When your cat yawns in your face, does their foul mouth odor startle you? Cats can have doggy breath too! Although cats are typically fastidious groomers, they still need oral health care to banish bad breath and dental disease. In fact, cats are just as likely as dogs to develop periodontal disease, and both species need a helping paw to prevent dental problems. 

Misconceptions about pet oral health are common, and you likely have trouble separating pet dental health fact from fiction. Test your pet oral health care knowledge by determining whether our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team’s pet dental health statements are fact or fiction. 

#1: Pets need professional dental care from an early age

Fact: While older pets often suffer from dental disease, pets as young as 6 months of age can begin accumulating plaque and tartar. Up to 90% of cats and dogs have some level of dental disease by age 2, and most pets benefit from their first professional dental cleaning between ages 2 and 3. By implementing a dental care plan when your pet is young, you can prevent pain-causing dental infection and disease.

#2: Gnawing chew toys is enough to maintain your pet’s healthy smile

Fiction: The abrasive action created by chewing can help scrape away some plaque and tartar, but much of the substance remains, especially below the gumline. To prevent plaque from forming and mineralizing into tartar, you should ideally brush your pet’s teeth daily. In addition to toothbrushing, many pet oral care products are available to help strengthen your pet’s at-home dental care routine. Approved dental chews, treats, prescription diets, food and water additives, and oral rinses, sprays, and wipes can help slow your pet’s plaque and tartar accumulation. 

#3: Pets need professional dental cleanings almost as frequently as people

Fact: Twice-yearly dental cleanings are recommended for people and for pets who have poor oral health. However, most pets who have an effective at-home care routine still need professional dental cleanings every year or two. At a minimum, your pet should have an annual oral exam, so your veterinarian can check for discernable periodontal problems, and to determine if an anesthetized exam, dental X-rays, and cleaning are in order. 

#4: All pets develop dental disease at the same rate

Fiction: While all pets will develop dental disease at some point in their life, the time at which the condition first appears and continues to progress varies. Factors that influence how rapidly pets develop dental disease include:

  • Breed and size — In general, smaller pets accumulate plaque and tartar more quickly because their teeth are more crowded than those of larger breeds. Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) pets, such as bulldogs and Boston terriers, are also prone to developing dental disease more quickly because of their mouth’s anatomy—often having misaligned teeth, which causes abnormal wear. Some breeds are notorious for having poor oral health and being more likely to experience problems. To minimize dental disease, Yorkies, dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and greyhounds are a few of the breeds typically requiring dental cleanings every 6 months. 
  • At-home dental care — Pets who receive regular at-home dental care, such as daily toothbrushing, enjoy a longer period between dental cleanings.
  • Lifestyle — Pets who chew aggressively on toys or inappropriate items (e.g., rocks, metal crates) can wear down or fracture their teeth. 

#5: Pets do not always show obvious periodontal problem signs 

Fact: Pets are masters at hiding pain and illness, so you may not realize your furry pal has dental disease until their condition becomes advanced and causes a great deal of discomfort. To prevent your pet from experiencing oral-related pain and infection, monitor them closely for the following dental disease signs:

  • Bad breath
  • Inflamed, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Grey, yellow, or brown plaque and tartar accumulation
  • Loose, missing, or broken teeth
  • Excessive drooling or ropey saliva
  • Refusal to eat hard food or treats
  • Dropping food while eating
  • Chewing on one side of their mouth

#6: Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are much safer for pets

Fiction: When not placed under general anesthesia, your pet is fully aware of and capable of feeling pain from sharp dental instruments while their mouth is held open. While pets can tolerate a great deal of people’s odd behaviors, asking them to calmly endure your veterinarian poking their sensitive gums is asking too much. By performing comprehensive preanesthetic testing through a physical exam, blood work, and additional testing if needed, our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team can design a customized anesthetic protocol to keep your pet as safe as possible while preventing them from feeling fear and discomfort during their professional dental cleaning. In addition, anesthesia allows us to take full-mouth dental X-rays and thoroughly examine your pet’s mouth for disease under their gumline, treating those painful problems. 

#7: Pulling a pet’s teeth is cruel

Fiction: While extracting a pet’s teeth may seem cruel, the procedure can actually offer them untold relief when performed while they are under general anesthesia. Some pets suffer such severe dental disease that extractions are essential for removing their pain and infection source. For example, cats who have stomatitis or resorptive disease often begin experiencing pain soon after a thorough dental cleaning, despite the owner’s best plaque-removal attempts at home. However, when we extract diseased and problematic teeth, our team removes the cause of their pain, and your pet is much more comfortable. 

Keep your pet’s mouth in great shape by brushing their teeth several times a week and scheduling their regular professional dental cleanings. Schedule your pet’s annual wellness visit and their professional oral exam with our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team.