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Open Wide: Understanding your Pet’s Teeth

by Dr. Robert Zepeki, DVM CVCP, owner of Village Animal Group

Did you know that the brains of cats and dogs are very similar to our own? A smaller portion of the brain is dedicated to intelligence but they have the same major nerves and are close to us in their capacity for memory. As you know, their sense of smell, sight, and hearing all exceed our ability. You may have also realized that dogs and cats don’t really chew much. In fact, they mostly rip, tear, and swallow their food. A pet’s teeth, though quite different from ours, require regular check-ups to keep your furry companion happy and healthy. Here is a closer look at canine and feline chompers and how you can keep your pet smiling.

Baby Teeth!

Both kitties and puppies have a set of baby teeth called temporary or deciduous that fall out over about a six month period. You have all undoubtedly found a few of these in your lifetime of having pets. Sometimes these temporary teeth do not fall out and must be removed by the veterinarian. The temporary canine or fang teeth are the most common ones to overstay their visit. If they stay they can cause decay. During evolution and breed development, the teeth have not changed much in size. So those of you blessed with the shorter faced friends may see teeth that have rotated or crowded in to a very short or small mouth. These crowded or jammed teeth provide places for food to lodge and decay to begin. Much can be done when your friends are young to reduce these problems. However, in your older friends, removal is usually the best solution.

Time to see the Dentist!

Veterinary dentistry has come a long way in the past twenty years. Almost any dental problem can be corrected or relieved. In fact, I would say that the second most common medical problem that I observe in older friends are teeth problems. Bad teeth can affect everything from personality to liver function. Your friend’s teeth hurt just as much as your teeth bother you. However, your friends don’t complain as much as your aunt Minnie who has the partials and grinds them and complains about them. I have noticed an improvement in attitude in many patients who have had that bad tooth or all of that calculus removed from their mouth. Calculus is that hard buildup on the teeth. This product has to be removed by a dental pick or machine. You cannot brush calculus away once it builds up.

Dental review

Dogs normally have 28 temporary and 42 permanent teeth. They can have more but often have less. The most important teeth are the canines (fangs up front) and the upper large maxillary (cheek) teeth which are used for chewing and tearing. The rest of the teeth between, in front or back of these primary teeth are not as necessary since our friends eat prepared food.

Cat Teeth ImageOur feline friends (cats) normally have 26 temporary and 30 permanent teeth. Cats very rarely have more teeth but often have less as the molars in the back of the mouth are often missing. The canines(fangs) and cheek teeth in cats are most necessary for chewing. Because our friends eat mostly prepared food, they really don’t get much chewing exercise necessary to maintain the strength of the bond of the teeth to the jaws. So teeth become loose and fall out a lot as our friends grow older.

Brush, Brush, Brush

Let’s face it. Neither our feline or canine friends pull deer down for dinner anymore. Although our feline friends do present us with an occasional furry prize gleaned from the yard or utility room! So now I must repeat those words we all shudder to hear; brush your friends teeth, once they are cleaned by the vet! So you won’t have to come back again for a long, long time.

Don’t use human toothpaste. It is not meant to be swallowed nor does it contain much abrasive because we humans have been conditioned to brush every day. Pet toothpaste comes in flavors and has lots of abrasive because we know in our hearts that you cannot brush your friends teeth every day. Once or twice a week will be plenty. If you don’t I can guarantee you that your friends will have tooth problems and experience unnecessary pain. So reserve a special treat that is only given after the twice weekly brushing. This should help. All of the other solutions to clean teeth in pets such as chew bones, chew sticks, rawhide, etc., are a long second best effort I am not saying your friend will ever appreciate dental care. But you are doing the right thing for them.


About the Author:

Dr. Bob Zepecki brings experience, compassion, and innovation to All Pet Center in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. His involvement in veterinary medicine has spanned all areas of applied practice and preventative medicine from exotic species such as lions and tigers, to domestic animals and pets.


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