breath - it's a dreaded condition most pet owners shrink away from for more reasons than one, and it's a condition that can have life threatening consequences if ignored.
   According to Prineville Veterinary's Paige Gastaveson pet dental health is an important component for pet owners to consider, right along with yearly vaccinations and checkups.
   "Most people don't know anything about dental health in their animals, so their pets tend to have really bad tartar calculus," she said. "Pet owners will first notice bad breath which can indicate tooth decay and abscesses." When an animal continuously swallows bacteria from infected teeth it can lead to damage of internal organs including the heart, liver, kidney and lungs. "So," she continued, "if it's ignored, gingivitis can lead to bad times down the road."
   In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, pet clinics in most communities are trying to get the word out to owners about the need for proper dental care in cats and dogs.
   According to Gastaveson there are many ways to keep a potential problem in check. If dental decay is suspected, then perhaps a visit to the vet for a teeth cleaning is in order.
   For most animals, tooth decay usually starts when plaque and tartar are allowed to build up, and most will recognize that ugly yellowish coating on the teeth. One popular way most people will deal with the problem at this point is with the use of doggie biscuits, but Gustaveson says this isn't necessarily the best thing to do.
   "Biscuits will work if your dog doesn't already have plaque on his teeth," she explained. "If there is plaque on the teeth then by chewing a hard biscuit, that plaque is being driven up into the gums where it can actually cause a bigger problem."
   "Depending on the animal, usually small dogs have more problems than big dogs. If people feed soft food instead of dry food then they might need to get a check up sooner," she said. "But usually by 2 or 3 years of age is when a veterinarian check and dental cleaning first needs to be done in both dogs and cats."
   Older dogs who have not had the opportunity to have their teeth taken care of are at the biggest risk for problems. "One dog that I know of which came into the clinic had 13 teeth extracted," she said. "All of the teeth were just absolutely rotten." Since having dental work done, the dog is much happier and has a better attitude which Gastaveson explained, is a common result of good oral hygiene. "Because they aren't dealing with pain, infection and general discomfort. The dog has more energy and is happier as a result," she said.
   Good oral hygiene is something that starts from the moment a puppy or kitten goes home for the first time. Most veterinarian recommend using tooth brushes made especially for animals.
   Pet toothpastes flavors are now made that appeal to pets and don't require rinsing like poultry mint and malt. The use of toothbrushes made especially for pets is recommended by most veterinarians.
   Even though it might sound like a monumental task Gustaveson says that if owners start brushing their pet's teeth while they are young, it's a fairly easy routine to get into. Veterinarians usually recommend brushing two or three times a week.
   Some tips for first timers include:
    IIntroduce a new brushing program to pets gradually. A good way to start is to dip a finger into beef broth for dogs or tuna water for cats.
   IRub the soaked finger gently over the pet's mouth and teeth. It's important for future success to make the initial sessions short and positive. Give plenty of positive reinforcement following the session, but resist soft treats.
   IOver the next few sessions introduce gauze over the finger and gently scrub the teeth in a circular motion.
   IWhen Fido or Fluffy has become accustomed to the attention to their teeth you can introduce a soft toothbrush designed specially for pets which is available through area veterinarians or specialty pet stores.
   Gustaveson says that brushing pet's teeth is something probably only about 20 percent of pet owners do, and she hopes that more will learn how important it is for overall pet health and start a hygiene program of their own.
   "It's really important," she said. "If you like your pet it's the same as teaching your child how to brush their teeth and equally as important."
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