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Does Your Pet Have Healthy Teeth and Gums? Essential Tips for Animal Oral Care
By: Brianna Gunter | Updated July 2, 2023
Healthy teeth and gums are crucial to your pet’s overall health and wellbeing. Similar to our own dental health, researchers believe that periodontal illnesses in animals may be linked to more serious problems like heart and kidney disease. But since you can’t order your dog to floss or make your cat brush after eating, how can you make sure their dental health is a priority?
8 Dog and Cat Dental Care Tips You Need to Know
As a pet owner, you have quite a few things you can do. Follow these eight veterinarian-approved pet dental care tips, and your furry friend’s tooth and gum health will be on the right track!
1. Talk with your pet’s veterinarian about dental care
“If you buy any over-the-counter products for home dental care, be sure to check with your veterinarian and make sure the product is safe for your pet,” says Dr. Caroline Wilde, Trupanion veterinarian. “Ask your vet for their recommendations regarding a home oral care plan.”
In addition to ensuring pet dental product safety, it’s important to be aware that some dogs and cats have certain health conditions that make their mouths extra sensitive. Others just have highly nervous temperaments that could be aggravated by making changes at home. Even if you think your four-legged friend is going to be just fine getting his teeth brushed by you, an experienced veterinarian can help you navigate this new territory as safely as possible.
2. Start pet dental care early (but not too early)
It’s never too late to start caring about your pet’s oral health, but your pal will have an easier time adapting to dental care when they are young. If you are wanting to brush your pet’s teeth, it’s best to start getting them use to the process when they are a puppy or kitten.
“Every pet owner should practice home dental care if their pet tolerates it,” Wilde advises. “Generally speaking, this can begin as soon as the pet has permanent teeth, and the sooner the pet parent starts a home dental care program the better.”
3. Learn to brush your pet’s teeth
Just as with humans, Wilde points out that “Brushing the teeth daily is the best defense against build-up of plaque [in pets].”
Brushing your pet’s teeth can be intimidating, but rest assured that pet owners do it every day (with both canines and felines). However, brushing your pal’s teeth is going to be a little different from brushing your own or those of a young child. In order to ensure safety as well as effectiveness, it’s important to learn how to brush your pet’s teeth properly. Trupanion has a step-by-step guide, and you may also have other resources at your disposal.
“A lot of practices distribute or sell dental starter kits,” Wilde says. “[They] can provide a demo as to how to brush the teeth.”
4. Be patient and consistent
Pet dental health tips are easy to practice at home… when your pet permits it! If Fluffy is giving you a hard time whenever you go near her mouth, you’re far from alone. Resistance is common with most pets when they are first exposed to teeth brushing and other dental care tactics, and the good news is that it tends to fade as dogs and cats adapt to the new routine.
“Be patient and go slowly when implementing a home dental care program, and do not force anything as that could create aversion to home dental care,” Wilde says. “Use positive reinforcement with treats or playtime to help facilitate this process.”
What if my pet won’t let me brush their teeth at all?
If you don’t notice improvement in your pet’s willingness to have their teeth brush, your veterinarian may be able to help. They may be able to recommend ways to calm your pet or show you new techniques to try. For dogs and cats that really don’t tolerate tooth brushing (which isn’t uncommon), your veterinarian may be able to recommend a prescription dental diet or over-the-counter approved dental treats.
While they aren’t as good as routine teeth brushing, they can certainly help in combination with veterinarian-performed dental prophylaxis (preventative care). Most veterinary practices offer pet dental cleanings on site or can direct you where to go for them.
5. Schedule pet dental exams
“In terms of dental care, just like in people, it is best to be proactive and have regular dental exams,” Wilde says.
So, how often should dogs and cats receive routine veterinary dental care? Starting out every six months is usually a good rule of thumb, but the truth is that it can vary for individual pets. Consult with your veterinarian about how often they think Fido in particular needs a dental exam and professional cleaning.
Pets receiving daily tooth brushing at home may be able to go longer in between professional exams and cleanings, but those who are not will benefit from having them more frequently. Likewise, dogs and cats with certain illnesses or a history of dental problems will need to go in more often.
6. Know the signs of dental problems in pets
Never allow at-home dental checks to take the place of those done by a professional in a veterinary setting. That said, being able to spot signs of dental problems in pets can help with early detection and treatment. Always be gentle and take caution when checking your pet’s mouth, and only do so if your pet is completely comfortable with it.
If they are, don’t wait to schedule a dental appointment for your pet if you spot any of these signs:
- Discolored teeth
- Loose teeth
- Bad breath
- Heavy tartar (buildup) or new tartar growth on teeth
- Bleeding in or around the mouth
- Uncharacteristic drooling or heavy drooling
- Mouth sensitivity (won’t let you touch their mouth or face)
- Changes in eating habits or spitting out food
- Blood in pet’s food or water bowl
- Any swelling in or near the mouth
Early treatment is key to preventing potentially irreversible damage to your pet’s teeth and gums.
7. Only give your pet safe chew toys
Just because it’s sold in a pet store doesn’t automatically mean it is safe for your pet’s teeth and gums. Certain pet chews—specifically ones that are too hard—can cause dental trauma, especially if your pet is allowed to chew on them at length. For example, rawhide can break into sharp pieces that can cause dental trauma (not to mention other health problems further down the digestive tract), as can many bone chews. You should also be wary of giving your pet anything made of thin, stiff plastic that can shatter. Talk with your veterinarian about what kinds of safe chew toys they recommend for your pet’s dental health.
8. Invest in pet dental insurance
Even if your pal’s teeth and gums are healthy now, unexpected dental injuries and illnesses can affect them later on. Regular at-home care and scheduled veterinary dental cleanings are necessary, but unwelcome surprises can still happen.
To save yourself from worry, consider pet health insurance.
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Pet Parenting is the official blog of Trupanion, a leader in the world of pet insurance for dogs and cats. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore. While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.
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