Angie's List | Dental Care for Pets

If your pet's breath could knock you out of your shoes, it's probably time for the veterinarian to take a look inside his mouth. Too many pet lovers forget that animals require great oral care, too.

Every pet builds up plaque and gingivitis at different rates. Left untreated, periodontal disease can affect your pet's heart and kidneys.

Having your pet's teeth professionally cleaned can be expensive – it can be anywhere from $200 to $800 depending on the extensive nature of the work that needs to be done.

Sandi Lehr has a 9 year old maltese names Harvey. Earlier this year she took Harvey to the vet for his annual pet cleaning.

Sandi says, "To me, he's part of the family, so…. you know, I think if you're going to be a responsible pet owner that you should take them to the vet and if the vet says that there's a lot of tartar there that they should have them cleaned." She continues saying, "If he needs it and since he's a senior dog, he really needs to have his teeth cleaned every year because there will be a little tartar on his teeth."

The best way to keep the cost down for a professional teeth cleaning is an ounce of prevention. Regularly brushing your pet's teeth yourself can help avoid the buildup and any additional problems that may lead you to have the professional cleaning done.

When Sandi was asked about brushing her pet's teeth she said, "I've been told to do it (laughs) but I don't do it all the time.  He's not too pleased with it, so I just watch as much as I can and see that.  And he also has a dental supplement with his food."

Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews, asked highly rated veterinarians about the importance of dental care.

· Teeth check during annual visit: Your vet should check your pet's teeth during the annual checkup. Between visits, check regularly for redness, missing or broken teeth or exceedingly bad breath.

· Dental cleaning may be needed: A dental cleaning is a medical procedure where the vet will remove tartar and teeth will be evaluated. Once under general anesthesia, the pet's teeth will be x-rayed and cleaned and polished.

· What does a cleaning cost? Pet dental cleanings range from $200 to $800. It can cost more if your pet's dental disease is extensive. Pets must be asleep during this procedure, so check that your cleaning estimate covers the price of anesthesia. Money saving tip: Bundle teeth cleanings with other procedures that require anesthesia.

· Who is at risk? Certain breeds of dogs and cats develop more extensive dental problems than others, making dental care even more important, so check with your vet.

· Look for warning signs: Bad breath is often an indicator. Also look for excessive tartar, redness of the gums, teeth that appear damaged, broken or chipped. Other signs you may notice: your pet doesn't play with their toys anymore or they may drop food or only chew with one side of their mouth.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Matthew Lemmons tells us, "If your dog or cat has bad breath that may be a sign of infection. Other things are redness of the gums, teeth that appear damaged, broken or chipped, also excessive tartar accumulation. Tartar should not be on the pet's teeth."

"If pets develop painful dental conditions or inflammatory conditions like periodontal disease it can affect their internal organ function. It definitely affects their kidneys and potentially their heart and liver as well," Dr. Lemmons warns.

Smaller breed dogs do need their teeth cleaned a lot more frequently sometimes as often as every four to six months. Cats are usually between a year or two years and larger breed dogs every two to three years, depending on how healthy their mouth is to begin with. The owners can do a lot more to extend that by brushing their pet's teeth and giving them treats that help keep their teeth clean.

"Once we get them under general anesthesia we recommend dental x-rays of the whole mouth to make sure there are no problems that the pet is not telling us about because obviously they can't communicate that with us. Once that is taken care of their teeth are ultrasonically scaled. Hand scaling is usually done in a human dental office. With our pets, because they have more teeth and usually more tartar accumulation, we use an ultrasonic scaler which is a mechanical scaler. Once the teeth are scaled the teeth are polished and they get a full oral examination. At that point if anything needs surgical treatment or more advanced intervention it's performed then," Dr. Lemmons explains.

Angie's List Tips: How to save money on dental care

· Dental cleanings are expensive: It always pays to shop around. Hiring tip: Do your research and call at least three veterinarians and ask what they charge for this procedure and what is included.

· Consider your options: Some pet owners have found it helpful to open a pet savings account to prepare for these costs, or you can ask your veterinarian if they offer a payment plan. If you are considering pet insurance, be sure to ask about deductibles, exclusions, co-pays and caps.

· Remember that old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Brushing your pet's teeth can lessen the number of times you need a professional cleaning and you'll be able to detect problems at the outset when it's easier and cheaper to treat. If it's difficult to brush your pet's teeth, ask your vet any alternatives to help keep your pet's teeth clean.

Angie Hicks points out, "Pet insurance can help with the cost but be sure you read the fine print to know exactly what you are paying for and what your insurance coverage is. Other consumers have commented that they have used pet savings plans, health savings plans for their pets. Additionally, your provider may also offer payment terms."

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