Horses, dogs, hamsters and dentists
Did you know that horses need dentists? I know you’re all imagining a horse, feet up in the dentist chair getting a flossing but it’s true!
When horses eat, their teeth move side to side in a grinding motion which, over time, causes the outside edge of the upper teeth and the inside edge of the lower teeth to become sharp. If left, this sharpness can cut into the soft tissue of the cheeks and tongue causing ulceration and pain.
The way we manage horses has added to this problem. In the wild a horse will graze for 15 hours a day, with their head low to the ground whilst walking slowly. This is in total contrast to our stabled horses, who often eat from hay nets and feeders raised up off the ground whilst standing in a stable.
One way to help is to feed your horse from the ground which puts their teeth in a more natural alignment when chewing – but this won’t be enough to avoid the dentist. This trained professional will use a gag to hold open the mouth, and rasps to remove the sharp edges which, you will be amazed to hear, the horses tolerate very well, often with no need for sedation at all. It’s as if they know you’re there to help.
Horses are not the only animals who need a dental check up here and there. Vets routinely perform dental procedure on cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and occasionally a hamster or two. Imagine how your teeth feel if you forget to brush for a day and that furry sensation starts to build up. The majority of our animal friends never have their teeth brushed and the tartar can rapidly take hold. The breed of a dog or cat plays a role in dental disease also. For instance, Yorkshire Terriers are known for their poor dental health. Also, short-faced dogs like pugs and French bulldogs, or Persian cats can often have occlusion problems which lead to a more rapid tartar accumulation.
With the small furies like rabbits and Guinea pigs, it’s often poor diet which is the issue. They, like horses, need a high fibre diet such as hay or grass. The pellet concentrated food we offer is not enough to keep their teeth healthy and should only be fed once daily as a supplement to fibre.
Getting a dental cleaning for your pet when required is one of the most important procedures for their health you can provide. It’s also instantly pain-relieving if rotten teeth are removed. Owners say to me all the time, ‘He’s still eating so can’t be in pain.’ The point is, they have no choice but to eat through the pain as they don’t know there is an alternative. I have seen many pets eat better with no teeth at all than with a mouth full of rotten teeth.
I applaud any owner who brushes their dog’s teeth daily. This, if done well, really does make a huge difference to their dental health over their lifetime. But, if you’re anything like me, (I can barely find time to brush my own teeth never mind the dog’s) you should have them checked and get them scheduled for a dental cleaning. They will thank you with their winning smile and fresh doggy kisses, and you could increase their life expectancy too.
Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda