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Ask the Vet: Spaniel has awful teeth

By Craig Reilly

We have two Springer Spaniels – Ben is eight and Bonnie almost ten. They eat the same dried dog food, but Ben's teeth are awful while Molly's are perfect. The vet says he'll need to take some out and have the rest cleaned up. Why are his so much worse than hers?

Colin, Belfast

I see this sort of thing all the time. Diet does play a role in oral hygiene and gum health, but in my opinion it is not the major player. Wildlife like foxes and badgers, eating an entirely natural diet, get terrible periodontal disease, too – often just as bad as our pet dogs. I am convinced that there is a significant genetic predisposition to this problem. That doesn't mean we should ignore it! Almost half our pets over three have some gum disease. Infections can drag the dogs' health down, causing heart and kidney problems, and also, of course, they make for very smelly breath and eventually toothache and tooth loss, too.

Your vet can advise you on diet selection to help Ben once the teeth have been professionally cleaned. Some dog treats also can help slow tartar build up, and there is a range of veterinary diets made by Royal Canin which contain anti-tartar products just like in human toothpastes. There is now a range of additives for food and water that help govern the plaque levels, but essentially the most effective solution is regular tooth-brushing. Dogs swallow the toothpaste, so human pastes aren't ideal. Your vet can provide good effective enzymatic pastes that work for dogs (and cats). The trick is to hold the mouth gently closed when you are training them to let you brush. It stops them chewing the brush the whole time.

Many vet clinics will offer free lessons and free nurse clinics to assess the teeth, so there is every opportunity for all pet owners to have their pet's oral health checked. A dental check-up is part of the annual vaccination examination for all dogs, cats and rabbits, too, so hopefully we will catch as many affected pets as possible.

Good luck with Ben's dental, and the essential oral care follow-up, without which he will be back in the same state within a year or two.

Craig is a partner in Cedarmount Veterinary Clinic, Bangor (cedarmountvets.co.uk). Send your pet queries to tele.vet@hotmail.com. Craig can only respond to questions through this column, and these answers cannot substitute for treatment decisions based on a full history and clinical examination by your vet

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