What it is: As in humans, food particles and bacteria accumulate on and between an animal’s teeth and gum line over time. The progressive buildup of food particles and bacteria form plaque and can lead to gingivitis and infections, causing discomfort and possible loss of teeth.
Whom it affects: Cats and dogs.
Possible symptoms: If your pet’s breath is so bad it has you turning down his kisses, there could be an underlying dental problem. Frequent drooling, reluctance to eat, pawing at the mouth, and traces of blood on chew toys should also raise a red flag.
Treatment: The good news is that a good cleaning, dental X-rays, extraction of infected teeth, and antibiotics can relieve most signs of dental disease. The bad news is that treatment can cost thousands of dollars.
Prevention: It’s important to brush your pet’s teeth daily. All you need is a washcloth or a baby toothbrush and pet toothpaste. (Warning: The fluoride in human toothpaste can be harmful.) Consult this list of veterinarian-approved oral-hygiene products recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council for more information.
In addition to at-home cleanings, keep potential dental problems at bay by taking your pet for annual checkups. Your cat or dog will need general anesthesia for routine cleanings, but the process is much easier and less expensive than a dental emergency.