Dental disease is one of the most common problems experienced by dogs and cats, in large part because they can't take care of their teeth. Add to that the fact that many pet owners are not as aware as they should be of the proper care and treatment that are required and recommended to keep their pets' teeth and gums in good health. For these reasons, a little refresher discussion about pet dental health is always a good idea...even for our faithful readers. For all of our new followers we have acquired in the last year, this will be your first opportunity to take advantage of this valuable series on Pet Dental Health. As always, if you have any questions about any of the material presented, please either send an e-mail to Helpful Buckeye at: firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment at the end of each blog issue by clicking on the "Comment" icon and following the simple instructions. Even though we'll be on the road, Helpful Buckeye will still be able to read your e-mails.
In this week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, the topics will include some natural history of carnivores and their teeth and some general anatomy of the mouths of dogs and cats. Next week, we will consider problems involving the teeth, treatment of those problems, and preventive measures that pet owners should be employing.
Carnivores are animals which depend, to varying extent, on eating the flesh (meat) of other animals. Some carnivores are predators, requiring fresh meat, while others are scavengers, eating already dead animals.
Regardless of their food orientation, all carnivores have certain types of teeth which are very characteristic of their particular environmental niche. Carnivores have large canine teeth (fangs), 2 upper and 2 lower. They also have several incisors for grasping and pulling the meat from the carcass. Lastly, they have premolars and molars, which are sharp-edged rather than flat. These edges help in the shredding and tearing apart of larger pieces of food so that the smaller pieces can then be more easily swallowed. Most of the digestion of a carnivore's food takes place in the stomach and small intestine, so there is no need for flatter-surfaced molars as found in the chewing animals like omnivores and herbivores. Also, because carnivores don't do any chewing of their food, their jaws only move up and own, but not sideways.
Part of the reason your dog and/or cat usually picks up and swallows their food very quickly is that their ancestors ran in packs and they needed to get their meal and then move on to their resting spot. When they finally stopped to rest, their digestion could proceed. They frequently would overeat because they never knew when their next prey would show up. For this reason, some of your pets will sometimes appear ravenous even though you feed them regularly.
Perhaps a few pictures and diagrams will help you have a better understanding of the mouth of your dog or cat. The tooth arrangement of the maxilla (upper jaw) of the dog:
Puppies begin to show their puppy (deciduous) teeth at 3-8 weeks of age and their permanent teeth at 3-6 months of age. Most puppies will have 28 teeth (14 upper, 14 lower), while mature dogs will have 42 teeth (20 upper, 22 lower).
Now, for the cat's tooth arrangement, the different views are all on one drawing:
Dental care for animals has made huge strides over the last 25-30 years. Your regular veterinarian can take care of many of the more common dental needs and preventive care that your pets might require. However, if those dental problems are more complicated, there are many dental specialists in the USA, including those board-certified by the American Veterinary Dental College. There are even veterinary dentists who do their work primarily on the more exotic species of animals (a jaguar at the Phoenix Zoo), as shown in this article from Arizona Wildlife Views: The picture we showed you last week of the German Shepherd exhibiting his teeth brought a lot of comments. Here is the picture again, followed by the comments:
Somebody has a BAD case of DOGBREATH!!!
Tell that one about the cat again HAHAHAHAHAHA!
That was dog-gone funny!
Look, no cavities.
Somebody call the Dog Whisperer!
Fangs for the memories....
Kid, that was too funny!
“This kid’s a riot!!!”
Basically, what Helpful Buckeye would like all of you to do this week is to take a closer look at your dog's or cat's teeth. Be careful and gentle when you do so, but look at the arrangement and structure of the teeth. Then, you'll be better prepared for our discussion next week. So, let's get started on your homework!