Dispelling Pet Dental Myths

Did you know that approximately 80% of adult dogs and 70% of adult cats have some form of oral disease? Dental problems are among the top three pet owner concerns in dogs and cats. There are many misconceptions about how to provide good oral care to your pets. Here is a list of the most common myths that people believe about their pets dental health.

1. White teeth equal a healthy mouth

Not necessarily. The health of the gums is more important than the color of the teeth. Red swollen gums are a sign that INFECTION is lurking below the gumline. This infection can lead to bad breath, tooth loss, and heart, liver and kidney disease in pets. The best way to ensure that every pet has a healthy mouth is to perform a regular oral examination and professional tooth cleaning procedure on at least an annual basis.

My breath isn’t THAT bad, is it?!

2. Bad breath is normal in pets

Not true. Bad breath is an indicator of an infected mouth. The odor is often caused by the by-products of the bacteria in the mouth that form plaque and lead to dental disease. If the pet has halitosis it is time for thorough dental exam and cleaning procedure.

3. Anesthesia is scary so non-anesthetic dental cleaning is the way to go

Yes, there is always a risk when an animal is anesthetized, however a thorough pre-op examination and blood work along with individualized anesthetic protocols and monitoring puts the pet at lesser risk during anesthesia. An anesthesia-free dental cleaning provides no benefit to the pet’s oral health. Scaling or scraping the teeth with an instrument only makes a tooth whiter in appearance. Think of the tooth an iceberg, we only see about 1/3 of the tooth with the remaining 2/3 below the gumline. The bacteria below the gumline quickly become pathologic and begin to destroy the tissues surrounding the tooth. It is not possible to eliminate bacteria beneath the gumline where damage is done.

See more: Pet periodontal disease

4. Tooth brushing is too hard and my pet hates it and it really doesn’t help anyway

While not all pets are willing to accept tooth brushing it is the gold standard for good oral care. It does take time to train the pet to accept tooth brushing. Make sure to have a detailed demonstration for the pet owner such as this: Start slow with your finger and some pet toothpaste. Hold the muzzle with one hand and gently insert your finger between the cheek and the teeth and “brush” the teeth. Reward the pet with his favorite treat, praise or game when he accepts the brushing! You may need to do this every day for a week to ensure your pet learns that it’s ok! Once the pet accepts your finger then begin using toothbrush, but introduce it slowly over several days. You only need to brush the outside of the teeth. Pets keep the inside of the teeth very clean on their own. Only brush the teeth you want to keep! 😉

5. Feeding a hard kibble will keep my pets teeth clean

False – most dogs and cats actually swallow their kibble whole therefore getting no dental benefit. Even if the pet chews the kibble, the kibble is too hard and breaks apart when the tooth hits it and offers no benefit. There are dental diets that are specifically designed to solve this problem. The kibble is larger, softer and is comprised a fiber matrix that allows the tooth to penetrate the kibble, thus wiping the plaque off the tooth.

6. Bones, chew toys and tennis balls will help keep his teeth clean

While your dog will love you for the bone, his teeth may not. The dogs jaw does not shift side to side like a humans therefore when they chow down on a bone they often fracture the carnassial teeth. These fractured teeth hurt and can lead to infections and abscess if left untreated. A good rule of thumb when choosing a chew toy is if you can’t easily bend it with your hands or if you wouldn’t want to be hit in the knee with it, don’t give it to your pet. Wild dogs and wolves often have multiple fractures in their mouths due to chewing on bones.

Playing fetch with a tennis ball is a great way to bond with your pet but put the ball away when done. The rough surface of the tennis ball can lead to abrasion, wearing away the enamel or surface of the teeth over time. Dogs who constantly chew on tennis balls often have severely worn teeth that can lead to a very painful tooth.

7. Dogs and cats don’t feel pain!

Our pets can’t tell us about the pain they feel and they often want us to be happy so they mask the pain. An infected mouth or a fractured tooth hurt and require treatment. Pets need to eat to stay alive so they will often figure out a way to do so that causes the least amount of pain. Ask the client if they have noticed their pet dropping food or only chewing on one side of the mouth, if they have there may be a problem.

8. I don’t see the mouth so it doesn’t bother me if it’s not pretty

Pets with dental disease have an INFECTION! Would you leave an infected ear untreated or a sore toe untreated? This infection is in the oral cavity and every time that animal chews bacteria is being released into the bloodstream. The bacteria can have a detrimental effect on the heart, liver and kidney. There are even new studies linking joint issues to the oral cavity.

9. Oral disease is an inevitable part of aging

False – If a pet receives good oral home care and routine professional cleanings they are much less likely to develop dental disease as they age. Studies have shown that good oral care can add an average of 2 years to the life of your pet. Just as age is not a disease, dental disease does not have to be an issue in aging pets.

10. How can I know if a dental product will actually work for my pet?

The Veterinary Oral Health Council gives dental products a seal of approval for either plaque reduction or tartar reduction. The VOHC exists to recognize products that meet pre-set standards of plaque and calculus (tartar) retardation in dogs and cats. Products that are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance have been proven to work based on scientific studies and protocols. VOHC.org

 

Mary L. Berg, BS, RVT, RLATG, VTS (Dentistry)
Beyond the Crown Veterinary Education
Lawrence, KS


References 

Pavilica, Z., Petelin, M., Juntes, P, Erszen ,D., Crossley, DA, Skaleric, U, “Periodontal Disease Burden and Pathological Changes in Organs of Dogs.” J Vet Dent 2008 Jun:25(2):97-105.

DeBowes LJ: The effects of dental disease on systemic disease. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 28:1057. 1998

Debowes, LJ, Mosier, D. Association of periodontal disease and histologic lesions in multiple organs from 45 dogs. J Vet Dent 1996; 12: 57–60.

Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Moore GE, Goldstein GS, Lewis HB. Evaluation of the risk of endocarditis and other cardiovascular events on the basis of the severity of periodontal disease in dogs. JAVMA 234(4):486-494, 2009

Maresz, KJ, etal, “Prophyromonas gingivalis facilitates the development and progression of destructive arthritis through its unique bacterial peptidylarginine deiminase (PAD)” . PLos Pathog. 2013 Sep;9(9):e 1003627

Tang, Q, Fu H, Qin B, etal,”A possible link between rheumatoid arthritis and periodontitis: A systemic Review and Meta-analysis.” Int. J Periodontics Restorative Dent 2017, Jan/Feb, 37(1):79-96

When Pets Encounter Porcupines

North American Porcupine

Porcupines are the 3rd largest rodent in America, second only to the beaver. Porcupines can be active during the day or night. They can be found lumbering on the ground and perched high in trees – searching for leafy forage. They are slow moving herbivores with few natural predators. Cougars and fisher weasels are the only ones are known to regularly prey on porcupines. If a threat gets too close a porcupine may spin around and swing its tail at a predator. If this doesn’t do the trick, they may start to lunge backwards at the aggressor.

North American porcupines have three types of hair on their bodies. Underfur, which is short and soft. Guards hairs that give porcupines their cute fluffy appearance. Then, the infamous quills – which can be over 12 inches long. Painful going in, but the quills can be even more painful when coming out. This is due to the barbs on the tips of the quills. These tiny barbs help the quills stay fixed in flesh and drive them deeper with every movement. These barbs also render the quills four times harder to pull out once embedded.

Sticky situation. The tiny barbs (top) coating the tips of the quills from North American porcupines (bottom) make it more difficult to extract a quill from flesh, but they also help the quill penetrate the fleshAs the weather warms up and more of our pets are out and about, encounters with these prickly creatures tend to increase. If your dog or other pet has been a victim of a porcupine you should consider having a veterinarian remove the quills.

 

Quills in the face

Only remove the quills if there are less than 10 and are not embedded in the mouth, throat or eyes. Be mindful that the quills can be brittle and break off still within the flesh. Due to the discomfort caused by the barbs during removal, even the sweetest dog can bite. Do not attempt to muzzle your dog – there may be quills within the mouth or airway. Another factor to consider is, quill removal may be traumatizing for some pets. If you attempt to remove quills on your own only to find Fido is not having any part of this- they can be more anxious when they come to the vet.

When you’ve discovered your pet has had an encounter with a porcupine bring them to the vet immediately. Frequently quills can penetrate through the eyelids and into the eye. If your pet attempted to bite the porcupine, quills can also be found in the gums, tongue and down the throat – which can obstruct breathing. The paws will likely have quills in them as your pet attempted to remove the quills in their face.

Quills in the mouth

When they arrive at our hospital we will sedate or possibly anesthetize them and remove the quills. Sedation is required to make sure your pet is not experiencing pain during the procedure. This also allows us to completely check over the entire body and within the mouth. Despite all efforts, there is still a small chance a quill tip could be embedded below the surface of the skin. Over the next few weeks continue to monitor your pet far any signs of pain, areas of redness or swelling. A small portion of a quill may need to be removed and your pet possibly require antibiotics.

Do not assume that your pet has “learned their lesson” after a porcupine encounter. Many dogs will be treated for porcupine quills more than one time. Porcupines are solitary creatures that live in rocky dens or in trees. If an encounter occurred at your home – check under decks, crawl spaces or downed logs, these may be areas for a den. Keep your pet on a leash if not under voice command if you are in known porcupine territories. Minimizing encounters is the best way to protect your pet from the pain of quill removal. Porcupines are not aggressive and would much rather saunter up a tree to eat some leaves, not have a standoff with your dog.

Additional Resources: