Lions, Tigers and Bears… and Their Teeth?

image of lionDentists the world over tell us we need to brush and floss to keep our mouths healthy. What might be news is that lions, too, need to take care of their teeth too. Seriously!

Lions, and every animal with teeth, have many of the same dental troubles that people do. They can have gum disease and gingivitis, broken teeth, and painful cavities.

Zookeepers and veterinarians offer the following guidelines for caring for animal teeth – from lions and tigers to dogs and cats – many of which have a parallel for humans’ care of their teeth.

1. Diet is important. For animals, a healthy diet can help animals maintain healthy teeth and gums. Regularly eating more abrasive foods can result in a “brushing” effect. Some types of pet food are even made to be larger than normal so pets must chew each piece, achieving the brushing effect.

With the risk and damage associated with trying to brush a lion’s teeth, it’s a very good thing that lions don’t eat a lot of refined sugar like the average human!

2. Speaking of brushing, many veterinarians recommend that people brush their dogs’ and cats’ teeth daily, if possible. There are specially designed toothbrushes, toothpaste, rinses and other oral hygiene products. These can help keep Fido’s teeth as healthy as possible.

3. Regular visits to the dentist are important., and taking care right away of any fractured teeth, gum disease and cavities is too. In zoos, large animals like lions and tigers are brought in for exams and repair (under anesthesia of course!) by a veterinary dentist when necessary.

Veterinary dentists will clean and repair teeth, in much the same way that they would for human patients. Big cats, dogs and house cats may all need a root canal, repair of a broken tooth, and removal of plaque from the tooth surface and below the gum line.

As in care of our own teeth, regular care of our animals’ teeth is key. Just as it may take a small child several times to get used to the idea of a toothbrush, most pets won’t take immediately to a tooth brushing. It’s going to take practice!