One of my favorite vet memes online is a photo of a fat pug with the caption, “Just like his wolf ancestors, my dog has three beds and takes medicine for his thyroid problem.”
This often comes to mind when recommending dental care to my patients.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve recommended a dental cleaning and my client replies, “I’ve had dogs all my life and they’ve never had dental work.” Why would they need it now? »
Or: “I don’t know, aren’t they descended from wolves? Wolves don’t get dental cleanings, doc.
You’re right! Wolves in the wild certainly do not undergo routine physical exams, preoperative lab work, x-rays, and anesthetized dental cleanings.
They also only live, on average, 6-8 years in the wild, and we’re aiming for much longer than that with our fluffy friends sitting on the couch next to us.
Despite the brand of pet food that is currently in vogue, pet dogs are not wolves and cats are not little lions (although they may believe otherwise). So what does this mean for their dental health?
Dogs and cats, like us, need regular oral exams to assess their teeth, gums and oral cavity. About 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 have some degree of periodontal disease.
That bad breath you get when little Bella kisses you? It’s Had of Germs.
Bacteria that accumulate on the crown, or the visible part of the tooth, will migrate below the gum line and eventually affect the roots of the teeth and the surrounding bone. Over time, the tooth may become loose or a tooth root abscess may develop.
The problem is that dogs and cats are too stoic for their own good. Even with a mouth full of infected teeth, they will continue to eat their normal meals.
If you pay attention, you might notice that the way they scoop food into their mouth is different, or maybe they chew more on one side than the other, but dental health doesn’t lead to hardly any loss of appetite.
However, this absolutely entails pain and silent suffering. Just as we feel the sharp beating of a tooth that needs a root canal, dogs and cats feel the same pain in a broken or diseased tooth.
“And that non-numbing dental treatment I’ve heard so much about, Doctor?” »
Believe me, if we could perform dental cleaning and probing safely and effectively without anesthesia, we would. The problem with non-anaesthetic dental work is that you simply cannot humanely examine, probe, clean, scale, polish, or extract the teeth of an awake dog or cat.
To be able to take dental x-rays, the animal must be completely anesthetized – and without x-rays we can only assess the tip of the iceberg. So, at best, non-anaesthetic dental care gives a false sense of security about your pet’s oral health.
At worst, it can lead to real damage.
You may be wondering what you can do to delay the need for anesthetized dental treatment. I recommend that you brush your dog or cat’s teeth daily, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and veterinary-approved toothpaste.
You can also give chews for the teeth, but be sure to give treats that are appropriate and effective in removing plaque. For a complete list of acceptable treats, please visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website at VOHC.org.
Be sure not to give chew toys that are too hard, such as real bones (raw or cooked) or antlers. Too many times I have found myself extracting a fractured carnassial tooth from a Labrador with otherwise beautiful teeth.
I hope I have convinced you of the benefits of a comprehensive oral health and treatment plan. It is my job as a veterinarian, and your job as an animal owner, to defend our living wolves and lions when they cannot speak for themselves.
Dr. Hilary Quinn is a small animal veterinarian in Santa Barbara. She owns and operates the Wilder Animal Hospital and shares her own home with three humans (her husband and two children) as well as two rowdy dogs, a very calm kitten, two fish and six chickens. Contact her at [email protected]