Colorado State University will offer free dental exams for dogs and cats 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 27 as part of national Pet Dental Health Month.
Appointments are required and can be made between 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays by calling the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at (970) 491-7101. Owners should ask for the dental receptionist at the small animal desk and indicate they would like to schedule a free diagnostic exam.
After the oral exam is complete, each animal gets a written evaluation of the mouth for use by the family veterinarian. Diagnoses are open to any animal, not just those treated at Colorado State.
Pet dentistry is a serious health issue for dogs and cats, said Dr. Lynne Kesel, veterinarian and specialist in pet dental health.
"We’re not talking about just cosmetics and a nice-smelling mouth," she said. "Periodontal (gum) disease will eat into tissue right around the teeth. If plaque isn’t cleaned by what an animal eats or by other means, it can inflame the gums and spread infection. Then you can have a problem with any part of the body."
Periodontitis not only is the leading cause of tooth loss in dogs and cats, it also is linked to kidney disease in cats and to both feline and canine respiratory diseases, including pneumonia. Toy breeds of dogs are at particular risk.
Not surprisingly, the problem is a modern one–animals eat primarily soft foods, unlike their ancestors who made their own kills.
"Most prey species are not choice beef," Kesel said. "They take some chewing. Fiber from skin, bones, ligaments and tendons all helped clean around teeth and keep gums healthy."
To mimic that cleaning action in household pets, rawhide chews (regular or flakes, not reprocessed) work well for dogs, and commercial products are available. But the best thing is to do for your pet what you do for yourself.
"Brush their teeth," Kesel said. "Most animals can learn to tolerate it quite readily simply by using a reward system. It’s actually the physical brushing that does the job. Try holding brushes that are designed specifically for animals at a 45-degree angle. Pumice and fine particles in meat- or malt-flavored animal toothpastes can remove the plaque."
Two caveats: cats require patience (smaller brushes are available for them), and don’t use human toothpaste: it contains a detergent not intended to be swallowed. Start both pups and kittens early by sticking a finger in their mouths, rubbing teeth and gums, graduating to brushing with gauze and eventually moving on to a very soft child’s toothbrush.
Daily brushing is best, but do it at least twice a week to avoid inflammation, Kesel said. Keep an eye out for the common signs of periodontal disease, which include visibly dirty teeth, bleeding gums, an odor like rotting meat and loose teeth or missing teeth. In severe cases, the animal may be reluctant to be touched on the cheek or around the mouth.
Most pets require a professional checkup after three years, because left untreated, "virtually any dog or cat after three years is like a person who goes a year without brushing his teeth," Kesel said. "Periodontitis is likely to set in."
Professional care may be needed and can be expensive, but Kesel said that, with a little effort, dog and cat people can solve the problem themselves.
"That’s the whole point for Pet Dental Health Month," she said. "I’d be delighted if every person could take care of his or her own pet’s teeth."