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Signs your pet has a dental problem

From bad breath to discolouration of teeth, there are a few signs that point to dental problems in your pet. 
Monitoring your pet’s health comes with the territory of being a pet owner. But the health of your dog or cat’s gums and teeth is frequently overlooked.
“Unless they’re puppies or kittens, or they’ve just had their teeth cleaned, I would say even 90 per cent of dogs or cats above three or four need some form of intervention,” says Dr Adam Sternberg, Veterinary Director at Greencross Vets Brookvale.
He suggests that the preference for cheaper quality foods for pets is partly responsible, as well as the texture of the meal. 
“Whether it be sachet foods for cats or tinned food for dogs, or even if it’s minced meat – human grade or pet food – the softer the food, the worse their teeth, because there’s no physical abrasion. Plaque accumulates and plaque goes to tartar and that’s the yellow material they scrape off when you go to the dentist.” he explains. Proper prescription diets designed for your pet can help reduce tartar build up.
Moreover, some dogs and cats eat their food very quickly, which can also lead to problems. 
“Labradors, for example, don’t have the contact time between teeth and the food, and the food basically goes from the bowl to the tummy without passing the teeth. If there’s no contact time, you’re missing out on the removal of plaque.”

Signs your pet has a dental issue

There are a few symptoms that owners can be vigilant about with their pets’ dental health. Any discolouration of the tooth, which ordinarily should be nice and white, and bad breath both point to problems. 

“A dog’s breath, like our breath, shouldn’t smell at all,” says Dr Adam. “When you smell doggy breath and it’s unpleasant, it’s either after a meal, and that’s quite normal, or there’s an accumulation of plaque that has progressed over time to tartar, and you’re actually smelling the tartar.” 
Tartar occurs when plaque, which consists of food particles, saliva and bacteria, calcifies on the teeth. This is known as dental disease (or periodontal disease). 
Plaque is often not visible, says Dr Adam, but tartar is easier to spot on the teeth. And when tartar meets the gum, it causes gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums.
“Gingivitis is that red line in the gum that’s quite painful. When you touch these gums they often bleed, and it’s quite distressing for the dog or cat” says Dr Adam.

Prevention is better than cure

Dr Adam says there are a number of preventative measures owners can take with their pets. He recommends anti-gulp bowls for feeding, which feature little mazes that require the animal to forage for their food, which encourages them to slow down.
“You can scatter the food on the floor, you can put the food into little muffin trays, or ice cube containers or egg cartons, again to get them to forage the food and try and slow them down,” he says.
For cats, adding golf balls or similar sized rocks, or seashells, so that they have to push them away to get to the food can also work. And in larger dogs, you can take a roof tile or brick and smash it up into quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the dog, using the pieces to act as an obstacle course. 
However, Dr Adam advises caution, as there is always potential for danger if the obstacles used aren’t commensurate to the size of the pet.
“You don’t want to give a small brick to a big dog,” he says. 
Brushing a pet’s teeth daily is also paramount – ideally twice a day.
“If you brush and remove the plaque, then the plaque can’t go to tartar.” 

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