RSPCA Victoria puts spotlight on pet dental health

August is Pet Dental Month and RSPCA Victoria is encouraging Victorian pet owners to prioritise the dental health of their pets. The message is timely after RSPCA Victoria’s recent prosecution of the owner of a Miniature Poodle called ‘Roxy’, whose oral health was neglected so badly it caused her lower jaw to decay.

An initiative of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), the focus of Pet Dental Month is on regular dental care to prevent dental disease and related health concerns.

Oral heath for pets is part of responsible pet ownership and is imperative for their overall health and wellbeing. Sometimes causing bad breath, dental disease can also cause painful infections and if left untreated, bacteria can cause serious disease.

Dental disease is the most common health condition affecting pets – 70% of cats and 80% of dogs experience some level of dental disease by three years of age – and it can become worse with age.

RSPCA Victoria Chief Veterinarian, Dr Rupert Baker, said “just like people, pets require regular dental care and yet it’s something many pet owners can forget is an important part of their pet’s overall health. Consistent dental care is crucial for a good quality of life, to ensure our pets’ teeth stay healthy and functional for as long as possible.

“Dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs should have annual dental check-ups. Horses require annual attention from a specialist equine dentist, but regular dental care will help avoid serious health concerns.”

Dental disease can be a significant problem for pets and their owners because it can lead to more serious problems such as illnesses related to the heart, liver and kidney.

Often appearing in the form of periodontal disease, gingivitis and neck lesions, dental disease can cause serious complications however is preventable through regular veterinary care including teeth cleaning.

Dental disease can cause severe discomfort and pain for pets who often show they are in pain and as it advances, pets can experience tooth and gum infection, inflammation, and bone and tooth loss. It is essential that good dental care is prioritised for pets to avoid poor health.

A well-rounded diet is also key to preventing dental disease, particularly foods that provide physical resistance when pets chew, such as dry food or dental treats. Hill’s Prescription Diet, along with other brands, offers a range of high-quality, nutritionally balanced foods to help keep teeth in check.

The most effective way to promote good oral health in both cats and dogs is to brush their teeth daily. Most animals will become accustomed to this, however, it is important that tooth brushing is introduced gradually and with the correct tools and technique. It’s always best to seek advice from a veterinarian before introducing this to a pet care routine. A range of toothbrushes, water additives and tartar cleaners are available and should form part of any pet health tool kit.

RSPCA Victoria’s online shop offers a variety of dental care products.

Case Study

Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, pet owners are responsible for providing proper care for pets including food, water, shelter and adequate veterinary attention, including dental care. Neglect continues to be the most commonly reported animal cruelty concern across Victoria.

In April 2021, RSPCA Victoria prosecuted a case involving an 11-year-old Miniature Poodle known as ‘Roxy’, who suffered severe dental health issues. Roxy’s owner failed to provide veterinary treatment to Roxy who suffered from severe dental disease and infection of the mouth, to such an extreme it caused her lower jaw to decay.

Roxy also suffered from a mass on her lower jaw, preventing her from closing her mouth and impeding her ability to eat. Roxy’s jaw was extremely painful and she could not tolerate human touch near her muzzle.

RSPCA Victoria’s Senior Inspector, Kerrie Gregory, said Roxy was suffering from a variety of issues related to neglect.

“A significant portion of Roxy’s lower jaw had rotted away due to infection and severe dental disease. She was in an emaciated body condition, weighing just 3.75kg, with a matted, odorous, stained coat and skin, along with severely overgrown nails, all of which caused trauma and pain. X-ray images highlighted the remaining teeth were no longer held in place by bone and were only being held in place by soft tissue.

“This case highlights the severe, irreversible consequences and subsequent ongoing suffering Roxy endured as a result of an owner failing to provide dental maintenance to their pet for a significant period of time. The degree of deformity, disease and infection would have been obvious.

“If owners are unable to provide the required veterinary care to their pets, whether that be due to financial constraints or other inabilities, it is important they reach out for assistance and not allow their animals to suffer unnecessarily. Neglecting to provide the required care to Roxy in this situation has had dire consequences that could have been avoided.”

Roxy’s preventable condition caused severe pain and suffering, and clearly illustrates how a lack of a basic care can create severe animal welfare issues. Due to the severity of Roxy’s irreversible condition and extreme pain, Roxy required humane euthanasia.

The case was heard in the Frankston Magistrates Court where the Magistrate advised he found the behaviour appalling and convicted the accused. Roxy’s owner was fined $1500.00, and a disqualification order under section 12 in respect to dogs was granted for a period of five years.

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