February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Some folks may wonder why there is a month dedicated to dental health for pets. Unfortunately, dental disease is a very common health concern in dogs and cats. Did you know that over 80% of dogs and cats have signs of dental disease by the age of 3?

Dental disease is caused by the buildup of bacteria and leftover food on a pet’s teeth, which turns into a hard substance called calculus. The calculus attaches firmly to the tooth surface and hardens, which can cause gum disease, tooth loss, and infections. Let’s learn more about dental disease in pets, and what we can do to help our pets maintain good dental health.

What’s the big deal about dental disease?

A pet that has signs of dental disease can also be at risk of getting heart, kidney, or liver diseases. Pets with dental disease often have bacterial infections in their mouths. The toxins secreted from the bacterial infections can enter the pet’s bloodstream. The pet’s organs will do their job of filtering out the toxins in the blood. However, the organs may have a hard time fighting off the toxins.  

When your pet has dental disease, it is up to your veterinarian to do a professional dental cleaning, take some dental X rays, and, depending on the severity of the disease, even remove some infected teeth.  A dental cleaning can be an expensive procedure as your pet will need to be put under anesthesia to have this done.  The good news is, with a little care, dental disease can be minimized and potentially even avoided.

Please note: It’s important to understand that even if a pet owner is regularly practicing good dental health habits with their pet at home, usually, pets will still need to have a professional dental cleaning at some point in their lifetime. There are many different stages of dental disease, and there is not anything pet owners can do that will be 100% effective in protecting their pet’s teeth from having some form of dental disease.  However, by utilizing some of the resources we will discuss today, we can help lessen the effects of dental disease on our pet’s teeth.

Regular teeth brushing

Most veterinarians recommend that we, as pet owners, should be brushing our pet’s teeth at least three times weekly, if not more. There are special toothbrushes available for dogs and cats, designed to work better with the unique shape of their mouths. For toothpaste, do NOT use human toothpaste on your pet, as some ingredients in toothpaste can poison your pet. Instead, buy a toothpaste specifically designed for pets! There are many flavors available to entice your pet, such as fish, chicken, and beef flavors, to name a few! The videos I will share talk more about what products to try or check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council website for ideas.

Because pets cannot understand what we are doing, you will want to gradually work your way up to getting that toothbrush into their mouths. Check out this video from the American Kennel Club discussing how to brush your dog’s teeth. Since cats are usually less tolerant than dogs, you may need to try some different techniques.  Check out this video series discussing how to brush your cat’s teeth.

Using dental wipes or rinses

Some pets do not tolerate us sticking toothbrushes in their mouths, no matter how much we try. The good news is, there are other products out there to help us take care of their teeth. There are many different types of dental wipes available, designed to help you wipe their teeth clean rather than brushing.  There are also rinses available that you can put in your pet’s water. The Rinse may help control some plaque and tartar buildup.  There are differing opinions on whether the wipes or rinses are as effective as brushing your pet’s teeth, so if you have any doubts, check with your veterinarian.  Also, some dental wipes or rinses may not be safe for puppies, kittens, or pregnant pets, so always get an OK from your veterinarian before using them.

Feed a quality food formulated for dental health

If your pet does not require prescription food due to a health condition, consider having your pet on a diet that will help keep their teeth in good shape. A dental diet is a dry food in which the kibble is formulated to be a different texture than standard food, forcing your pet to chew multiple times before the kibble completely breaks. This can help clean the surface of their teeth. Dental diets will not prevent dental disease; however, they can help reduce the amount of tartar and plaque buildup on the teeth.   There are many different diets on the market to help with “dental health,” so if you need help picking out a proper food, talk with your veterinarian or visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website to find a list of approved diets. 

Dental treats or chews

Giving your pet something to chew on regularly may help with the tartar and plaque buildup on their teeth. There are many different types of dental treats or chews available for dogs and cats.  Always supervise your pet when giving them a treat or chew toy, as some pets may decide to ingest the whole thing at once, which could lead to choking or potential blockages.

Use caution with rawhide: some dog owners choose to give their dog rawhide based treats for a chew toy. Rawhide can be dangerous, as after a dog has chewed on it for a while, it can soften, and the pet can swallow large pieces of the rawhide. The rawhide may then get stuck in the dog’s stomach. Dog owners should always supervise their dogs with rawhide treats. 

Other chew toys to watch out for: veterinarians recommend not to feed your pet any real bones to chew on, as they are extremely hard and can wear down or break your pet’s teeth.  Hard nylon toys can also wear and break down teeth.

Further thoughts and ideas

Aside from teeth brushing and using various products, here are a few more suggestions to help keep your pet’s teeth healthy:

As we discussed, dental disease can cause further health concerns in pets, so it’s best to catch the early signs of any problems before they turn into something more complicated. If you have any specific concerns regarding dental disease in your pet, it’s always best to reach out to your veterinarian.

Additionally, because there are so many products available to help with dental care for your pets, I did not go into great detail with recommending any specific set of products. For a list of veterinarian-approved products to help promote good dental health in your pet, check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council website.  

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