Ask The Vet: Time to tell your pet to open wide for dental health

Ask The Vet: Time to tell your pet to open wide for dental health

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Q: What can I do for my pets to improve their dental health as they age?

A: February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so this is a great time to discuss how to manage your pet’s dental health throughout their lifetime.

Managing your pet’s dental health needs to start as soon as you adopt your pet because tartar build up and gingivitis can start to accumulate at a very young age. Getting young animals to tolerate having their teeth brushed with pet friendly toothpaste is a good way to get their dental health under control.

When brushing their teeth, it is important to concentrate on the large chewing molars at the back of the mouth and brush up along the gum line to try to decrease the amount of tartar build up in this area.

If your pet does not tolerate brushing, there are many other alternatives such as prescription dental diets that can be used as treats, dental chews and rawhides, oral gels, oral flushes, and water additives. By far, the best products are the ones that allow for some abrasion along the enamel and gum line to remove any tartar build up.

Just like humans, some pets will start getting dental disease earlier than others and will likely require more advanced dental cleanings. Unfortunately, once dental disease has progressed it starts to invade under the gum line and into the roots of the teeth. This can cause tooth root infections and significant mouth pain and, in severe cases, this will negatively impact your pet’s quality of life.

If your pet does not tolerate brushing and is starting to accumulate tartar and gingivitis, then it is recommended to follow up with your veterinarian to pursue a full mouth dental cleaning before the dental disease becomes severe.

A significant amount of dental disease sits under the gum line, can’t be seen upon visual inspection, and requires full mouth x-rays to identify and treat. A thorough dental cleaning with full mouth x-rays will allow your veterinarian to identify and treat any issues and clean the teeth fully.

Do not wait until the dental disease is severe before pursuing a cleaning as prophylactic cleanings are far more effective in the prevention of dental disease in your pet.

Q: How important is yearly blood work for my pet if they appear to be healthy and do not seem to have any health issues?

A: Yearly exams with your veterinarian are vital for the long-term health of your pet as your veterinarian is trained to educate you on nutrition, exercise, dental health, and preventative medicine. This is necessary at any age.

Luckily, when pets are younger, there are not usually any medical issues that need to be managed and discussed. Yearly blood panels can be very helpful as preventative medicine when they are tailored to the age of your pet. For example, if you have a young animal that is otherwise healthy, then having complete blood panels done may not be necessary but checking yearly fecal samples for parasites might be more helpful.

So, pursuing more age appropriate testing is recommended so that any issues can be addressed early. Keep in mind that animals age much quicker than humans, so blood work that was done a year ago has no bearing on how they are doing today.

The older an animal gets, the more likely that changes in the blood work will start to occur, so pursuing complete senior blood panels yearly as a baseline can be incredibly helpful in identifying and treating any underlying medical conditions.

Having yearly baseline blood work for your pets also is helpful for those times when they get sick, as we can compare the results and have a better idea of what might be the issue. I highly recommend asking your veterinarian for any age appropriate testing at your pet’s next yearly exam.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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