Brushing Up On Dental Care for Your Pets

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Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 2/6/2008 in General Articles

When was the last time you brushed your dog or cat’s teeth? Can’t remember? Counting on dry kibble and a daily hard biscuit to keep his teeth clean and breath sweet? Don’t.

If you ate a dog biscuit every day, but didn’t brush your teeth, your breath would smell as bad as your dog’s — or worse! Getting into the habit of brushing your pet’s teeth is one of the best ways you can keep your pet’s breath kissable fresh and teeth tartar-free.

More importantly, good dental hygiene contributes to your pet’s overall health and can even increase his life span. Veterinary dentists say that keeping teeth clean and the mouth free of bacteria-filled plaque and tartar can add as much as two years to a pet’s life.

To be successful at brushing your pet’s teeth, start when he’s a puppy or kitten. Use a small brush that fits over your finger and gently rub it over his teeth and gums. Once he’s used to opening his mouth and having your fingers inside, you can put toothpaste on the brush. He’ll probably enjoy the pet-friendly flavors of chicken, fish, beef or peanut butter, making him even more willing to submit to having his teeth brushed.

Be sure to use toothpaste made especially for pets. Toothpaste made for people can cause stomach upset in cats and dogs.

Another tip: clean the front of the teeth. Don’t worry about getting the back side of each tooth, but do be sure to brush the “cheek” teeth in the back of his mouth. Tartar buildup is especially common there.

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As he grows, continue using the finger brush if that’s easiest for you – or switch to a soft toothbrush made for pets. These toothbrushes feature a large head at one end and a small head at the other end for getting those hard-to-reach teeth in the back.

Dental hygiene goes beyond brushing. Dental diets, treats coated with plaque-attacking chemicals, and tartar-control rinses, sprays, gels and wipes can help put the bite on your pet’s bad breath and its root cause, periodontal disease.

Ask your veterinarian about sprays, rinses and wipes that contain chlorhexidine or zinc ascorbate cysteine compounds. The enzymes in chlorhexidine products work to break down plaque and curtail bacteria. The ZAC compounds encourage production of collagen, which helps heal gum tissue. A tartar-control treat called Reward is coated with chlorhexidine, as are some rawhide chews. Foods, treats and other products can’t replace brushing, but they can help keep your pet’s pearly whites, well, white.

The good news is that you don’t have to floss your pet’s teeth. Your dog does that job by gnawing on a rope toy or grooved Kong. The chewing action pushes plaque away from the side of the tooth. For additional cleaning power, spread the grooves with pet toothpaste.

If your dog or cat exhibits these signs – bad breath, tartar buildup and inflamed gums that bleed when you brush the teeth – there’s a good chance he has developed periodontal disease. Book an appointment with your veterinarian to clean your pet’s teeth. Your pet will be under anesthesia during this professional cleaning. Your veterinarian may also suggest placing chips or gels containing antibiotics beneath the gum line.

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Once a month, gently open wide your dog or cat’s mouth to look for signs of infection such as redness, loose or broken teeth, and painful areas. Cats, unlike dogs, get painful cavities. Take a cotton swab and press it on your cat’s gum line. If he flinches, he probably has a cavity that requires veterinary treatment. Any pet who drools frequently, rubs his mouth on the floor or other objects, or drops food when eating may have a serious dental problem.

Bottom line? Brushing is best, every day if possible.

As a helpful tip, all dogs have the same number of teeth. Toy breeds are especially prone to dental problems because they have so many teeth crammed into a tiny mouth. Keep an extra close watch on their oral health.

Happy brushing!

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