Why does my pet’s mouth smell like this?
As a general practice veterinarian, I get asked this question almost every day. It has been my experience that dental and oral diseases are way under-diagnosed and too often overlooked by veterinary professionals – possibly because dental hygiene can be a sensitive topic that we don’t want to open. Veterinarians are sometimes timid when it comes to discussing dental hygiene because they have to relay the importance of a pet’s dental health to their human parents who may not believe in it for even themselves.
Sometimes pet parents believe that dental cleaning is an unnecessary expense. But as patient advocates, we cannot ignore the importance of dental health. Pet parents need to understand that a professional dental cleaning, scaling and polishing is performed under general anesthesia. Dental radiographs are also an important component to dental examinations.
But let’s cut to the chase. That smell that is coming out of your dog’s or cat’s mouth could actually be a systemic disease such as kidney failure, diabetes mellitus (DM) and/or something other than dental disease.
These conditions should not be confused with halitosis, which is an offensive odor emitting from the oral cavity, most commonly caused by periodontal disease – a disease that is around the outside of the tooth.
What causes periodontal disease?
Right after we eat, food debris gets stuck to the teeth surfaces. This is a nice invitation for bacteria to get involved and grow, causing that soft material on the teeth surfaces called plaque. As plaque ages and bacteria grows more, it becomes mineralized which is called tarter. Bacteria changes to more irritating strains which can cause gingivitis and bone loss of the jaws. Bacteria produces a chemical byproduct called hydrogen sulfide, this is where the halitosis smell comes from.
Periodontal disease is the most common infectious disease and is found in approximately 80% of adult dogs and 70% of cats. Pet parents often ask if periodontal disease can affect their pet’s organs. I think by now you know the answer to that question: Yes! The bacteria in the oral cavity of a pet with periodontal disease can be released into the blood stream and lodge in many organs, including the kidney, liver, heart and/or the brain causing damage and infection to those organs.
Pet parents need to understand that dental hygiene in pets is not for cosmetic reasons. Complications from ignoring your pet’s dental hygiene can easily cause sepsis and accordingly death.
If left untreated, periodontal disease can result in chronic ulcerative paradental stomatitis (CUPS), which is an extremely painful condition of the mouth primarily seen in dogs. Typically in this disease, the gums and cheeks are extremely swollen and fiery red. Dogs are often drooling and not able to eat due to the extreme pain.
Cats may get something called idiopathic stomatitis. This can be similar to what dogs get but the reason of the inflammation remains unknown – hence the name is idiopathic, which means unknown. Stomatitis is more common and more chronic in cats and can be severely debilitating. Cats can also get aggressive if you try to touch their mouths, due to the severe pain and inflammation.
How is dental disease diagnosed?
Spending time looking inside your cat’s or dog’s mouth is the only way your veterinarian can diagnose dental disease. After thoroughly examining the mouth, your veterinarian should have a plan of action. This plan of action could be not to do anything; it could also be prescribing a dental hygiene kit and or dental chews to be used at home; it could also be scheduling your pet for dental cleaning under general anesthesia; and it might also require extractions if necessary.
Your veterinarian may also request a dental radiograph be performed. This is the only way that would allow us to visualize clearly what is under the gum line.
Dental radiographs help in finding bone loss in the jaw, tooth root abscess, fractured tooth root, missing teeth, fractured teeth under the gum line, periodontal disease and many more conditions that could not have been diagnosed or found.
How to treat dental diseases?
Almost always under anesthesia, your vet will perform scaling and polishing to your pet’s teeth and extractions if necessary, depending on the criteria of your pets teeth and according to the above mentioned dental radiography and physical exam.
Blood work should be performed for any pet going under anesthesia to test the health of your pet’s organs and accordingly the anesthesia plan might differ to fit the need. In addition, post-operative pain medications and/or antibiotics may be dispensed by your vet and depending on the need.
When it comes to patients and treatment plans it is not a one-size-fits-all.
What can you do to help prevent dental disease at home? Providing your pet with dry food is better than canned food for two reasons:
• When your pet is eating dry food, he “mechanically” cleans his teeth during the chewing process.
• Dry food doesn’t stick on the teeth surfaces.
Other things pet parents can do at home is to give their pets dental chews and brush their teeth. Make sure that when you do provide your pet with dental chews and treats that they are recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Brushing is recommended daily with an enzymatic toothpaste that can dissolve plaque.
Finally, when it comes to pets, dental hygiene should never be considered a luxury or for cosmetic reasons. It requires pet parents to be vigilant and responsible. By scheduling your pet for regular exams and dental cleanings, your veterinarian can help to detect dental disease early and may even save your pet from complications associated with dental disease.