Just like you, dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses get tooth decay and gum disease (gingivitis). And just like in people, what happens in the mouth can affect what happens in their blood streams, particularly in the arteries leading to the heart and brain.  I don't want to scare you, but you should be on a cleaning schedule for your pet's teeth.

Veterinary dentists say that after the age of three, most dogs and cats have some tooth decay, even if you brush their teeth every day.  Further, by the age of five, 75 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs have periodontal disease and, in addition, cats will have severe cases of tooth resorption, a condition in which teeth have deep holes that may lead down to the gum line. 

Severe periodontal disease: image via VOHC.comSevere periodontal disease: image via VOHC.com

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) recommends deep scaling and possible surgery for periodontal disease and tooth resorption. These procedures require anesthesia and performance by a veterinary dentist. They are not cheap, starting at around $450. You can check the services that may be provided by a veterinary dentist at New York City's Animal Medical Center.

Now, there is another way to go, and many choose it, either instead of professional dental surgery or in between surgeries.  A pet's teeth are scaled by a trained technician, rather than a veterinary dentist. He or she does not use anesthesia so cannot perform very deep scaling but gets close to the gum line.  This service is provided often by pet spas, boarding kennels, or grooming salons, and costs between $100 and $200 per treatment, generally.

Though the American Veterinary Dental College takes a strong stand against anyone other than licensed veterinarians practicing teeth scaling, I personally do not take that stand.  Anesthesia is always a risk, and if a good teeth cleaning can be accomplished without it, it should be. (My dog is still sleepy from the anesthesia cocktail he received two days ago for his teeth cleaning.)  I have used veterinary services and day spa service to clean my dogs' teeth, and I find that they can go longer without veterinary scaling if I take them for spa cleaning periodically.

Now here's a health set of pearly whites: image via MedMD.comNow here's a health set of pearly whites: image via MedMD.com

But you must purchase a special toothbrush for your pet along with pet toothpaste or dental cleaner.  And you must brush your pets' teeth every day.  Also, give them hard food (there are some approved for dental health recommended by VOHC) and good natural chewy treats. (I like the Booda Bones.) 

Learn how to clean your pet's teeth well and try to make the experience pleasurable for him. Once he gets used to brushing, you may even want to invest in a scaling tool. I haven't started doing my pets' scaling but I have bought my dog a battery operated Colgate electric brush; it's soft and he enjoys the feel of it on his gums.

More on recommended tools later!

sources: WebMD, VOHC, AVDC, TLC Doggy Day Spa, Animal Medical Center

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