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The Ins & Outs of Dog and Cat Dental Health

It only takes a sip of ice water and one tiny cavity to remind us of the importance of dental care! While they don’t often get dental cavities, our dogs’ and cats’ dental health is no less important to their own overall health and wellbeing.  Gum disease, plaque buildup, and tooth fractures are just a few of the dental problems that routinely affect dogs and cats.

Some signs of oral disease are obvious; discolored or broken teeth, red gums, tartar, a decreased appetite, and breath you can smell across the room are easily noticeable!  But these signs are more than just a smelly inconvenience or an eyesore; inflammation or infection in the mouth can be painful and serious. Because cats know how to hide pain quite well, and many dogs won’t let any amount of discomfort come between them and their food bowl, a yearly checkup with your veterinarian is always a good idea.  About 70-80% of dogs and cats have some degree of periodontal disease by the age of 3, so even young pets with apparently healthy mouths will benefit from a thorough oral exam during which your veterinarian will determine the need for a dental cleaning.

The Veterinary Dentist’s “Chair”

Dental cleanings for dogs and cats involve general anesthesia so your veterinary team can scale and polish your pet’s teeth and conduct a thorough exam of their gums and teeth.  Preparation for this procedure may involve radiographs (x-rays) and bloodwork to assess your pet’s overall health prior to undergoing general anesthesia.

Just as it is for our own dental health, at-home oral hygiene is the simplest and most effective thing we can do to care for our dogs’ and cats’ dental health between cleanings. While daily brushing is ideal, any amount is a step in the right direction.  Brushing your pet’s teeth may seem like a daunting task, but a gradual, low-stress introduction to oral healthcare can often result in a rewarding experience for you and your pet.

Where Do I Even Start?

Start slowly by allowing your pet to see, sniff, and taste a soft-bristled toothbrush or finger brush made specifically for pets. Rub some beef or chicken flavored toothpaste on their gums, making sure not to use human toothpaste which can include ingredients harmful to pets. Pet your dog’s or cat’s muzzle and cheek to help expose the premolars and molars, those teeth more towards the back of the mouth and a common spot for tartar accumulation.  Gradually work your way up to short intervals of brushing, making sure all of these activities are associated with treats and lots of praise.  

Introducing your pet to dental hygiene while they are young is a great idea, but often, puppies and kittens shedding their deciduous (baby) teeth can have inflammation that can be quite uncomfortable.  The contact of a toothbrush during this stage of your pet’s life may be painful and may risk negative associations in your pet’s mind with dental care or worse, with you! Wait until your pet has their permanent, adult teeth at about 6-7 months of age before actively brushing.  Before that is a great time to introduce your puppy or kitten to the toothbrush or finger brush, praise them when they take a lick of toothpaste, and get them used to having their mouth handled.

Be safe! There is always a plan B!

What if your pet is named Killer for a reason, and the thought of touching their mouth makes you want to run for the hills? We all know those dogged dogs and crabby cats who simply will not submit to a tooth brushing. For our feistier friends, special dental chews, toys, and water additives can be helpful (these can be a valuable complement to every pet’s dental hygiene plan). You can find a list of independently evaluated treats and products through the Veterinary Oral Health Council website. Objects to avoid giving your dog include antlers and bones which can cause problems by splintering, puncturing oral tissue, or fracturing teeth.

Inflammation and infections in the mouth can affect your pet more than you realize and more than they let on! Many pet parents remark on how much more playful their dog is and how much more energy their cat has after a dental cleaning. Don’t let your pet’s mouth go unchecked. Ask your BetterVet veterinarian about your dog or cat’s dental health at your next in-home or telehealth visit!

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