Pets and dental care

Dog teeth

Veterinary dentistry is an exacting discipline, requiring skill, patience and special equipment. So one might reasonably ask, we should we bother? The most important reason is that our patients need proper dental care to maximize both the quality and quantity of life.

The occurrence of treatable dental diseases is surprisingly common. Several sources have indicated that 60 – 90 % of adult dogs and cats suffer from periodontal diseases which untreated can lead to the loss of teeth. A study conducted by the Animal Medical Centre in America showed that 65% of admitted cats all had some sort of dental lesion, fracture, trauma or oral tumours which required treatment.

How does bad dental hygiene affect our pets?
Usually it is an excess of dental plaque that leads to periodontal dental diseases. When left untreated it causes an infection of the gums and surrounding tissue. This infected tissue is sensitive and easily subject to bleeding. Thus, the bacteria in the plaque get free access to the bloodstream. Through the blood circulation, these bacteria can attach themselves on different organs in the body and cause infections in organs which are located far from the mouth. In many publications in both human and veterinary medicine literature a clear connection between oral infections and body diseases has been suggested. But, however, an article clearly indicating the connection is yet to be published. All that is clear now is that there is a connection between the two.

Bad dental hygiene also has its psychological impact. This concerns animals with bad breath who get less attention and love from their masters. A person doesn't want to cuddle with a stinking dog, and if that dog has previously been used to attention this can have grave psychological effects.

How do dental diseases affect our pets?
In the later stages of periodontitis the animal is in pain. Animals experience dental pains such as tooth aches the same way humans do. Pets with a tooth ache, especially dogs, often start suffering from boredom, because it can no longer play with its chew toys. Remember that dogs use their mouth very much the same way as humans use their hands. To not have a functional mouth is a serious handicap for an animal.

Dental pains in dogs and cats
Many dental problems are very painful. With time this develops into chronic pain, which can seriously affect the pet's quality of life and temper. It is not uncommon that dogs who suddenly get nervous or aggressive have dental problems. In face animals have the same pain threshold as humans. But sometimes dog owners are sceptic when they hear that their dog has a painful condition of the mouth when the dog keeps eating its food and playing with its toys. its as if nothing was wrong. This is not surprising though. Evolution has taught our pets to conceal their pain. Dogs are pack animals – and in nature a sick dog is regarded as weak and with little prospect of survival. A dog that has earned its place in the top part of a hierarchy wants to remain there just like dogs lower down look for opportunities to move up or to at least maintain its position there. All signs of weakness will most likely be met with a challenge from further down the hierarchy ladder and so dogs will continue as if nothing is wrong. An animal in grave pain can be treated as a burden for the rest of the pack and thus be expelled.

In brief - instead of causing benefit, lamentation will just create problems. A dog's best strategy is to endure the pain and act healthy. Cats are less social, lonely, small predators. But they can also fall prey to larger predators. So even cats will try to maintain a healthy facade.

If the animal has a sore tooth, it has a problem. If the animal ceases to eat it will soon experience great hunger and will thus have two problems – a sore tooth and a bad survival strategy. So, instead of fasting, the animal will eat, despite the pain. Perhaps they'll only use one part of the mouth to chew or perhaps they do not chew at all. Compare this to a fanatic athlete, who keeps on running despite a wounded ligament, or the golf player who keeps on golfing despite his bad elbow. Humans usually keep practising their favourite pass time regardless of pain just as dogs who are fanatic about chewing will keep chewing although it has broken and infected teeth. You can carefully observe if the dog uses only one side to chew in order to avoid certain areas. Some dental problems such as fractures occur acutely. Others such as periodontitis develop successively in a sneaky fashion, which gives the animal time to adjust to and to receive the pain. Many pet owners believe that an animal has become depressed due to old age. Even though depression is not a specific sign of dental disease it can occur. So, regardless on whether the animal shows clear signs of oral pain or not, you can be certain that the conditions which cause pain in a human mouth will also cause the same pain in the mouth of a cat or dog. A pet cannot verbally express its pain or feeling of unwellness, but they will clearly show you know when they feel better. Very often, after a pet has been treated for something specific, the owners will later rapport a dramatic improvement in the pets attitude and level of activity.

The conclusion is slightly anecdotal, but so often and consequently have I been faced with these issues, that I'm sure that although we may not be able to increase a pets lifespan with proper dental care, we can at least improve its quality of life.

Susanne Kamu
Clinica Veterinaria Pet Vet Kamu
C/. Maestra Aspiazu, Puebla Lucia, ES-29640 Fuengirola (Málaga) Spain.
Tel: (+34) 952 667 333,
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