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RUMINATIONS:The Number One Disease of Dogs and Cats

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By Bob Fuselier

The most common disease that will afflict almost every one of our pets is dental disease. Fortunately, it is one of the most preventable.

The many forms of the disease lead to infections and/or inflammation in the mouth which cause pain and can lead to problems in other organ systems such as the liver and kidney.  

Since kidney failure is one of the leading causes of death in cats, anything that will minimize the progression of kidney damage in our feline friends will add considerable time and quality to their lives.

The most common form of dental disease is the easiest to prevent. Tartar, which forms when the easily removable plaque becomes mineralized, leads to gingivitis, gingival pockets, bone loss and infection around the teeth and, eventually, tooth loss.

This same process happens with us. As many of us know from our own experience, these conditions are painful. However, the signs of oral pain in dogs and cats are difficult to detect. Our pets can’t tell us that they have toothaches.

Caught early, these problems can be reversed or at least prevented from progressing to major problems. However, the best method, and by far the least expensive method, is to prevent the easily removable plaque from becoming the hard-to-remove tartar by simply brushing the teeth free from plaque each day.

While daily brushing will not prevent every dental disease, spending a few minutes learning how to brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth and a few minutes each day brushing their teeth will pay big dividends over the years by greatly reducing the need for dental cleaning.

Should your pet develop tartar, having his or her teeth cleaned early will minimize the chance of developing irreversible damage to the teeth and their surrounding tissue and will decrease the exposure of your pet’s body and organ systems to the effects of inflammatory mediators.

But dental disease in cats in dogs is much more than just problems from tartar. With the recent advent of digital dental radiography, we are humbly discovering that the level of care that was standard just a few years ago was far from sufficient. We are now able to uncover a myriad of problems that develop below the gum line out of view of anyone examining your pet’s mouth.

With dental radiography, we are able to diagnose problems such as periodontal bone loss, root resorptive diseases, root abscesses, bone cancer of the jaw and maxilla – even root tips that were left from previous tooth extractions.

With this information, we can now make accurate assessment of the extent of the dental disease which greatly enhances our ability to make accurate treatment plans.

The result is a much improved level of care that allows us to stop the progression of periodontal disease before it involves additional teeth, remove painful teeth with previously unidentifiable abscesses or resorptive disease, eliminate hidden sources of inflammation, diagnose cancerous diseases while they are still curable and accurately define those problems that need referral to veterinary dental specialists.

In addition, the development of techniques which are more accurately described as oral surgery allow veterinarians to perform extractions that result in less pain and trauma and faster healing with less complications. As a veterinarian, I find this a big plus and I’m sure my patients feel the same.

Thorough pre-procedural exams and laboratory evaluation, modern anesthetic protocols that include anesthesia tailored for the individual, multi-modal monitoring equipment that detects early changes in patient status, and pre-operative, intra-operative and post-operative pain control are some of the many modern day practices that help minimize anesthetic risks and postoperative complications and maximize patient comfort.

All these factors are critical in allowing us to perform complicated dental procedures and oral surgery on elderly patients.

We as veterinarians want your pets to retain all their teeth in good shape throughout their lives. We know that veterinary dentistry alone is not enough to ensure that this will happen.

The best means to reach this goal begins with daily brushing that removes the plaque before it becomes mineralized. However, should your pet have a tooth or teeth that must be removed, please remember that in today’s world they can do just fine without them.

Bob Fuselier is with the Animal Clinic of Los Alamos