Prevention is Key
As a pet parent, you get to play a leading role in your cat or dog’s dental health! Regular dental care at home is an essential component of your pet’s total health and key to preventing many forms of dental disease. Dental care for dogs and cats isn’t always something people think about when they bring home a new pet, or even if they’ve been pet parents for many years, but when you think about it, it makes sense that cats and dogs need their teeth brushed just like we do!
Tips for Healthy Mouths
It’s a good idea to get your pet used to you handling their mouth gently. Build this into their routine at a consistent time that’s immediately followed by a meal, treat, walk, playtime, or other positive experience your pet enjoys. Start with a couple of seconds on one side and increase until you’re able to brush both sides for 30 seconds to a minute. Brush gently in a circular motion above and over the gumline. Plaque tends to accumulate on the outside of teeth, so you don’t need to brush the inside; focus on the side of the teeth that are visible when you gently pull the side of your pet’s lip into a “smile.” The younger you start getting your pet used to this, the better, but pets of any age can learn to be comfortable with their teeth brushed at home with patience and positive reinforcement.
Use enzymatic toothpaste formulated for cats and dogs, which come in flavors they find tasty. Pet formulated toothpaste is safe for cats and dogs and will break down tartar and help eliminate harmful bacteria. You may also want to use a small toothbrush designed for pets (watch your fingers if you use the kind that fits over a fingertip!) Regularly inspect your pet’s teeth and gums for redness, bleeding/inflammation, and any broken teeth or gums growing up or over the tooth.
Even if you aren’t able to brush your pet’s teeth, you can spot signs of dental disease. Keep an eye out for drooling, and your nose peeled for bad breath, both signs that your pet should have their mouth checked by a vet. If your pet is suddenly not wanting to eat or showing signs of difficulty chewing, they should have their mouth checked as soon as possible. Enzymatic water additives are available along with prescription dental kibble to help reduce plaque. Also, keep an eye out for habits that could cause broken teeth, like chewing rocks, kennel bars, or other hard objects. Signs that your pet’s mouth is hurting may be subtle, especially with cats.
Make it Fun
Dental treats and toys can help clean your pet’s teeth and are a great supplement to regular brushing for maintaining a healthy mouth. Just be sure to avoid toys and products that could damage teeth, like antlers or other hard chewables.
When Surgery is Needed
Stomatitis and tooth resorption are two of the more common dental conditions that can affect cats of any age. The causes aren’t fully understood, but because they tend to recur, brushing teeth at home and even regular anesthetized cleanings by a veterinarian are not always enough. Often, surgical intervention is the only way to ensure a pain-free life. The good news is that after partial or full mouth extraction, cats and dogs generally recover quickly and have much improved quality of life. If you have or are thinking of purchasing pet insurance, keep in mind that some plans don’t cover cleanings or surgery related to dental disease. Periodontitis and gingivitis can affect even young pets, and often need cleaning under sedation in addition to oral care at home to manage.
Summing it Up
Regular preventive care at home and annual visits to your vet for an exam that includes checking their mouth are crucial to keep your pet healthy and happy. This is also a great opportunity to ask your vet for tips on dental care at home. Your cat or dog will thank you for helping them feel good with a healthy mouth!