February is National Pet Dental Care Month, and there’s no better time to be thinking about your pet’s teeth. Dogs are at much higher risk than humans are when it comes to developing tartar and plaque and all the problems that go with them. It is estimated that most dogs develop gum diseases by the time they are four if they don’t have proper and regular dental care. Cats are on a similar track. Periodontal disease is very prevalent in cats over the age of three.
What can be done?
Luckily, there are ways to fight and prevent periodontal disease. Knowing the warning signs, performing regular checks, and taking proactive steps will all keep your pet happy, comfortable, and safe.
Know the Signs
We covered the initial steps of looking out for your pet’s oral welfare in the previous post: Knowing the Warning Signs. First, know your dog or cat’s norm. When you know the norm, you will know if your pet is deviating from it, and these deviations can signal changes in your pet’s health. Some warning signs to look for are visible problems like discoloration and loose teeth as well as bad breath, drooling, and inflammation of the gums.
Perform Regular Checks
The best way to look for these symptoms, especially those dealing directly with your pet’s mouth, is to conduct regular dental checks with your dog or cat. When your pet is calm and relaxed, take a moment to face them straight on and gently pull back their upper lip. Work your way slowly and gently along the lip toward the canines, checking the teeth for tartar and plaque, discoloration, and looseness. Also keep your eye out for inflammation or irregularity in the gums. Repeat on the other side of the mouth and then on the lower set of teeth.
In addition to in-home checks, you should also have your pet screened by a professional. Your veterinarian should do a dental check as a part of your pet’s regular visit to the vet. Alternatively, you can take your pet to a pet dental care specialist.
Conducting these regular checks, both in-home and professional, will help you catch problems early on. They will also help your pet become more familiar and comfortable with having someone check on their teeth. This will help a lot for the next step: prevention.
As with humans, the first and best defense against bad oral health is tooth brushing. But a pet is not likely to brush its teeth like a human does, is it? Well, yes and no. Pets can brush their teeth (or rather, have their teeth brushed for them) but they certainly should not use human toothpaste, as the abrasives, foaming qualities, and ingredients in toothpaste for people are not good at all for pets. Check your pet store or ask your vet about special toothpastes just for your cat or dog. As for the brush, there are pet toothbrushes available. You can also use your finger to serve as a basic toothbrush, just wrap a piece of gauze or other soft material around it to provide enough friction to break plaque and tartar loose.
The process of pet teeth brushing is probably different for every pet, depending on their willingness to have someone brushing away inside their mouth. It’s best to begin early, as your pet will be able to grow accustomed to teeth brushing and you’ll be ahead of the plaque build-up. You can start by letting your cat or dog taste their toothpaste. (Unlike human toothpaste, pet toothpaste is safe for ingestion since you aren’t likely to be able to teach your pet to spit on command.) If your pet totally rejects the taste of the paste, you can try a different flavor or another one of the options below.
Once your pet is accustomed to the taste and texture of the toothpaste, you can get them used to the idea of brushing. Begin by gently massaging their lips with your finger, then begin massaging their teeth. This could take repeated tries over a series of days or even weeks. Stay patient and keep trying. When your pet is comfortable with you brushing their teeth with your finger, add the toothpaste. Then, finally, work up to using the toothbrush.
If your pet is not buying the finger or brush methods, there are also oral rinses or gels that are squirted into the pet’s mouth, inside the cheek. The gel or rinse smears across and bonds to the teeth and begins to work away at the plaque and bacteria. Other options include special diets that promote dental health. These usually include kibble specifically designed to remove plaque with its abrasiveness. Chew toys can also be dental champions as long as they’re played with regularly.
Find out what approach works best for your pet and then stick to it. Getting started is half the battle. Continuing to stick to it is the rest.