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Keeping those canines clean

Name: barbara collins from bray, co wicklow Animals: scout, her 10-year-old labrador Problem: scout suffered from halitosis

Animals: scout, her 10-year-old labrador

Problem: scout suffered from halitosis

Barbara noticed that there was something wrong when Scout was sitting beside her, breathing into her face. The foul smell of doggy halitosis sent her a clear message: it was time to get Scout's teeth checked by the vet.

When I examined his mouth, I could see that he was suffering from the classical dental problem that commonly affects both dogs and humans: periodontal disease.

We humans are taught about dental care from a young age: we know that we need to brush our teeth regularly, and most of us aim to visit the dentist at least once a year to have our teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist. The situation for pets is very similar, but for some reason, most pet owners don't seem willing to accept this. Very few pets have their teeth brushed regularly, and dental check ups are rare if there isn't an obvious problem.

The month of September has been dubbed "Pet Denta Month", with vets and nurses encouraging owners to pay more attention to the goings-on inside their pets' mouths.

Good dental health is important in itself: nobody likes to think about their pet having an uncomfortable mouth. But recent research has demonstrated that dental care has a much wider importance. A report in the newspapers this week had a worrying headline: "Not brushing your teeth can kill you". Researchers from Bristol University have established that a common bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease in humans can break out into the bloodstream and help blood clots to form, leading to the risk of a heart attack.

This story is enough to make any human rush to the bathroom sink to give their teeth another quick scrub!

If the link between poor dental hygiene and bad health in humans is worrying, how much worse is it for animals? Animals often suffer from advanced dental disease that's far more extreme than would ever be seen in humans. And researchers in the veterinary world have also made the link between dental problems and poor general health. If an animal's teeth are not looked after properly, bacterial infections become established in the mouth. It's been proven that when the animal is chewing, this infection is transferred from the mouth in the bloodstream.

Bacteria can then settle into important organs such as the heart and kidneys, causing serious disease that can ultimately be life-threatening.

It's very easy to prevent dental problems in pets, and a visit to the vet for a check is the first stage.


Once I'd established that Scout had periodontal disease, he was booked in for a dental clean-up at my clinic. He had a general anaesthetic and the accumulation of tartar and infection on his teeth and gums was carefully removed. By the end of the procedure, his teeth were clean, polished and healthy.

Barbara has been instructed on after-care, which involves brushing Scout's teeth every weekday, and giving him a daily dental chew stick. The routine will take less than a couple of minutes, but should keep his teeth healthy, avoiding visits to the vet for major clean-ups.

Scout may still not have "sweet" breath (he is a dog, after all), but it's certainly far better now. Barbara can continue to smile if he happens to breathe in her direction when he's sitting beside her.

Visit Pete's website at www.petethevet.com