Cats and Dogs
Gum disease is common in dogs and cats, probably because of the relative softness of modern pet foods compared to a natural diet. Accumulation of hard scale at the base of teeth leads to gum inflammation and recession and can allow infection to penetrate to the tooth roots themselves, causing pain, the loss of teeth and sometimes the spread of infection in the blood to vital organs.
Once scale (also called tartar or calculus) has built up on teeth it can only be removed using dental instruments or an ultrasonic scaling machine. Human dentists often need to use a similar machine. While people will (generally!) sit still for this, animals will not and must be anaesthetised. Once the teeth are clean they are polished to discourage the build up of more calculus. In severe cases dental extractions may be necessary.
Regular toothbrushing is the best way to prevent scale accumulation in dogs of all ages. Brushing won’t shift existing scale, but will stop it building up in puppies or in older dogs with clean teeth, especially after a dental at the vets. Adult dogs can be trained to accept brushing, while puppies and kittens get used to it very easily if you start young.
If your pet can’t be persuaded to allow brushing other preventative measures are available, including enzymatic gels, special foods and certain rope chews for dogs.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas
Dental disease is unfortunately all too common in the rabbit population. Certain breeds such as Lops are particularly prone to this problem. Dental disease in rabbits is most commonly due to ‘malalignment’, when the upper and lower teeth don’t quite meet perfectly. Rabbit teeth grow continuously to allow for natural wear as the rabbit grinds up it’s fibrous diet. If the teeth don’t match up they do not wear down evenly. This can result in very long incisors which will make eating difficult or impossible. These paired teeth are easily inspected at the front of the mouth.
Another consequence of malalignment which can be harder to spot can affect the grinding molars at the back of the mouth. Uneven wear of this chinchilla’s molars has resulted in a sharp spur (upper right) which has caused cheek ulceration. Similar spurs can occur on the inside of the lower molars causing tongue ulcers, pain and difficulty eating. Very similar problems are seen in rabbits. These teeth are difficult to see and some animals require general anaesthesia for full examination.
Signs of dental disease include:
- Obviously overgrown incisors
- A hungry animal unable to eat
- This will progress to weight loss
- Saliva dribbles down chin and onto chest
- Food may drop from side of mouth during eating
- General signs of pain – hiding, tooth grinding, character changes
- Incisors can normally be burred short without sedation in all but the most nervous rabbits. Attention to molar spurs normally requires general anaesthesia. In severe case incisor extraction may be an option but does carry certain risks.
- Chinchillas can be prone to similar conditions.
- Rats, hamsters, gerbils, mice and guinea pigs can all suffer from overgrown incisors, this is a common cause of failure to eat.