Did you know that by the age of three, most dogs and cats are already starting to form some sort of dental disease? According to the American Veterinarian Dental Society, at that age, about 80% of dogs and 70% of cats already have some sort of dental disease which often could have been prevented. Since February is National Pet Dental Health Month, we can’t let this month pass us by without sharing some tips and information on what you can do to help prevent serious dental issues with your own beloved pets. As mentioned, dental disease in pets is often completely preventable. By taking your pets to the vet for regular visits and exams and providing dental care to your pets at home, you can take steps to prevent your beloved pets from developing serious dental diseases as they get older. Your pet’s veterinarian will typically already check out your pet’s teeth during their annual/bi-annual vet exams, but it is important to also know all the other things you can do to help protect your pet from developing oral diseases or even secondary diseases than can develop as a result of poor dental care. Read on to learn more about what to watch out for and how incorporating some daily habits and providing proper dental hygiene for your pet can help him live a longer, healthier life.
Providing Excellent Oral Care for Your Pet
While some issues with your pet’s oral health may be caused by factors beyond your control, a vast majority of issues are the result of poor hygiene and not brushing your pet’s teeth. There are other tips and resources you can provide to your pet to prevent or slow down the progression of dental diseases, as well.
The first and most obvious thing you can do is to brush your pets’ teeth every day. While doing a daily brushing of your pet’s teeth may seem tedious, it will benefit your pet and likely help him live a longer, healthier life. Brushing daily will help prevent the build-up of food, saliva and bacteria that can lead to serious tartar buildup, often leading to gum disease or other dental diseases. If your pet’s mouth is healthy, however, brushing at least 2-3 days a week will still help reduce the amount of tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth and make a big difference in your pet’s oral health.
While brushing your pet’s teeth is critical for prevention, it is also necessary to take your pet for professional dental cleanings. If your pet’s vet doesn’t address this or perform annual cleanings at their regular check-ups, be sure to ask about it and make sure it is a part of their yearly care. The visits will often include an exam, thorough cleaning and x-ray to watch for signs of disease. When diseases such as periodontal or gum disease occur and are not addressed, they can lead to “secondary” diseases of the liver, lungs, kidneys and heart. Watching for signs of gum disease or other oral health concerns is critical in preventing these secondary diseases from occurring in your pet.
And we can’t forget about our pet’s diet! Providing high-quality foods and treats and incorporating foods from our own plates such as whole fruits and vegetables can also help keep your pet’s oral health at its best! Just watch out for foods that are unsafe for pets such as grapes, avocados, and rhubarb, for example. Many healthy human foods are unsafe for pets due to choking hazards and other health concerns, so make sure you know what is safe for your pet before feeding.
Many pet owners also like to provide their dogs with rawhide chews, non-edible bones, and special dog treats to help fight plaque and tartar buildup. These are other excellent options you can include in your pet’s diet for better oral health. Additionally, your vet may be able to recommend water additives or other products you can use to complement your pet’s dental care regimen to help slow the progression of gum disease. And since diseases can progress rapidly, you should not wait for your vet visits to look for signs of concern. Checking your pet’s mouth at least once a week for any signs of disease and knowing what to watch out for at home can be critical in prevention.
Signs of Poor Oral Health in Your Pet Include:
Brown or grey teeth
Inflammation and/or red swollen gums
Pain or tenderness
Obvious tartar buildup
reduced appetite or changes in eating habits
Discolored teeth, often brown or grey
Broken or loose teeth
Abnormal chewing while eating or dropping food while eating
Pawing at the face/mouth area
Changes in eating habits
Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
While these signs and symptoms may signal other issues or may not necessarily be caused by serious oral health diseases, it is still important to have your pet checked out to rule out any other potential causes. Additionally, if you notice your pet’s temperament change or feel that something is suddenly “off” with your pet, don’t ignore your instincts. Their behaviors may change if they are experiencing pain or discomfort, so it is best to err on the side of caution and call your vet if you notice any sudden changes. Ignoring or not addressing these health issues can cause your pet to develop serious secondary diseases which likely could have been prevented! That brings us back to the basics of teeth brushing, as we know many of these health concerns can be prevented by simply brushing your pet’s teeth. Now if you’re left wondering how on Earth you’re going to be able to brush your pet’s teeth regularly, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before, then we have a few tips for you!
Tips for Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth
We know brushing a pet’s teeth can be a challenging task! If you are struggling to stay on top of regular brushing or are afraid of getting bit or scratched while attempting your first brushing session, we have a few recommendations. With some practice, patience, and a few treats, you should be able to make brushing your pet’s teeth a stress-free experience for everyone.
If you are first starting out with an oral care routine with your pet, you will need to start by purchasing a pet-approved toothbrush or finger brush and a toothpaste in a flavor your pet enjoys. Your dog or cat is going to end up swallowing the toothpaste, so it is important you only use toothpaste meant for pets. (Human toothpaste contains fluoride which is unsafe for them to ingest).
When beginning to introduce the toothbrush or finger brush to your pet, you should treat this like many other methods of “training.” You want to work slowly and create positive associations for your pet during this new routine. You can place your pet in your lap if he is small enough; otherwise make sure your pet is in a comfortable position before starting. If working with a cat, it can be helpful to wrap him in a towel and hold him close to you during the introduction.
When showing your pet the toothbrush for the first time, you can let him lick a pea-sized amount of toothpaste from the brush and follow with a treat to create positive reinforcement. Your time spent “training” during the first few days should only be a minute or two and should include rewards your pet will appreciate. During each session, gradually increase the amount of time between the toothpaste and the reward. You will want to take your time before introducing the toothbrush to your pet’s mouth and only do so after your pet has first gotten use to the toothpaste.
Once your pet has mastered the toothpaste and continues to have positive association with it, you can introduce it to your pet’s mouth. You can try brushing just one or two strokes on a few teeth towards the front of the mouth and see how your pet reacts. Be sure to keep rewarding your pet with treats throughout the process and stop if you notice any aggression or irritation during the brushing. By creating the positive reinforcement with rewards, you should be able to brush your pet’s teeth within a few sessions. Once your pet has allowed you to brush a few strokes, you should be able gradually brush farther back until you are able to completely brush all teeth in one session.
When working with the brush in your pet’s mouth, you will want to move in a circular or oval pattern along the teeth while focusing not only on the base and surface of the teeth, but the space in between the teeth, as well. It may be easiest to start at the front of the mouth and work your way towards the back, similarly to how you brush your own teeth. And don’t forget the reward!
While some pets may take to teeth brushing relatively quickly, others may just simply not allow you to brush their teeth, no matter how many rewards you try to give. If this is the case, don’t be too discouraged. You can reach out to your vet for additional tips on how you can best care for your pet’s oral health to ensure he is getting all other means of protection.
We don’t want your beloved pets to become one of the 70% or 80% of cats and dogs with dental diseases! Prevention is key; creating a routine dental care plan for your pet (with the help of your vet) including consistent brushing, vet visits, and professional cleanings will help your pet live a longer, healthier and happier life!
If you are looking for other ways to keep your pet at his best optimal health, both physically and mentally, and you need assistance, let us know! We currently have openings for more pets to join our Milwaukee Paws Pet Care family! We are proud to provide cognitive enrichment activities and games as well as physical activities to the pets we serve, and we would love to hear from you how we can help serve you and your own beloved pets!
Disclaimer: Please remember that while we are unconditional pet lovers here at Milwaukee Paws Pet Care, we are not professional trainers or healthcare professionals. We are writing here to provide tips and guidelines we feel are helpful for many; however, your pets may need additional guidance from a professional. Be sure to reach out to your pet’s veterinarian for more specific oral health care plans or recommendations to fit your pet’s individual needs.