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Living With Animals: Doggy (and Kitty) Dental

Last week’s column about pets’ stinky breath led to several conversations. Bottom line, pet owners (me among them) are often shocked at the cost for a dental cleaning. But while I don’t get paid by the veterinary lobby I do know that there are real reasons for the price.

It is virtually impossible to do a proper dental on an animal who is not under anesthesia, which adds to the cost. Veterinarians often want to run a blood panel to ensure you pet is safe to anesthetize, and will usually place an intravenous catheter during anesthesia also for your pet’s safety.  Because dogs and cats don’t routinely brush their teeth they tend to have serious periodontal disease by the time their teeth are cleaned, and extractions may be necessary.  In addition dogs and cats have 42 teeth vs. 32 in people, and their teeth are more varied in their size and shape, making cleaning and polishing more difficult.

If you’re willing and able to brush your pet’s teeth you can significantly reduce tartar buildup, forestalling if not stopping the need for a dental altogether. Use a dog/cat toothbrush or even an old rag or piece of gauze with a small dab of dog/cat toothpaste and gently rub along the outer surface of the teeth on both sides of the jaw and the front incisors. Do not attempt to clean the inside surfaces, as you may inadvertently get bitten! Tartar tends to start and be more severe on the largest pre-molar, and if you can keep that tooth clean you can often reverse or at least control the degree of dental disease. Use dog/cat toothpaste (available at any pet supply store); human toothpaste contains fluoride and can be toxic if swallowed, plus the dog/cat toothpaste tastes good to them (ours not so much).  Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is probably an unrealistic goal but even if you brush once every week or two it should make a significant difference.

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