Taking care of our own teeth is often a simple part of our everyday routine. When it comes to our pets, it’s easy to let oral care pass us by. Many pet owners avoid their pet’s teeth not because they don’t feel that it’s important. More often, they either think they don’t have the time or simply don’t know-how. Your pet’s teeth have a direct link to their overall health and quality of life. Dental care for your dog or cat is as important as having a wellness checkup, Regular visits to your vet are important, yet there are a number of easy steps you can take at home to maintain healthy teeth and gums for your favorite furry friend.
Brush their teeth daily: Regular brushing can significantly reduce the likelihood of oral disease in pets. Of course smaller toothbrushes especially made for pets are available, as well as flavored toothpaste. There are differences between dog and cat toothbrushes, so be sure to look carefully before purchasing. If you’re just getting started with brushing, start by cleaning your pet’s teeth without any paste. The good news is that there’s no need to try brushing the inner surface of their teeth, which is naturally cleaned by your pet’s own saliva. If daily brushing isn’t realistic, try to fit it in 3-4 times a week at a minimum. Whatever you do, avoid using your own toothpaste as it contains chemicals that can hurt your pet’s digestive system. When purchasing toothpaste, look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal and specific language such as “removes plaque.” Though not as effective for removing food particles from the gum socket, dental wipes, rinses, and pads are also available for daily use for pets who have difficulties with tender gums.
Arrange for chew time each day. Providing toys that are safe for your dog like hard rubbery toys or bendable rawhide that isn’t too firm helps to remove tartar and keep gums strong. Hard, nylon dental chews and animal bones (i.e. cow hooves/bones) are typically not recommended because they can lead to tooth fractures, however, in some cases they may be beneficial to your pet. Beware of those popular pigs ears too. While loved by most dogs, they are notorious for being contaminated with bacteria. Cats can also benefit from dental chews too, provided they are small enough and they aren’t cooked or microwaved. Occasionally check for blood orchards of dental chews in your pet’s stool and discontinue feeding them to your pet if either are present. Signs of stomach problems such as vomiting, bloating or indigestion are also indications that certain dental chews should be removed from their diet. It is important to discuss chewing options with your vet based on your particular pet’s breed and current condition. Typically, chewing sessions for 10-20 minutes several times a week is suggested, giving pets enough time to scrape some of the tarter from their back teeth, but not enough time for them to eat the entire chewy. The bottom line is that using proper dental chews can reduce plaque by up to 69%, so schedule your pet’s chew time right away!
Feed your pet good quality food. Dietary needs of pets vary, so having a conversation with your vet about which food is appropriate is part of being a responsible pet owner. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend an additive for your pet’s food or water, helping to prevent plaque from hardening. Opinions about the type of food to feed your pet and its true impact on oral health can vary like the weather. Some experts suggest that crunchy kibble may have a small impact on preventing or removing tarter for some dogs, however a kibbled diet likely has little overall impact on protecting your pet’s teeth. For cats the general consensus is that they are better off eating moist food, which doesn’t offer the same oral benefit as crunchy food. In the end, brushing is far more effective for maintaining healthy teeth and gums for all of us…including our pets!
Schedule regular oral examinations. The logic behind oral exams is a no-brainer. An annual oral exam, which doesn’t require the use of anesthesia, can help prevent severe and costly health conditions down the road. Calculus, tartar buildup and dead tissue can all be removed as part of a thorough cleaning, whenever necessary. All dental cleanings are paired with full mouth radiographs (under anesthesia) to ensure no underlying changes are present. It’s never too early to make periodontal disease prevention a priority for your pets. Puppies should be screened around 4-6 months of age, even before losing their puppy teeth. For kittens, dental evaluations are recommended within the first or second year of your cat’s life.
Have a treatment plan. Whether it’s charting a daily schedule by yourself or laying out a specific plan of care with your vet based on your pet’s specific needs, getting into a habit of good oral care is one of the best things you can do for your dog or cat. Choosing a specific time each day to brush your pet’s teeth (like after you do your own or right after a meal) will make it easier to incorporate the habit into your everyday routine. Taking steps today will support a lifetime of strong teeth and gums for your pet, help to prevent unnecessary health conditions and put brighter smiles on everyone’s face!