Dental disease is one of the most common findings for small animal vets at routine visits such as for vaccinations and yearly health checks. Because dogs and cats are both a prey and predator species they are very good at hiding pain. So sore mouths often go undetected, unless the owner notices an offensive smell coming from their pet’s mouth. Don’t let this fool you, though. Dental disease in our furry friends is just as painful as it is in me and you.
We often only discover the disease after it has progressed to an advanced stage, so a dental procedure is required to remove the causative agent, whether this is a broken tooth, excess tartar, cavities or gingivitis. In uncomplicated cases these issues can be addressed easily and are often a straightforward fix. Unfortunately, we often don’t know the extent of the damage until we get the patient fully anaesthetised and can check each tooth individually. This means it is often hard to give accurate cost estimates for dental procedures.
Owners often view dentals as relatively invasive procedures due to the fact the patients need to be anaesthetised for the procedure to occur. As well as this, many of the pets that require dentals are old and can be high anaesthetic risks. This can be off putting for owners. No one wants to lose their beloved pet while it is in at the vets getting a routine procedure done.
Fortunately, our understanding of anaesthetics in animals continues to evolve and we can minimise the anaesthetic risk to your pet through various techniques. This can include pre-anaesthetic blood tests to check that their kidneys and liver can cope with the anaesthetic agents, fluid therapy during the procedure to maintain blood pressure, and local nerve blocks to reduce the level of anaesthetic agents required. All things considered, age shouldn’t be an excuse to put off doing a procedure which is going to cure a painful condition in your pet.
Like most things, prevention is better than cure, and there are various steps you can take to prevent your pet getting to the stage where a dental is required. These mainly revolve around their diet, with dry crunchy biscuits much better at reducing plaque and tartar build up than wet food diets. Dental chews may also help, as can pet toothpastes and brushes. For patients with a history of dental disease, I would recommend feeding a specialised dental diet. These include a type of kibble (ground meal). They are clinically proven to reduce dental disease and hopefully the need for further dental procedures.
Neil Warnock, Wellsford Vet Clinic