Believe it or not, taking care of your pet’s oral and dental health is just as important for their overall well-being as regular check-ups and taking them to the vet when they become suddenly ill. It’s another type of preventative care which, when done properly, can significantly improve their longevity as well as their quality of life. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pet owners out there who simply don’t know how important the dental health of their animals is. But that’s why we’ve gone and written this article – to help educate compassionate pet owners like you about why taking care of your cat or dog’s teeth and gums can make a significant difference in their furry little lives.
There are some things you can do on your own at little cost to you in order to keep your pets’ mouths healthy. There are also forms of treatment which will require the help of a veterinary specialist. All of this depends on the age of your animal, how well you or the animal’s previous owners were taking care of their oral hygiene, and what you can afford to spend. Below, we will talk about common symptoms of dental problems in animals, what you can do about it, how much you can expect to pay for it, and how to get help with your pet’s oral hygiene needs from your pet insurance provider.
Symptoms of Dental Problems
Meeting your pet’s oral hygiene needs isn’t something that a dedicated animal owner should shrug off lightly. Even doing something as simple as brushing and cleaning your pet’s teeth regularly can greatly improve their quality of life and extend their lifespan. But neglecting it or thinking it’s no big deal can lead to some very serious consequences. Animals who do not get regular cleanings and brushings could suffer any of the following:
- Cavities – yes, any animal with teeth can suffer the pain and agony of developing a cavity, even cats and dogs. Cavities happen when a buildup of bacteria starts eating away at the hard enamel of your tooth, eventually exposing the tender and sensitive root and causing a great deal of pain. If the cavity becomes severe, the tooth may need to be removed, especially if the root gets infected by that bacteria.
- Mouth ulcers – have you ever had a canker sore? Well, animals get them too. When they show up in an animal’s mouth, it can be for any number of reasons, not the least of which include conditions like lupus, diabetes, hypothyroidism, diseases of the immune system, or accidentally scraping the delicate soft tissue inside their mouth with their own teeth.
- Periodontal gum disease – when it comes to oral hygiene, periodontitis is as frequently overlooked as it is devastating for human and animal health. For pets who don’t receive regular cleanings and brushings, tartar buildup along the gum line creates an environment where the same destructive bacteria that causes cavities can fester and breed. Once the tartar and bacterial presence reaches a critical mass, the animal’s gums will start receding from the teeth and infect the roots. This can lead to cavities, abscesses, pain, and tooth loss.
It can be hard to spot oral health problems in animals because they can’t talk to us the way we can talk with our dentist. Cats especially are very good at hiding their pain from their human owners. But whether you’re talking about cats or dogs, there are some telltale signs that your animal’s oral hygiene needs to be addressed. Those include:
- Decreased appetite
- Increase or excessive salivation
- Noticeably bad breath
- Preference for softer foods
- Inflammation around the gum line or bleeding gums
- Visible plaque buildup
- Fractured, broken, or missing teeth
- An uncharacteristic lack of energy
Preventative Dental Care for Your Pets
We touched on this earlier, but taking care of your pet’s oral health is a two-pronged process. First, you have to start with preventative measures you do at home on a regular basis to keep your cat or dog’s teeth clean and healthy. You will also, from time to time, need to take your cat or dog to the vet for oral exams and more intense cleaning. Let’s start by discussing what you can do at home to keep your animals oral health in tip-top shape:
Brush Your Pet’s Teeth On a Regular Basis
For cats, you can use a tiny, cat-sized toothbrush that you buy at your local pet supply store or a finger cot that you place on the tip of your finger. For dogs, make sure that their doggie toothbrush has rounded bristles (you could accidentally cause gum irritation otherwise). There are also special types of toothpaste specifically formulated for dogs and cats which come in appetizing flavors to help them enjoy the process. Most importantly, be patient with your animal. Slowly and gently incorporate regular brushings into your routine. All it takes is about 60 seconds of stimulation along the gum line with a proper pet toothbrush and toothpaste in order to keep gum disease and cavities at bay.
Spoil Them With Anti-Tartar Chew Toys and Treats
There are plenty of treats and toys out there which can both stimulate your animal while fighting against plaque buildup – it’s a win-win for you and the health of your pets. Greenies are by far the most popular, but not your only option. You may even want to ask your veterinarian what they would recommend.
Buy Your Pet Special Food to Maintain Oral Health
This is especially important for pet owners whose fur babies have a history of oral health problems. Soft foods are definitely the better way to go, especially for cats because it serves a dual purpose: it increases their daily hydration levels to prevent kidney disease, and it’s less painful for them to eat if they are suffering any pain or irritation. Ask your veterinarian if they recommend any specific brands of cat or dog food which can help your animal prevent or deal with oral hygiene problems.
Be Sure To Get Regular Oral Hygiene Care From Your Veterinarian
Even with regular preventative care at home, your precious pet will need more serious interventions as they get older. For those, you will have to take your cat or dog to the vet and get more extensive work done, such as:
- A preliminary exam to make sure that your animal is healthy enough to be put under anesthesia for a veterinary dental cleaning
- An anesthetized teeth cleaning using special tools which will break up and scrape away tartar from your animal’s teeth
- A special tooth polishing treatment which will smooth out and remove tartar from the surface of your pet’s teeth
- A fluoride treatment to reinforce the enamel of your pet’s teeth and help reduce post-treatment pain
- A post-cleaning follow-up exam in the event that any unexpected abnormalities are detected
Of course, taking your dog or cat to the vet to get their teeth taken care of in this manner will likely cost a pretty penny. That’s why many pet owners look to pet insurance in order to help them cover these costs. Unfortunately, lots of pet insurance plans out there either won’t cover these services, or will insist that you purchase a more expensive plan to get these costs subsidized.
Cost of Dental Treatment for Cats and Dogs
Paying for dental treatment for your cat or dog can get pretty expensive – even if you have pet insurance to help you out. In recent years, the statistical average cost for periodontal veterinary care was $1,942. This includes all of the services mentioned in the previous section, alongside things like X-rays, IV fluids, and blood tests. But if it’s something more specific like a single tooth extraction, that price tag could range anywhere between $500 – $900 per tooth, which is why it’s so important to invest some time and a little bit of money in preventative care.
Dental Procedures Covered by Pet Insurance
As far as dental coverage for pet insurance goes, most insurers divide this coverage into two categories: dental accidents, and dental illness. Dental accidents include any sudden, acute accident or illness which comes out of the blue and damages your pet’s mouth so severely that they need dental work done right away. Dental illness coverage, on the other hand, covers things that result from dental disease which gradually develops over time. Neither one of these will pay for so-called cosmetic procedures, such as:
- Crown amputation
Common procedures covered by dental accident plans include the following:
- Root canals
- Tooth removal
- Dental malocclusion
- Dentigerous cysts
Common procedures covered by dental illness plans may include reimbursement for a set dollar amount (usually around $150) to pay for the following:
- Gum disease
- An annual teeth cleaning from your vet
- Supplementary services (such as X-rays) as a part of the teeth cleaning process
It should also be noted that when you sign up for a dental plan with a pet health insurance company, your animal must have no evidence of gum disease or proof of regular cleanings within the past 3 years in order to be eligible for coverage. Pet insurance won’t cover dental benefits if there is evidence that your animal has a pre-existing condition.