Oral Disease in Cats and Dogs

First Published: December 1991; Control and Therapy Series No. 3128; Mailing No. 163
Post Graduate Committee in Veterinary Science of the University of Sydney
PO Box A 561, Sydney South NSW 2000 , Australia; Tel: 02 9264 2122

The stench of stale blood, dung and pus emanating from the mouths of so many of my patients has finally provoked this eruption of dissent.

The sheer numbers passing through the practice, when extrapolated to the world situation, tells me that oral disease is the source of the greatest intractable pain and discomfort experienced by our companion animals.

This is a great and mindless cruelty we visit upon our animals from the whelping box to the grave. Just imagine having a mouth ulcer or toothache for a lifetime.

The internal factors are these:

Puppies and kittens cut their deciduous teeth between 2 and 6 weeks of age. An inevitable consequence of this is gingivitis. A diet of processed food ensures lack of gum massage and the gingivitis persists. The growing animal develops grooming behaviour and adds hair and faecal materials to the accumulated food scraps clogging the interdental spaces.

Between four and six months of age the permanent teeth erupt into a soup of blood, pus and saliva. The gingivitis is now well established and not infrequently one finds a young kitten or puppy with a complete set of deciduous teeth hanging from inflamed gingival shreds.

Even on a diet of processed food the deciduous teeth must eventually fall out. The permanent teeth come to occupy a diseased mouth and by this time the animal has learned not to chew on anything because of the pain involved.

The exquisite mechanism of teeth and gums, designed by nature to be cleaned, massage and stressed daily, is left to rot. Compare mining machinery properly maintained which can excavate a mountain but by disuse can be rendered useless.

A lifetime of inescapable pain is bad enough. The sequelae of endocarditis, iliac thrombosis, nephritis and all those other entities attributable to a permanent septic focus finally condemn this situation as being intolerable.

The external factors are these:

Foremost are the pet foods which are promoted as "complete diets only water needed". Along with petroleum and coffee, pet food is one of the biggest industries world wide.

Reacting to the now universal dental needs of our animals the dental instrument, the dental machine and even the imitation bone industries have flourished.

I believe many veterinary practitioners have reacted passively, perhaps providing some dental care as an after thought and virtually no advice. Since cats and dogs don't complain, owners don't realize and don't seek advice. Many vets just don't seem to be pro-active in this vital area.

As vets we need to provide more than palliative care. Brushing teeth and regular prophys are not enough when advice on diet and food to massage the gums is so vitally important.

What's to be done?

a. The internal system

Help them to control their two bouts of physiological gingivitis before it becomes pathological. Older larger dogs need raw bones and cats need raw meat on the bone.

b. The external system

The external commerce driven system did not exist before the 50's and now it seems such an inescapable part of life. It may take a while to alter course.

The profession can do much to re-educate itself and in turn the public. A few practice surveys and university based research projects would set the tone.

The pet food manufacturers will need advice on the problems caused by processed food. One pet food company gives bi-annual "prophys" to its research animals. (personal communication)

However, they may be persuaded to voluntarily print cautionary advice on their packaging.

What benefits can we expect?

Innumerable. Pets will be fed on cheap unprocessed bi-products some of the time. The environment will benefit, clients will be an average $1000 per animal/per lifetime better off. Certainly the pets can be expected to live longer as they enjoy their lives seeking to "steal bones out of the freezer".

As vets we will be happy to see more pain free, healthier pets and grateful owners.