A few weeks ago, Ingrid E. Newkirk came to me with a rescued cat named Ginger who had been temporarily living at PETA’s headquarters. I took her home, where she seemed to have a great time playing with my dogs. When she started to lose weight, I thought it was because of her increased exercise. But when we took her in for an annual physical, the vet noted a badly infected tooth and a build up of tartar that was probably making her not want to eat and drink, thus causing her to lose weight and become slightly dehydrated.
When the doctors sedated Ginger in order to pull her tooth, they noticed on closer examination that she had two more infected teeth, so they pulled those also. She was put on a diet of wet food only for 10 days and is recovering really well. Thankfully, we took her in for her annual physical. If we hadn’t, we may not have noticed her bad teeth, which could have led to more serious weight loss, dehydration, and a host of secondary diseases, especially if bacteria from infected gums enter the bloodstream.
Ginger’s story illustrates the number one rule of animal dental hygiene: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to alleviate painful dental problems in your beloved companions is to do your best to make sure that they never arise in the first place.
The first step is to make sure that you take your animal in every year for a physical and that this visit includes a dental exam. And don’t laugh, but it is critical that you brush your cat or dog’s teeth on a regular basis. If you are unsure of how to do this, your vet will be able to give you some tips to make the task easier. For most animals, all you need is a small toothbrush and either cat or dog toothpaste, which is available at most pet stores and veterinary hospitals.
If your dog or cat won’t tolerate the tooth-brushing, begin training him or her by massaging the gums with the toothpaste. Most cats and dogs love the taste of the flavored animal toothpastes, so this first step is actually pleasurable. Plus, what animal companion doesn’t love to be held and cuddled? Use this training time as a chance to give your friend a little extra love, and it will also help teach him or her that tooth-brushing is a fun activity. Once your animal is comfortable with this, you can slowly introduce the toothbrush and establish your dental hygiene routine.
You can also help prevent dental disease by providing a healthy diet and plenty of dental chews and toys for your animals. Try vegan “pig ears” or a Nylabone for your dog. While there aren’t a lot of chew toys for cats available because most cats aren’t into chew toys the way dogs are, don’t overlook the numerous dental diets and treats available. These foods, made for both dogs and cats, help prevent tartar buildup for animal companions who aren’t the best chewers. Any quality pet store clerk can point a shopper to the right aisle. Just ask for dental care products.
Finally, if your animal companion already shows signs of real dental disease, including extreme bad breath, tartar buildup, fractured teeth, change in eating habits, or swollen and receding or bleeding gums, it is most likely time for a professional cleaning. Talk to your veterinarian and make sure that your dog or cat gets the care that he or she needs.
Any toothbrushing tips or experiences to share?
Debbie Chissell is the director of PETA’s Mobile Clinics Division and can be reached at DebbieC@peta.org.