Pet dental care

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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 plague and gingivitis at different rates. Left untreated, periodontal disease can affect your pet's heart and kidneys.

"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," said Dr. Matthew Lemmons, a veterinarian.

Angie's List 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.

"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," explained Lemmons.

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.

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