It’s offensive, it’s a problem – it’s doggie breath.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month and experts say dental hygiene is the number one problem in pets.
"It’s the most important thing a person can do for their pet apart from annual vaccines," said Dr. Candace Fisher, a veterinarian at Angel Animal Hospital.
Fisher said you should brush your pet’s teeth at least three times a week but daily brushing is preferred. She explained that professionals assess tooth decay in a range from one to five, with five being the worst case scenario.
"About 80 percent of pets have grade two tartar by the age of 2," said Fisher. "You have to start brushing their teeth while they are youngsters."
Tartar is created by the mixture of food debris, saliva and bacteria in the mouth.
Periodontal disease, which begins as plaque and is a more common dental disease, is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth that progresses in stages. Initially, plaque is soft, so brushing the teeth or chewing hard food and toys can dislodge it. However, if it is left untreated, plaque can lead to gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, causing them to become red and swollen. If the plaque and tartar buildup goes unchecked, an infection can form around the root of the tooth, eventually destroying the tooth, which can be very painful for your pet.
Fisher said untreated tooth decay can poison your pet’s blood.
"It can cause heart problems and kidney failure; the infection can even go to the liver," said Fisher. "It all starts with the teeth."
Fisher also said you may also notice stinky breath or bumps on the face.
Veterinarians recommend that you follow these steps to give your pet a healthy mouth:
o Look for signs of tooth decay and oral disease by routinely inspecting your pet’s teeth. Bad breath, discoloration and tartar are all signs of a problem that could lead to a serious health risk.
o Brush your pet’s teeth daily if possible. Your veterinarian can recommend the proper toothpaste. Toothpaste for humans should not be used on pets.
o Feed your dog or cat crunchy food. The rough texture of hard food can help to keep teeth clean. If you give your pet treats, try to keep them crunchy.
If you have one of those pets that will not let you near its mouth, Fisher said there is help. Water rinse solutions are available as are concentrates that you can add to their water a few times a week.
"You can always go to the vet and have their teeth cleaned too," said Fisher. "The best thing to do is talk to your veterinarian about the best method."
The cost of a professional dental cleaning depends on the size of the animal, the health of an animal and its age. Fisher said at Angel Animal Hospital a dental procedure starts around $120 for small dogs and cats. This does not include preliminary blood work, which would be necessary for older pets.
Fisher explained that one reason people do not have their pet’s teeth professionally cleaned is that they are afraid of having their pet put to sleep with a general anesthetic.
"This is why we do the preliminary blood work," she noted. "We have successfully cleaned teeth of dogs that are close to 20 years old. It is something people should not be afraid of."
Experts say you should talk to your veterinarian about the best method for your pet’s dental health.