A dentist for the dogs? Dog’s breath—It’s no joke!
It’s easy to identify bad breath, sometimes in people and also in our beloved canine companions. We use the term ‘dog’s breath’ to indicate a person has ‘halitosis’ or bad breath, however, it is certainly not a laughing matter if your dog or cat has persistent bad breath. This is actually a red flag and can be indicative of severe infection and underlying disease.
Generally pet owners are under the misconception that dog’s breath is supposed to smell bad. Owners feel that pets have naturally stinky breaths from eating smelly foods. While eating a smelly piece of cheese can cause a temporarily unpleasant odour, persistent, offensive breath is a concern. Your pet can be severely ill with issues such as kidney failure, diabetes, liver complications, oral abscesses or tumours. Unusually sweet or fruity breath could indicate diabetes, in conjunction with increased drinking and urinating. Breath that smells like urine can be a sign of kidney disease.
How about the age old belief that pets’ teeth clean themselves? — This is absolutely not the case. While there are natural enzymes in your pet’s mouth that help keep their teeth clean, tartar and plaque still build up. This can lead to inflamed gums, tooth abscess and loads pain for poor Fluffy.
All dogs and cats eventually suffer from some form of dental disease due to their diets and increased longevity; their teeth break down with age. Like humans, our pets also require regular dental hygiene care. However, they rarely suffer from enamel decay like us. Pets tend to have problems associated with receding and infected gums and tartar build-up around the teeth from bacterial colonies that set up shop in the mouth. If not treated, the mouth becomes a perfect home for bacteria orgies that result in huge numbers of these yucky organisms moving through sites of infection via the mouth through the blood stream and lodging themselves into major organs such as kidney, heart and liver.
What can owners do for bad breath?
The best medicine is prevention. Routine health checkups should include a dental examination. A dental cleaning is highly recommended at least two times a year to ensure your pet’s mouth is healthy and monitored by a professional. Dental cleanings are done by your veterinarian to remove plaque and tartar build-up, much like the cleaning we do at the dentist.
At many vet clinics, pets are treated with high-tech dental tools identical to what you will find at human dentist’s office, though we are hesitant to give a two for one special and clean the pet owner’s teeth as well. This procedure takes about 20-30 minutes and includes polishing of your pet’s pearly whites. At home, we recommend brushing their teeth. Sounds strange, but pets need their teeth brushed with special dog toothpaste with or without the use of toothbrushes, but flossing is not necessary! Stay away from human toothpaste as it can get your animal ill. Along with your special doggie toothpaste and toothbrush, another easy to use and effective product in your dental arsenal is Dental Fresh. It is a very safe and nifty product that is used as a preventive tool in the fight against dental disease. It is a liquid that is added to your pet’s drinking water to aid in decreasing the build up of plaque and tartar and has the added benefit of freshening Fluffy’s breath.
In addition to dental cleanings, safe, hard chew toys can help with tartar build up through natural chewing. Giving appropriate treats responsibly can improve breath odour. Ensuring that your animal is on a high-quality diet to maintain healthy gums and teeth is also strongly recommended.
Pets can also suffer from tooth loss, breakage of teeth and gum disease. Those of us who have experienced severe dental pain can all agree it is truly unpleasant. Our animals are not able to tell us about their pain but it is also extremely painful for our pets. Pay attention to your pets and their mouths and be on the lookout for dental associated pain. Animals may be depressed, experience decreased eating and drinking, discomfort when eating, swelling around the face, bleeding gums and of course, stinky breath. Seek first your trusty veterinarian to guide you for the appropriate treatment.
Our dogs use their lovely mouths for so many things — eating, communicating, sensing the world and of course giving doggie kisses. This vital body part deserves attention and we should keep it as healthy as possible.
Dr Adana Mahase-Gibson is a project management professional and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She works in the field of sustainable development with communities, government, businesses and NGOs in Trinidad and Tobago under the banner of Ecohealth. This column looks at the intricate connections of human, animal and environmental health through a sustainability lens.