth surface and can progress to the point that the tooth itself is mostly destroyed and the nerve then becomes exposed, which can be quite painful for the animal,” says Dr. Manfra. The cause of these lesions is still unknown.

Cats can also have oral tumors, jaw fractures and broken teeth, especially the canine teeth.

What can be done to prevent dental disease in pets? Dr. Manfra says, “The pet’s mouth should be assessed once a year by a veterinarian. Annual cleanings help keep the mouth clean and healthy, and X-rays can detect a dental problem early so that it can be treated before it becomes a bigger problem.”

At home, Dr. Manfra advocates daily brushing after the teeth have been professionally cleaned by a veterinarian. She says that a dry diet is best for good oral health, and that giving table scraps to your pet should be avoided. There are also special diets that are formulated to help reduce the amount of plaque and dental tartar that can form on the teeth.

If these preventive measures are not taken, Dr. Manfra warns about the serious problems that can ensue if periodontal disease is left untreated. Studies have shown an increased risk for kidney, heart, liver, and pulmonary disease all stemming from late-stage dental disease and poor oral care.

Dr. Manfra explains, “Proper care of an animal’s mouth is especially important if the immune system is suppressed for any reason since the body cannot mount the proper immune response to fight the increased amount of bacteria.”

Dr. Manfra advises owners to contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet may have dental problems.

For more information about your pet’s dental care and oral health, speak with your local veterinarian.

By Sarah Netherton