February is Pet Dental Health Month—an important time to consider the health of your pet’s pearly whites. Whether you own a dog or a cat, by brushing your pet’s teeth at home, you can reduce plaque and tartar buildup and thereby help keep your pet’s mouth much healthier. Of course, regular veterinary dental examinations are also essential (be sure to book your appointment with the Mobile Pet Vet today!), but brushing your pet’s teeth on a regular basis can help limit the frequency of professional cleanings, which often require general anesthesia. Read the following tips on pet dental health — starting today! Please note that the brushing techniques are better tolerated when pets are young. If you have an older pet that is face shy or has a sore mouth do not force brushing as your pet might bite in self defense.
Did you know that regularly brushing your dog’s teeth and providing her with a healthy diet and plenty of chew toys can go a long way toward keeping her mouth healthy? Many a man’s best friend shows signs of gum disease by the time they are four months old, because they aren’t provided with proper mouth care—and bad breath is often the first sign of a problem. Give your dog regular home checks and follow these tips to have a happier pooch on your hands—and one with a dazzling smile!
The Breath Test
Sniff your dog’s breath. Not as fresh as a daisy? That’s okay—normal dog breath isn’t usually fresh-smelling to us humans. However, if your dog’s breath is especially offensive and is accompanied by a loss of appetite, vomiting, or excessive drinking or urinating, it’s a good idea to take the dog to the vet.
Once a week, with your dog facing you, lift his lips and examine his gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and they should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.
Signs of Oral Disease
The following are signs that your dog may have a problem in his mouth or gastrointestinal system, and should be checked out by a veterinarian.
- Bad breath
- Excessive drooling
- Inflamed gums
- Tumors in the gums
- Cysts under the tongue
- Loose teeth
The Lowdown on Tooth Decay
Bacteria and plaque-forming foods can cause buildup on a dog’s teeth. This can harden into tartar, possibly causing gingivitis, receding gums, and tooth loss. The solution? Regular teeth cleaning, of course!
Canine Tooth-Brushing Kit
Get yourself a toothbrush made for dogs—not people—or a clean piece of soft gauze to wrap around your finger. Ask your vet for a toothpaste made especially for canines or make a paste out of baking soda and water. Never use fluoride with dogs under six months of age—it can interfere with their enamel foundation. And please do not use human toothpaste, which can irritate a dog’s stomach. Special mouthwash for dogs is also available. Again, ask your vet.
Actually Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
First, get your dog used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. Massage her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks. Then move on to her teeth and gums. When your dog seems comfortable being touched this way, put a little bit of dog-formulated toothpaste or a paste of baking soda and water on her lips to get her used to the taste. Next, introduce a toothbrush especially for dogs—it should be smaller than a “people toothbrush” and have softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger (or a clean piece of gauze) are also available and allow you to give a nice massage to your dog’s gums. Finally, apply the toothpaste to her teeth for a gentle brushing (see the next step). Hint: A veterinary exam beforehand may be helpful to find out if your dog’s gums are inflamed. If your dog has mild gingivitis, brushing too hard can hurt her gums.
Yes, there is actually a technique! Place the brush or your gauze-wrapped finger at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions. Work on one area of your dog’s mouth at a time, lifting her lips as necessary. The side of the tooth that touches the cheek usually has the most tartar, and giving a final downward stroke can help to remove it. If your dog resists having the inner surfaces of her teeth cleaned, don’t fight it—only a small amount of tartar accumulates there. Once you get the technique down, brush your dog’s teeth two or three times a week.
Chew on This!
Chew toys can satisfy your dog’s natural ability to chomp, while also making his teeth strong. Gnawing on a chew toy can also help massage his gums and help keep his teeth clean by scraping away soft tartar. Ask your vet to recommend any rawhide, nylon, and rubber chew toys. Gnawing also helps to reduce your dog’s overall stress level, prevents boredom, and gives her an appropriate outlet for her natural need to chew.
Diet for Healthy Teeth
Ask your vet about a specially formulated dry dog food that can slow down the formation of plaque and tartar. Always avoid feeding your dog table scraps, instead giving her treats that are made to keep canine teeth healthy.
Even if the only things your cat hunts these days are laser pointers on the floor or toy mice flavored with catnip, he still needs clean, sharp teeth and healthy gums. Tooth decay and damage to the gums or tongue can be prevented with regular home checkups and tooth brushing.
The Breath Test—for Cats
Go on, take a sniff. Sure, it might not be the greatest, but it shouldn’t be overtly offensive, either. If Kitty’s mouth has an abnormally strong odor, he may have digestive problems or a gum condition such as gingivitis. Take him to the vet for a checkup.
Lift Those Lips
With your cat facing you, gently push back his lips and take a look. The gums should be firm and pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. The teeth should be clean and free of any brownish tartar, and none should be loose or broken.
Take a Close Look
Watch for any of the following signs that could indicate problems in your cat’s mouth:
- Dark red line along the gums
- Red, swollen gums
- Ulcers on gums or tongue
- Loose teeth
- Difficulty chewing food
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive pawing at the mouth area
At any sign of gum inflammation, you should take your cat in for a veterinary exam. This is very important. If left untreated, gum disease can develop, possibly leading to tooth loss or even an inability to eat. Inflammation may also point to a serious internal problem, such as kidney disease or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
The Cat’s Tooth-Brushing Kit
All you really need to brush a cat’s teeth are cotton swabs and a small toothbrush and toothpaste formulated for felines. You can also use plain salt and water. Ask your vet to suggest the brushing supplies that she trusts, and be sure to never use toothpaste designed for humans—the ingredients could be very unhealthy for your cat.
Actually Brushing a Cat’s Teeth
First, get your cat used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. Start by gently massaging the gums with your fingers or touching a cotton swab to them. After a few sessions of this, put a dab of cat-formulated toothpaste on her lips to get her used to the taste. Next, introduce a toothbrush designed especially for cats—smaller than human toothbrushes and with softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available and allow you to massage Kitty’s teeth—if Kitty will allow it. Finally apply the toothpaste to her teeth for a gentle brushing.
Give your cat a favorite treat and lots of praise after each tooth-brushing session. You want Kitty to associate good things –receiving attention and a delicious treat—with tooth brushing. Your goal is to brush your cat’s teeth daily or at least every other day.
With practice, patience, and really yummy treats and praise, you can teach both dogs and cats to accept and even look forward to tooth brushing. In addition to strengthening your bond with your pet, it’s also the best way to help your favorite furry friend maintain healthy teeth for life.
Give us a call if you’d like us to evaluate your pet’s teeth. Being a mobile veterinary hospital in Tulsa, we’ll do it in the comfort of your home and show you how to care for your pet’s teeth.