What is one of the most common complaints that both cat and dog owners make about their pet? Stinky breath! And, what is the best way to manage stinky breath? Good oral health care involving both home care and professional veterinary dental care.

Think about your own dental care; optimally, you have your teeth cleaned every six months. Cleaning is perhaps even more important for your cat or dog for two reasons: 1. they infrequently get their teeth deeply cleaned and 2. our pets are aging physiologically faster than their chronologic age, e.g. a 4 year old Labrador retriever is physiologically similar to a 30-35 year old human. How would you look if the first time your teeth were cleaned was at age 30?

Oral health care, including both home dental care and professional veterinary dental cleanings, is an essential part of maintaining your pet’s good health. In fact, based on recent large veterinary studies, it could be the key that adds two to five years to the length of your pet’s life.

What causes stinky breath? The primary components are the daily food eaten and bacterial waste that form the biofilm plaque on teeth that then becomes the hardened brown tartar you can see along with the development of inflammation along the gums called gingivitis. Halitosis, the fancy term for bad breath, is the smell-able result. Left unchecked, this continuous cycle will progress into periodontal disease that leads to the pain, infection, loss of teeth and impacts the rest of the body systems, particularly the kidneys, liver and heart.

By age two or three, almost 80% of our dogs and cats will have developed a significant degree of gingivitis. Gingivitis opens the door to further insults damage to the supporting periodontal structures and can allow bacteria access to the roots, where an abscess can develop. Alternately and additionally, dogs who chew bones and rawhides can end up fracturing the tips or more of their teeth, opening the pulp cavity to bacteria, leading to painful infection.

So, what do you do next? Best would be to high-tail to your vet and have them give you an assessment of the degree of disease present. We are also your resource for learning about home care options and products for your pet. Then, schedule your furry friend for a professional veterinary dental cleaning, if appropriate, so that your dog or cat can get back to a healthy mouth. You’ll soon be able to snuggle up to a fresh breathed pet rather than the stinkosaurus currently sitting at your feet or lurking on the counter.

Next month, we’ll describe more about a professional veterinary dental cleaning, why it is done under anesthesia, and talk about home care options. If you want a bit of head start, visit www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-care-dental-health.aspx for 10 steps to dog dental care.