February was National Pet Dental Health Month. I can totally see why. How many of you have spent a lonely Valentine’s Day with only your beloved Haustier by your side, sobbing, allowing them to lick the tears from your cheeks, only to discover that they have HORRID breath? Oh, no one? I’d love to know the reasoning behind choosing the month of February, or really even designating an arbitrary month for dental health (what is March? Mold? December? Poison awareness?)
Regardless of the fact that it is no longer February, I’ve got a monthly pet project for you for the month of June:
Look inside your pet’s mouth. Wait, what? He wont let you because you’ve never tried? Or maybe he lets you and you see stalactites? Either way, now is a good time to get your pet used to having it’s mouth examined. Oral issues often go unnoticed for too long due to our unwillingness to push past our pet’s initial displeasure at having their mouths pried open. It’s always a good idea to start when your pet is fully enriched – maybe a half an hour after a nice, long walk and meal, while they’re resting. The first time, don’t explore too much, just make sure you take a look at their incisors, canines, and carnassial teeth.
Here’s a photo of Cao’s mouth. I’ve identified two of the main problem teeth: the canine and the carnassial. As you can see, Cao has some greying on the back side of her canine – this is common, especially in older dogs. Her carnassial tooth is mostly clean (from chewing the random deer femur she scavenges). If you want to see the other end of the spectrum, search “canine (or feline) dental disease”. There should be no yellow buildup, and no inflamed pink area around the gum border.
Once you’ve taken a look, there’s a follow up to this month’s Pet Project: Take care of your pets’ teeth. However you can/will do it. Almost all veterinarians recommend brushing, but it’s hard to find people who comply enough to make a difference. Below are some ideas for alternatives. I have seen some horrifying dental disease that has been incredibly expensive to correct, but also, many gastrointestinal problems that we see are partially caused by dental disease. We’ve also seen a rash of oral cancers caused by chronic gingivitis and irritation from plaque build up.
For dogs we recommend chewing lots of raw marrow bones. You have to introduce them slowly to minimize risk of GI upset, but once your dog is acclimated, they should probably be chewing 1-2 new raw bones per week. Yes, you will spend money on bones, but sedated dentistries in our area (Montana – relatively cheap) start in the several hundreds. Make sure that you supervise your dog while chewing, and remove the bones when they begin to break into shards. Stay tuned for a forthcoming master class in bones.
You can also do facial dental massage from the outside on both your cat and dog. Just rub your pet’s cheeks firmly against their teeth, especially their molars. Most pets seem to enjoy this, it can help you pair bond with your pet, and it gets them acclimated to having their face handled intensively. Make sure you start when they are already relaxed, and you’ll have a willing recipient.
If you do end up going for professional dental care, look for a veterinarian who is willing to at least attempt to clean the teeth without sedation. You can make cleaning without sedation a more likely option by examining your pet’s mouth often and in many locations, e.g. the car, out on a walk. Just doing it at home won’t work. Also, make sure that when you take your pet in, you give your vet a fighting chance. That means a 1-2 hour walk before the appointment for most dogs, and at home acclimation to the carrier for a cat as well as a calming massage.
If your pet can have it’s teeth cleaned without sedation, have it done every time you visit the vet. If you are comfortable, you can also get a scaler and do it at home when your animal is fully relaxed. I recommend a massage beforehand.
Feel free to share pictures of your pet’s teeth in the comments below if you’re able to get one – that’s advanced level pet mouth handling!