It's vital to keep a close check on your dog or cat's dental health because some experts believe proper care in this area can prolong a pet's life by as much as 20%. So, by careful monitoring at home and arranging veterinary examinations at regular intervals, you can play an active role in extending your years together.

Cats and dogs are particularly prone to tooth and gum diseases. It's estimated that nearly half the cat population over the age of 3 has one kind of dental disorder or another - 85% of felines in this category may suffer from bad gums alone. As many as 80% of dogs aged 1 to 3 are thought to have signs of periodontal disease that requires treatment to areas around the tooth.

In addition to treating the tooth area, a holistic practitioner will likely view your pet's periodontal disease as a symptom of a more subtle health imbalance. Many times, dental problems are indications of immune disorders.  The focus of treatment will be to build overall health, rather than just concentrating on the immediate problem.

Symptoms of Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats

The best way to become familiar with your cat or dog's mouth is get up close and personal. Normal teeth in both cats and dogs should be white or just a little yellow, with gums light pink and smooth, except those in breeds with pigmented gums, such as Chows. Gums should definitely NOT be red, swollen or cobblestone in appearance.

Your sense of smell is one of the key ways of discovering periodontal disease, which is the most common infectious (bacteria-caused) disease in cats and dogs. All pets have bad breath to some degree. But those with periodontal disease emit particularly disagreeable odors from their mouth, caused by bacteria and their toxins destroying their gums and teeth.

Gum disease begins when bacteria in the form of plaque eats away at the supportive gum tissue of the teeth. When plaque is not removed either by brushing, cleaning or an animal eating the right food, the mineral salts in saliva form hard crusts called calculus or tartar over the plaque. Mild plaque can be seen as a filmy, yellowish build-up at the base of the teeth. Heavy tarter is thick and rock-hard. It may be brown, yellow or even greenish in tint and will break off in chunks when pried loose with your thumbnail.

The formation of tartar irritates gum tissue, causing redness and then swelling, which lead to gingivitis. If neglected, gingivitis turns into periodontitis. This is a much more serious condition and can lead to progressive infection, inflammation and loss of the tiny ligaments that bind the gums to the teeth, as well as bone recession and loose teeth.

Maintain a Healthy Mouth in your Pet

There's no substitute for brushing. It's the most important thing you can do for your pet's dental health and the process is even more critical if the animal already has gum disease. Talk to your veterinarian about proper brushing techniques.

Diet is also crucial to maintain good dental health. Remove items that tend to stick to teeth. Natural, raw food diets can be helpful to dogs. Encourage recreational chewing by your dog.

Cats, on the other hand, often don't receive food that's good for their dental health. In the process of eating prey in the wild, cats devoured fur, hair and tough elastic tissue which had a natural brushing effect on their teeth. But today's domesticated cat doesn't eat food with such "built-in" toothbrushes. Often the food is soft and they need something harder that offers abrasiveness without damaging gum tissue. Kibble has a consistency that offers a brushing benefit before it is mashed into mush. While not a treatment for periodontal disease, it can help as part of a prevention strategy.

If your pet is prone to dental problems, ask your veterinarian about an immune support product to help battle against bacteria or viral infections.

Natural Treatments for Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats

The whole health of a pet, rather than just the symptoms of a specific disease, is the foundation of any holistic health-care program.

Natural treatments for dental care often include antioxidants.  The antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 may help periodontal disease by reducing the size and improving the health of periodontal pockets in the gums, as well as decreasing inflammation. Other antioxidant supplements, especially the vitamins A, B complex, C and E with zinc and manganese will strengthen periodontal tissue.