One look at the calendar and it seems that every month of the year is dedicated to a special cause…and they’re all so worthwhile. What a great way to draw attention to important health and social issues, from child nutrition to Black history, from women’s history to domestic violence. and from bullying prevention to your pet’s teeth.Yes, your cat’s – and dog’s – teeth! The wise doctors at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have declared February as National Pet Dental Month, the perfect time to stop and consider one of your pet’s most important health issues.
Neither cats nor dogs can point to their mouths and say, “Help me! I have a toothache.” But they can tell us a lot about how they’re feeling – if we know how to observe and listen. My Bella, for example, had the worst breath, and I knew something was wrong. But she has severe asthma – on top of her blindness and skin allergies! – and I was hesitant to take her in for a dental procedure that would mean general anesthesia.
I’m so glad Howard insisted. (That’s how bad her breath was!) Despite the asthma she did fine with the anesthesia and had all but seven teeth removed. And she’s a happier cat because of it! It must have been very uncomfortable for her, because now she’s eating more. And to top it off, her breath is perfect. I don’t mind at all when she lies on my chest face-first, her sweet little nose nuzzling mine. Bella’s problem was fairly easy to spot, but sometimes dental crises are difficult to interpret. Take Walter, for instance. He suddenly began exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior patterns. He was spraying a certain wall several times a day. There were no changes in our household, so I knew he was trying to tell me something. I took him to the vet, and all of his teeth were either rotting or hanging on by their exposed roots. The vet said he must have been in excruciating pain. Once he had all of his teeth removed, he stopped spraying and is happier and more playful than ever!
Oral disease is the most commonly diagnosed health problem in cats and dogs, and most pets show signs of the disease by age 3. Animals in the wild clean their teeth by eating roots and chewing on small bones, but our pets need medical attention to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Veterinarians now have pain-free ways to detect periodontal disease in pets, although to clean teeth and gums they must use general anesthesia. It’s so important to care for your pet’s mouth because if left to fester, bacteria under the gums can cause terrible pain and damage vital organs, including the liver, kidneys, and heart. So please, be proactive and take your cat for regular wellness exams, especially if you think he or she is experiencing dental pain. Some things to look for are horrible breath, chronically rubbing one side of the face against things, pawing at the mouth, not eating well, spraying, and bad moods.If you’re really lucky, your cat will let your brush his or her teeth with pet-formulated toothpaste. For the rest of us, there are water additives and other products that can help prevent dental problems in pets. The AVMA suggests you visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council to learn about some effective products.And remember: Always rule out medical issues before deciding your cat’s behavior is psychological or permanent. After seeing Walter’s transformation I can’t imagine how many cats are surrendered at shelters when all they need is dental care! That’s just one reason I love North Shore Animal League America’s onsite medical facility with its state-of-the-art Dental Suite. Their sensitive vets are tuned in to how dental problems effect a pet’s behavior, health, and adoptability. So keep your eye – and your nose! – on kitty’s breath and teeth. Cats might not smile with relief when you help them, but I guarantee they’ll purr with gratitude.
P.S. Update: Kitten Bowl IV was another spectacular collaboration between Hallmark Channel, North Shore Animal League America, and Last Hope Animal Rescue. I’m so honored to be part of this fur-ocious competition that, this year, reached nearly four million viewers. The best part? Kitten Bowl Parties, all organized by the meow-velous team at Animal League America. Parties took place at 100 shelters across the country, including the Norman Animal Welfare Center in Norman, Oklahoma. On Valentine’s Day we had just under 50 shelters reporting more than 800 adoptions! We’ll definitely surpass last year’s total of 986. Plus the 100 adorable Hallmark cat-letes on the gridiron found responsible, loving homes, too!
AND HERE’S A HEADS-UP, SPORTS FANS: On Monday, April 3, I’ll host another major athletic event when Hallmark Channel debuts its first-ever Meow Madness basketball tournament, featuring 100 of North Shore’s adorable cat-letes going paw-to-paw for a chance to reach “The Final Fur.” More about this next month.Winter has arrived with a vengeance on the East Coast. North Shore Animal League America urges you to read – and heed – Beth’s tips for protecting your pets from cold, snow, and ice.