Just What the Doctor Ordered -- Dental Hygiene and Home Safety for Your Pet
Helping your pet maintain an active and healthy lifestyle requires more than serving him the right kibble and putting him on a doggie treadmill. In fact, many of us forget that regular dental care and preventing safety hazards within your home, can help keep your furry friend from experiencing a painful tooth extraction or winding up in the ER with a belly full of shiny pennies. Stacey Kilcullen, DVM at Little Silver Animal Hospital, shares her tips to help pet parents keep their pet's teeth in top form and emergency trips to the veterinarian down to a minimum.
Dental care 101
"The mouth is the entranceway to your pet's body - to their heart, lungs and all their vital organs," says Dr. Kilcullen. She points out how studies have shown that animals with healthy teeth live an average of two years longer. "The mouth's gums have a blood supply, so if a pet's gums become infected that infection can end up spreading to other parts of the body."
Signs of dental problems
Dr. Kilcullen says a hallmark of dental disease comes in the form of bad odor emanating from your pet's mouth. It doesn't necessarily have to be a strong, overpowering odor. If you don't want to get a kiss from your dog or cat, that's not just stinky morning breath but a sign of a more serious problem.
Other signs of dental disease include yellow and brown build-up of tartar along the gum line, pets that struggle keeping food in their mouths, have difficulty chewing, or show sensitivity around their mouths. For instance, if your pet suddenly tries to bite you after you touch her mouth, that's a sign she could have a dental disease.
Combat dental disease with annual exams and brushing
It's essential to get your pet an annual dental exam so a vet can check his mouth for abscesses and scale his gums. Since it's a procedure most animals won't sit still for, your pet will need to be put under general anesthesia. Anesthesia is a serious procedure where owners should make sure all the proper precautions are taken to minimize anesthetic risk for their pet. Pets under anesthesia should be intubated, have a catheter in place, and be monitored by an EKG and pulse oxygen monitor.
Dr. Kilcullen also recommends brushing your dog's teeth with a specially formulated toothpaste and toothbrush at least three times a week. She suggests holding one hand over your pet's mouth to keep it shut, while using the other hand to elevate the gum and slide the toothbrush in for thirty seconds on each side. It's best to start early but grown dogs and cats can learn to tolerate brushing too.
Pet proofing 101
Whether you have an existing pet or you've just brought a new pet home, you should always make sure your home is safe enough for your pet to roam free without fearing she will get hurt.
Keep your cats safe
"Kittens and cats love to eat and play with shiny, metallic things so keep objects like needles and string out of your cat's reach," says Dr. Kilcullen. Plants and cats are also a bad combination, as many plants are toxic. Instead of leaving them on counters where cats can get to, hang your plants up.
Protect your dogs
Puppies and dogs love to chew and tend to swallow things that can cause obstructions in their intestines. Avoid leaving objects like socks, rocks or coins within their reach. Also keep chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, nicotine and any other recreational drugs away from them, as all can be fatal if swallowed in large quantities. The same goes for all human medications, bleaches and cleaning products.
"Basically anything you don't want your pet to ingest should be in a safe place," says Dr. Kilcullen.