We often joke, as our pet jumps up on our lap to give us a big lick on the nose, about how terrible their breath is. It’s not just dogs either, plenty cats have breath that would wilt a daffodil! Bad breath, however, is a symptom which should be taken seriously. It is an early warning sign of a much more serious problem.
Each time we eat, and the same goes for our pets, we get food residue on our teeth. Wet foods are worse for causing this than dry ones. Some dry foods are better than others. Certain manufacturers invest heavily in research to make sure that their kibbles will clean teeth at the same time as crunching. You would be advised to seek advice from your vet before choosing a new brand of food.
This food residue is a fantastic food source for bacteria from our mouth, which breed on our gums. This is why our dentists insist that we brush our teeth at least twice per day – to scrub off this sticky film of bacteria and food residue. Unfortunately, most pets do not brush their teeth which can lead to the next stage of dental disease.
The sticky film is called plaque. Over months minerals in saliva also stick to this plaque layer and start to crystallise. They form tartar which sticks like rock to the teeth. It is generally yellow to brown in colour and contains live bacteria. If you look at your pets teeth and they are not pearly white, there may be a problem. Over many more months the bacteria start to infect the gums, called gingivitis which is what causes halitosis, our doggy breath problem. Once we reach this stage we are almost critical and often the only way to cure the problem is with a general anaesthetic and a thorough scaling and polishing of the teeth.
If we don’t intervene at this stage, the next step is infection of the tooth roots, potentially leading to abscesses and tooth ache. Bacteria can even enter the blood stream and colonise the heart valves leading to a heart murmur, or the kidneys leading to a kidney infection.
Dental disease is much better prevented, so ask for a check up with your vet or practice nurse to assess your pet’s teeth and to demonstrate the correct brushing procedure. For those pets who will not tolerate brushing, there is help at hand with food additives and pastes that have some effect and avoid the need to brush, but brushing really is the best way to prevent dental disease.