February is National Pet Dental Health Month – a good time to focus on helping pets stay healthy by maintaining their oral health. While more than half of dog owners say their pets’ breath stinks, good pet oral health goes beyond masking bad breath. Dogs and cats need help to keep teeth clean and free of plaque and tartar to avoid serious medical problems.

Dental disease is one of the most common pet medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Dental disease, including periodontal diseases, can lead to heart disease and issues with other body organs. Plus, as pets age, teeth wear out and break, which can cause discomfort and poor food intake.

Dental Health for Dogs

More than 80 percent of dogs over age 3 have active dental disease* but few show obvious signs of what can be a painful condition. The most common dental problems for dogs are periodontitis and fractured teeth.

Periodontal disease is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Periodontal diseases occur when the accumulation of plaque and tartar (thickened plaque that mineralizes on the tooth surface) cause periodontal pockets or gum recession around the tooth’s attachment. Left untreated, the infection often spreads deeper into the tooth socket, destroying the bone.

The rate that plaque becomes mineralized is quicker in some dogs than others. Special dog chew toys and treats may help reduce or delay plaque and tartar build up. There are specially formulated dog foods for “dental diets” that mechanically and/or chemically assist in plaque removal. Water additives also are available.

Dental Health for Cats

Up to 90 percent of cats over age 4 have some form of dental disease. The most common feline dental diseases are gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth resorption, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

When plaque remains in a cat’s mouth, it can move to where the gingiva meets the tooth base. Inflammation known as gingivitis results when the cat’s immune system does not attack the bacteria. It can cause mouth sores, swelling, redness and even bleeding. Gingivitis may be the result of other diseases, including FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), diabetes, severe kidney disease and feline leukemia.

When a tooth breaks down from the inside, it can cause the loss of the tooth. Many cats will experience tooth resorption in their lifetime. First signs are a pinkish defect in the tooth where the tooth meets the gums. This is a sign of significant damage. A cat with tooth resorption will experience pain and may not want to eat, may drool and be irritable.

Preventive Care

To avoid serious oral health problems, pet parents can help their furry friends with preventive care, which may include dental pet food, dental treats, water additives, oral sprays, gels and chew toys.

Food: Some pet foods are formulated as dental diets that mechanically and/or chemically assist in plaque and tartar removal. Of all dental care products sold, more than 80 percent of them are treats and chews.

Treats: Dogs love to chew, so chews, bones and biscuits can help remove tartar and plaque. Crunchy dental nugget treats for cats do the same.

Toys: Specially designed toys encourage dogs and cats to chew, which may reduce plaque and tartar.

The best way to prevent dental disease for dogs and cats is daily brushing with a pet toothpaste and toothbrush. (Do not use human toothpaste, as the ingredients are not safe for pets.) Brushing a pet’s teeth may not be easy, so AAVM offers tips via video.

If a dog or cat shows any signs of oral disease, a visit to a veterinarian is required. And during a pet’s annual checkup, a veterinarian should do a dental health exam to catch issues early.

Dental Care Products Can Make Retailers Smile

Pet stores can remind pet parents to purchase dental health products by grouping them on an endcap or shelf, with special signage. It should be an easy decision to dedicate the space since the pet dental category is projected to grow to about $1 billion by 2020. Plus, almost half of the dental care products are sold at pet specialty stores.

Pet stores can increase interest in dental care products by promoting pet oral health products and information on its website and social media posts. Store staff members should be well-educated in pet oral health and products and should be able to discuss how products work and their ingredients. Passing along product promotions and specials to customers also will help sales.

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