June is Dental Care Month, and many veterinary practices across the country are joining in by offering free dental health checks for pets. Vet Marc Abraham offers some tips for keeping pets' mouths in tip-top condition
Many pets show signs of gum disease as early as four years old due to a combination of the wrong diet, a lack of access to decent chew toys, few or no visits to their vet for check-ups, and minimal proper oral care.
One of the most obvious signs of an unhealthy mouth is bad breath (halitosis). Doggie breath, for example, is hardly like a bunch of roses, but if your pet's breath is very offensive and perhaps accompanied by a loss of appetite, excessive drooling or discomfort when eating, you should assume that there's a problem in its mouth and make an appointment to get it checked out as soon as possible.
Your vet will examine your pet's mouth thoroughly, checking its gums for any inflammation (gingivitis), strange growths or wobbly teeth that require extraction, and will offer you advice on any dental treatment required.
When your pet is young (or as early as possible with a rescue pet), it's a good idea to get into the habit of inspecting its mouth and keeping it as clean as possible, in order to spot any abnormalities so you can alert your vet at the earliest opportunity. Bacteria and plaque-forming foods easily accumulate on your pet's teeth and quickly harden to form tartar, so you should try to prevent any build-up through regular brushing.
Always use a special pet toothbrush: start with a finger brush to get your pet used to the sensation, then progress to a proper brush with harder bristles. Avoid using human toothpaste - it froths, and fluoride interferes with an animal's enamel formation as well as irritating its stomach lining - and choose one formulated (and flavoured palatably) for cats and dogs.
As well as simple tartar build-up, there are other oral problems that will need assessing and treating as necessary. These include common ailments such as painful periodontal disease - a proliferating gum disease that's common in Boxers, occurring when gums grow over the teeth and must be treated to avoid gum infection - to more serious mouth tumours, which can be malignant and require surgical removal.
You can also help slow down the formation of plaque and tartar by feeding your pet the best food possible. Avoid giving it table scraps and instead offer treats that are specially formulated to keep teeth healthy.
So take advantage of Dental Care Month and speak to your vet about your pet's oral health.