National Pet Dental Health Month
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.
But it’s never too late (or too soon) to get your pets’ pearly whites checked out by your veterinarian. Often the doctor has some great tips for keeping cat teeth clean and dog breath at bay, including how to brush doggy teeth.
Does the thought of brushing dog teeth make you cringe, roll your eyes, whimper, slink away–and feel guilty? You’re not alone. But once that puppy-sweet breath morphs into curl-your-eyebrows stench, it’s long past the time to address that stink-icity.
Why Brushing Dog Teeth is Important
By the time dogs (and cats!) reach the age of three, most of them have some amount of dental disease. Pets will benefit from toothy attention all year round. After all, pets don’t brush their teeth, and they tend to gulp—not chew—their food. Just think what your teeth would look like in three years if you never brushed!
Dogs (and cats) share a lot of the same dental issues with humans. A veterinary dental visit involves anesthesia, ultrasonic scaling, polishing, and sometimes fluoride treatment, or antibiotics, especially after removing teeth.
Dr. Jan Bellows, a board-certified veterinary dentist, says your veterinarian can use a plant-based gel called Vetigel that stops the bleeding from pulled teeth within seconds. Veterinary dentists also may use professional sealants like Sanos Dental Sealant, that helps prevent plaque from attaching under your pet’s gums for up to 6 months.
You can reduce the number of veterinary dental treatments (and your guilt factor) with easy home care tips. Here are 6 no-guilt tips to freshen up your dog’s breath.
6 Easy Fresh Breath Tips
- Dry food won’t “cure” dental disease, but it doesn’t stick to teeth as readily as wet foods. Crunching dry food can reduce dental problems by about 10 percent, though, so offering your dog “crunchies” after moist dinners can help. At my house, Shadow-Pup and Karma-Kat love Greenies. You can get tiny fish-shaped Greenies treats for cats, and different treat-sizes Greenies for dogs. At Karma’s last exam, our veterinarian said his teeth looked like a one or two-year-old (he’s actually nearly nine!).
- Many dogs relish healthy people foods like raw veggies or fruit, and chewing on these “detergent” foods can help scrub teeth clean. Offer dogs carrots or apple slices for healthy natural dental snacks. Make ’em big pieces, too, so he must gnaw off a piece rather than gulp it whole. Here are some safe people foods for pets.
- Special “dental diets” and treats available in grocery stores or dispensed from the veterinarian can help, especially with dog breeds that seem more prone to dental issues like the Yorkshire Terrier. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval on the food or treats. That affirms the product has passed stringent requirements and dogs what it claims. Here’s the list of cat-approved and tested products. And here’s the list for dog products. I particularly like the Science Diet Oral Care for Dogs and for Cats, but ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.
- Most veterinary dentists dislike cow bones, pig hooves, and other hard chew objects that may break your puppy’s teeth. Sterilized bones designed for doggy dental care, though, may be just the ticket. Lately, Shadow-Pup has enjoyed these trachea “bone” dog treats, fully digestible and crunchy.
- Puppies love to chew. Offer your dog a legal object that also has dental benefits, like the “dental toys” that contain a nubby surface designed to scrub the teeth. Please supervise, though. Too many of the so-called “indestructible” chew toys get eaten, and cause blockage problems.
- A wide range of commercial dental chews (rawhide, ropes, treats) available for dogs may also prevent doggy breath. Some are infused with special enzymes that kill bacteria and help prevent plaque. Also, look for dental rinse products from your veterinarian. Ask your vet for a recommendation, as the professional products work best.
How To Brush Kitty or Doggy Teeth (Without Getting Bit!)
Adult dogs often object to tooth brushing. It’s best to start puppies with a dental hygiene program while they’re too little to argue. Brushing cat teeth also works best starting with kittens. Just turn it into a tasty game and your pet will BEG for the attention. Here’s how.
- Mess With His Mouth. Over several weeks, get your dog used to having his mouth handled. You can get pups used to having something inserted into their mouth by flavoring your finger with low-salt chicken broth, or peanut butter (yum!).
- Treat With Toothpaste. Offer doggy or kitty toothpaste as a treat. Special meat-flavored toothpaste is available that gives pets the incentive to open wide. Never use human toothpaste. Pets can’t spit so they end up swallowing the foam, and swallowed fluoride can be dangerous and damage your dog or cat’s internal organs. Dr. Bellows recommends the PetSmile brands, since they also have the VOHC seal of approval. These pet toothpastes come in London broil, rotisserie chicken, and cheese flavors!
- Use Toy Props. Once they accept mouth handling and like the toothpaste, try propping the puppy’s mouth open with a favorite toy. Simply encourage him to bite on a chew object, and wrap your hand around his muzzle to hold it in place. That gives you access to his open mouth and also gives him something to do with his teeth. Use the same toy each time, so he identifies it with tooth attention–and getting a GREAT reward afterward. Practice doing this several times and praising him while giving toothpaste treats before you introduce a toothbrush.
- Choose Pet Brushes. Special pet toothbrushes are smaller and may be designed to better fit the dog’s or cat’s mouth. A soft child’s toothbrush works well.
- “Finger” The Teeth. Some puppies better accept your finger. Finger toothbrushes are available for brushing pet teeth, or simply wrap a damp cloth over your fingers and use that to scrub the outside of his teeth. Puppy tongues clean the inside surface of teeth so you won’t have to worry about poking too far inside the mouth.
- Praise The Performance. Experts recommend you brush after every meal, but two to three times a week is good. Always be sure to praise and throw a happy puppy-kitty party afterwards so your pet finishes with a good taste over the experience—literally!
Keeping breath fresh goes beyond good dental hygiene, too. Pungent breath makes you avoid dog kisses and purring lap snuggles (awww, you hurt his feelings!). It also points to potentially painful, dangerous dental problems that can damage your dog’s and cat’s organs. Yes, it’s THAT important.
So…do you brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth? What about offering “dental-friendly” foods and treats? How do you keep your pooch and kitty kissable fresh? Do tell!
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Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE! Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!