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Monday, February 2, 2009

Pet Dental Claims Skyrocket

Pet advocates are encouraging pet owners to focus on their dog's or cat's oral health during National Pet Dental Health Month this February. And it appears more Americans are paying attention, as national pet insurance provider PetFirst Healthcare saw claims for illnesses related to oral-health increase 179 percent during the past year.

"Many pet owners don't place as much emphasis on dental health as compared to other aspects of their pet's wellbeing," said Brent Hinton, CEO of PetFirst. "It's just as important, though, because oral disease can lead to serious health problems for both dogs and cats."

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.

Without proper care, plaque and tartar build-up can lead to periodontal disease, which affects the tissues and structures supporting the teeth. Left untreated, it can cause oral pain, dysfunction, tooth loss and complications with the heart, liver and kidneys.

"Pets cannot speak up to tell their caregiver they are experiencing discomfort, so pet owners should pay extra attention to warning signs of dental issues," Hinton said.

Symptoms of periodontal disease include yellow and brown tartar build up along the gum line, inflamed gums and persistent bad breath. PetFirst saw the most significant increase in claims related to periodontal disease, which increased 200 percent last year.

Common indications of oral disease for pets include bad breath, a change in eating habits, pawing at the mouth and depression.

Hinton said the best preventative plan is to schedule regular teeth cleanings for pets and for pet owners to work with veterinarians to establish a dental-care regimen at home.

Some pet insurance policies reimburse pet owners for costs related to preventative care. Mirroring the rise in claims related to oral disease, the amount PetFirst reimbursed for preventative oral care, increased 132 percent in the past year.

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