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Dental hygiene upkeep important for pets

Research shows 85 percent of pets plagued with plaque problems

(iStock/suemack)

While most people who have a pet treat the animal as a member of the family, most owners fail to take care of their pets' teeth and gums.

Veterinarians say as many as 85 percent of pets they see are plagued with plaque problems.

If there's a problem in your dog or cat's mouth, it could be a sign of something worse.

"Disease can go to the kidneys and the heart and the brain and really cause a lot of damage," according to Dr. Jan Bellows of the American Veterinary Dental College.

But Bellows admits it's not always easy to get a pet to open wide enough and long enough for his or her owner to actually brush.

"It's kind of a problem where she has such a small mouth," said Lori Macaione, a dog owner.  "It's tough to get a brush in there."

Your veterinarian can help with a dental cleaning, but that can be pricey.

From wipes to water drops to special chew toys, there are all kinds of products on the market to help clean your pet's teeth.

Macaione says she tries to keep her dog's teeth clean. 

"I do try and wipe her mouth with some pads I have," she said.

But buyers beware. Dr. Bellows say many times a product will say it will do something but there's no research that shows the product actually will.

The American Veterinary Dental College has studied many of these products and researchers there say they count many of the product claims have not been adequately tested.

Dr. Bellows goes so far as to say some product claims can even be harmful to an animal.

He's performed many root canals on dog teeth broken by bones.

"Unfortunately, the products may actually injure the dental because they're too hard to chew on," Bellows said.

The American Veterinary Dental College now advises all pet owners to look on the back of the container and look for a veterinary oral health council seal. If you see one it's a product considered safe and effective.

And if owners are not sure whether their pet needs oral care, Dr. Bellows tells people to smell their breath.

"If your pet's breath doesn't smell like roses, there's a problem."

It is much easier to get a pet used to the dental regimen as a puppy or kitten, so start them young.