Dental/Oral Health Problems: A Serious and Widespread Cat and Dog Issue
I have recently received a cluster of letters from distraught readers of my internationally syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor whose dogs and cats have almost died or have died following costly dental care, all receiving a general anesthetic and in most instances the necessary pre-operative blood work assessment of kidney and other functions and being given supportive fluids and careful monitoring during surgery. While the competence of some veterinarians may be questioned along with a cavalier attitude toward giving a general anesthetic for minor oral care/routine cleaning, the fact remains that many experienced and dedicated veterinarians are putting their reputations at risk treating cats and dogs whose oral health has been neglected by the animals’ owners/care-givers. This is because these animals are at high risk from the serious health ramifications of oral cavity bacterial infection and inflammation which can affect various internal organ functions.
Cat and dog owners must know that their animals are especially at risk because of genetics if they have pushed-in faces, misalignment of teeth/malocclusion, and because they don’t enjoy chewing safe and effective tooth and gum cleaning treats and toys. Many don’t because they are already suffering from dental pain and oral inflammation.
All cat and dog owners and care-providers must also know that on biologically inappropriate diets such as those manufactured pet foods containing high glycemic and glutinous cereal, potato, pea flour and tapioca ingredients promote the proliferation of the wrong kind of bacteria in animals mouths—and digestive systems! Also the texture and small particle size of highly processed ingredients mean the dental spaces and under the gingival gum-line become the depositories for their putrefaction, halitosis being an epidemic consequence and bacterial and inflammatory diseases the result.
So I and other holistic veterinarians continue to urge all cat and dog care- givers to ask and learn about in-home oral health maintenance, including regular brushing or finger-cot applicator rubbing of dental care products as noted in my Dental Care article on my website, (www.drfoxvet.net) such as PetzLife’s gel and spray for cats and dogs or a home-prepared mixture of baking soda made into a paste equal parts aloe vera liquid and 3% hydrogen peroxide, along with suitable treats that help clear food debris from the animal’s oral cavity.
The exchange of opinions concerning anesthesia-free dental cleaning (1, 2) is instructive. It would seem reasonable to anesthetize a dog or cat not used to being given an oral examination and not amenable to dental probing. That would be more humane for the animals and safer for the veterinary staff. But there may be practice-enhancing ways to avoid this all too often late-in-the-game, first-time dental/oral examination (often an oral chamber of horrors) for far too many dogs and cats, many of whom are put at risk and expire when given anesthesia for much needed, major dental surgery.
But cats and dogs can be very amenable to oral examination and professional cleaning when they have come to accept being restrained and having their gums regularly massaged soon after they have been weaned. Such handling and massage, which can provide some relief when they are teething, may also increase animals’ trust and reduce the incidence of people being bitten, especially children in the family and care-givers needing to restrain their animals.
Cradling-restraint, general (3) and gum massage, along with the occasional habituating application of a natural oral care product that they would later be given routinely as adults, would seem to be a practice that veterinary behaviorists might wish to consider and promote to help prevent the virtual plague of oral disease currently confronting companion animal veterinary practice.
The use of probiotics (along with a change in diet) may be of benefit for dogs and cats with dental problems related to dysbiosis which can also involve the microbiomes of the digestive tract and integument (skin, ears and anal glands) when symbiotic bacteria are displaced by colonizing, potentially harmful bacteria and fungi.
- Carmichael D T. Concern with anesthesia-free dental cleaning. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016: 248; 601
- De Jong J. More on anesthesia-free dental cleaning. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016 268: 601
- Fox MW. The healing touch for cats/dogs New York Harper Collins
By Michael W. Fox BVetMed, PhD, DSc, MRCVS Veterinarian, bioethicist, syndicated columnist (Animal Doctor with Universal-UClick). Website: www.drfoxvet.net
Author of Supercat: How to Raise the Perfect Feline Companion: also Cat Body, Cat Mind, and Dog Body, Dog Mind with Rowman & Littlefield; The Healing Touch for Dogs and The Healing Touch for Cats with Harper Collins & co-author of Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat & Dog Foods with Quill Driver Books