Many pet caretakers are not aware that care of a pet’s teeth and gums is paramount to the animal’s health and a normal lifespan. Teeth thick with plaque cause gum disease resulting in infections that can become chronic, or even systemically deadly.

Proper care means checking the teeth regularly (particularly the rear molars) for darker plaque-covered evidence. If at all possible brush the teeth at minimum a few times a week. Finger sheaths with nibs on them made for reaching in your pet’s mouth and “brushing” can be purchased at pet supply stores. Improper diet also can lead to gum disease, so keep the diet “crunchy” with dry food and teeth-healthy hard treats.

If the teeth, even the front canines, have a base that is brown-colored it is time to go to your vet for a mouth exam and possible dental work. If your pet is drooling while eating, or keeps his or her head cocked to the side as if having difficulty chewing, get to your veterinarian’s office right away.

Pre-dental blood work is recommended to make sure heart, kidneys and liver can withstand being under anesthesia. As a pet ages making sure the organs can go “under” is even more critical. So it’s best to keep your pet’s teeth and gums as healthy as possible from a young age.

A dental procedure consists of a thorough cleaning and removing of tartar and plaque, including under the gum line, and examining gums for inflammation or infection. The bad or loose teeth are extracted, and if necessary the gums are closed with sutures. Followup treatment of antibiotics for possible infection is normal course of action. Even a pet with no teeth can eat dry food as soon as the gums heal and harden, so no worries on that end. But removing the cause of infection is imperative to a healthy, long life.

Charlotte Bass Lilly is CEO of Animal Rescue New Orleans, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. ARNO operates a volunteer-based, no-kill shelter in the Elmwood Industrial section of Jefferson Parish and depends upon the generosity of people from all over the country who have followed since Katrina. Contact ARNO at, visit us on Facebook,, or leave a message at (504) 571-1900.