Tartar removal in dogs and cats – what exactly is tartar?
Tartar in dogs and cats arises due to soft bacterial plaque, which becomes established on the teeth and hardens gradually. The plaque itself is usually a mixture of food particles, saliva and bacteria or also fungi present in the mouth.
In which dog breeds does tartar occur most often?
Dental tartar can occur in any dog. In some breeds, however, the development of tartar is encouraged because of the dentition. In dogs with teeth close together (e.g., Maltese and Yorkshire terriers and Shi Tzus) and a long narrow jaw (e.g., dachshunds and poodles), food particles can get stuck more often, leading to plaque and subsequently to tartar in dogs or cats.
Symptoms of tartar in cats and dogs
You will recognise that your cat or dog has tartar from the strong oral smell and visible deposits on the tooth surfaces, the gum margin and in the narrow interdental spaces. If your pet feeds less than usual, this can indicate tartar as it can cause pain when chewing due to inflammation.
Why is tartar removal important in dogs / cats?
Having tartar removed from cats and dogs is essential for the animal’s health.
Tartar does not occur on one tooth in isolation; several teeth are often affected and sometimes the entire dentition. The tooth surface becomes rough due to the tartar. Bacteria can stick to them more easily, which leads to further health problems. If the tartar is not removed in good time, it can progress until it surrounds the entire tooth. In addition, the junction between the tooth and gum can become inflamed. This may lead to suppuration, resulting in tooth loss, and there is a foul smell in the animal’s mouth.
Because of the inflammation of the gum, this shrinks and loosens from the tooth. The resulting pocket creates a new focus for bacteria which attack the tooth root and jawbone, thereby leading to tooth loss. The inflammation can become a problem for the animal’s entire body. Do not let things go so far and get your veterinary surgeon to remove your dog’s or cat’s tartar.
Tartar removal in dogs – what does the vet do?
Your pet must first be placed under anaesthetic. We usually remove the tartar with a special ultrasonic scaler. In its handpiece there is a crystal that is made to oscillate by an electric current. The vibrations are transmitted to a rounded metal tip that is screwed on securely. This then removes the cat’s or dog’s tartar bit by bit. The cleaning mode, vibration intensity and water feed can be adjusted individually.
The tooth pockets are then cleaned and the corresponding tooth surfaces are polished. This smoothens the teeth and it is more difficult for plaque to stick to them in future. This delays the development of further tartar. Teeth often have to be extracted also.
It is normal for your pet to feel some pain in the teeth and gums just after the treatment and an individual decision is always made on whether a painkiller is needed. It is sometimes also necessary to give antibiotics to avoid inflammation resulting from the treatment. Your pet will feel much better after the treatment and will be able to feed again without problems.
As part of tartar removal, we are happy to educate pet owners about correct oral hygiene in animals.
Tartar removal in dogs and cats – what is the right anaesthetic?
Proper tartar removal in dogs and cats is only possible under general anaesthetic. If your pet is fully conscious, this can mean too great a safety risk for both the animal and the vet treating him or her. The vet cannot work properly, and the animal could be injured because of sudden defensive movements. Moreover, the noise of the machine is unsettling for the animals.
Anaesthesia always involves a certain risk in animals. Before the tartar is removed, we must examine your pet thoroughly to assess whether the animal will tolerate the anaesthetic. This includes, for example, a blood test and measurement of your pet’s vital signs. As soon as your pet is under anaesthetic, a tube is inserted into its windpipe to hold it open.
During the treatment, the anaesthetic is monitored continuously and adjusted if necessary. If something is not right, the vet will intervene immediately. Please note that there is still a risk for an anaesthetic accident or subsequent problems after the anaesthetic.
How long does tartar removal take?
It can take between 45 minutes and 3 hours. It depends on the extent of the tartar and on whether any teeth have to be extracted.
What does tartar removal in dogs and cats cost?
The costs arising for tartar removal in dogs and cats can differ from one animal to another.
Unlike in humans, where tartar is removed using ultrasound without anaesthetic, anaesthesia is necessary in animals. The reasons for this are the shrill noise of the ultrasonic machine, which will be familiar to you, and that the animal will not keep still. Before tartar can be removed from your pet, it is examined thoroughly to ensure that it is fit for anaesthesia. The vet will decide jointly with you whether your pet needs a blood test to reduce the anaesthetic risk further. Inhalation anaesthesia is the safest type. During the anaesthesia the patient’s circulation is stabilised by an intravenous infusion to ensure the blood supply to all organs. Various monitoring machines are used in addition, for which a veterinary assistant and veterinary surgeon are responsible.
Not only is the tartar removed but all teeth are also checked and dental pockets are treated. To delay further tartar development, all teeth are finally polished and fluoridated.
It is sometimes necessary to extract one or more teeth. Since some teeth have three roots rather than just one, tooth extraction can take considerable time. Suturing the wound is sometimes required as well. It is often necessary to give a painkiller or antibiotic after such treatment. Your pet will be given a suitable injection and may also be given tablets or a liquid for a few days.
How to prevent tartar in dogs and cats
Regular dental care
You can clean your dog’s teeth by giving your pet a dog chew regularly after meals, for example. This ensures that plaque is rubbed off, so the teeth are cleaned.
Let your pet drink lots of water so that food particles come away and can be swallowed.
Tooth brushing is most effective, however. Many pet shops sell special toothbrushes that you can use to clean dogs’ and cats’ teeth. Children’s toothbrushes can also be used. It is important to use a special toothpaste for animals. Since dogs and cats swallow the toothpaste, this does not contain any fluoride. They would not like the taste of normal toothpaste either. This is why there are special animal toothpastes, e.g., with chicken flavour.
However, animals must be accustomed to this slowly and it is possible that they will not allow this kind of dental care.
In addition to brushing the teeth, it helps if you give dry rather than wet pet food as this sticks less to the teeth, since chewing removes plaque by mechanical friction and the longer chewing time and increased saliva flow associated with this encourage tooth cleaning. High-quality pet foods now even contain substances that markedly delay tartar formation. It is also important for the saliva to have time to clean the teeth. This is why feeding no more than 2 - 3 times a day is important, and with no treats in between as far as possible. Using chews of all kinds will help equally provided the animal actually chews these for a longish time. Be careful with chews for animals with pancreatic and kidney disease.
Games and playing
Playing is also good as the dog cleans its teeth when it pants. Tug toys help by mechanically cleaning the teeth, but don‘t forget to clean these regularly.
Examine the teeth regularly for discolouration
Examine your pet’s mouth thoroughly for discolouration. This is often concealed and thus not visible at the first glance.
Can I remove my dog’s tartar myself?
Special equipment and expertise are necessary to remove tartar in dogs. Since this is caused by hardening, it cannot be simply brushed off. Please do not try to remove tartar in dogs and cats with other tools as the risk of injury for you and your pet is enormous.
Tartar removal in dogs and cats – Conclusion
Tartar in dogs and cats develops because of food particles remaining between the teeth, which harden over time, or because your pet has a predisposition to it. Since it can lead to inflammation and pain, you must have tartar removed from dogs, cats and also other small animals such as ferrets. Rodents and rabbits do not get tartar. To prevent the development of further tartar, you should brush your pet’s teeth daily. If it is not possible for you to brush the teeth or check them regularly, bring your pet to a vet at regular intervals. If you have further questions regarding your pet’s teeth, for instance in connection with FORL, a disease of cats, the dogs’ & cats’ dentist will be happy to help you.