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It's February and National Pet Dental Health Month!

Whew! Is your pet’s morning breath worse than your own, yet lasting throughout the day? This month is the National Pet’s Dental Awareness Month. In this month's article we will be discussing some of the dental issues and diseases your pet may experience. We will also explain to you what you can do to prevent dental disease. We'll also explain when you need to see your veterinarian.

Good dental care is extremely important for your pet. Dogs, cats and ferrets belong to the order Carnivora, meaning that their teeth are adapted for eating meat and do not grow continually, but keep the same set of teeth after primary teeth replacement. Over time, their teeth will build up plaque—a film that forms over the teeth-- from the food that they eat. Over more time, layers of plaque will form calculus. These pets will also develop gingivitis which is inflammation of the gums. This inflammation is caused by bacteria. In time,this can lead to periodontal diseases such as oral ulcers, stomatitis (sores in the mouth), and can lead to chronic renal failure, liver and cardiac disease, and spondylitis. In addition, an abscessed tooth can also cause swelling and infection in the eye area as well as loss of teeth. Periodontal disease is also responsible for the famous halitosis. Hedgehogs, which are Erinaceomorphs, also have permanent teeth like our Carnivore pets. In addition to the same plaque/gingivitis issues, they are also prone to oral ulcers and oral tumors as well. Rabbits and rodents differ from Carnivora and hedgehogs in that their teeth continually grow. Instead, they are at risk from malocclusion, a failure of teeth to align correctly from too much growth. Providing species appropriate hard treats and food to wear may prevent some of these issues, but occasional teeth trimming may be required and performed by a vet.

 If your pet is a dog, cat, ferret, or hedgehog, you may need to do more than provide chews to ensure good dental health. Using teeth cleaning chews or hard food is better at plaque prevention than soft food. However, none of these are as good as brushing teeth. Use toothpaste that is approved for your particular pet, as well as a tooth brush designed for your pet’s mouth and teeth. Make sure any chews or water additives you use for your pet are approved by your veterinarian. However, you will at some point need to take your pet to the vet for a full dental exam and cleaning.

Generally, you should be seeing your veterinarian once a year for a younger pet, or two to three times a year for a senior dog or cat over 10 (ferrets are seniors over 3 to 4 years). Your vet will look at your pet’s teeth and determine if any course of action is needed. However, if between visits you notice persistent bad breath, broken teeth, and reluctance to eat, or swelling under the eye, take your pet to a vet immediately. Younger pets may only need a dental cleaning under anesthesia once a year, but an older animal may need dental cleaning as much as twice a year. Also bear in mind that some breeds of dogs require dental cleaning by a veterinarian more often than others. These would be dogs that have shorter muzzles, such as the brachycephalic breeds [Boston terriers, bulldogs, pugs, etc.] and toys breeds such as Chihuahuas, Malteses and Pomeranians. A few longer-muzzled dogs, such as greyhounds, may also require more dental cleanings than other breeds. When your dog or cat is being spayed or neutered, your vet will also check to make sure that all deciduous teeth have fallen out. If not, they can be extracted at the time of surgery.

Clearly,dental care is vital to your pet’s health. Make sure to keep your pet’s teeth clean in top form, and see your veterinarian to ensure your pet’s continued good health.

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