February is Pet Dental Health Month. You may hear a lot about the importance of dental health from your veterinarian during this time and, (of course!) a healthy and pain-free mouth is important every day. Pet parents who provide daily dental care can prevent dental disease such as periodontal disease, stop early active periodontal disease, and find/treat abnormalities in the mouth much sooner!
This blog will be presented in 3 sections:
- Part I: Why and How Should I Provide At-Home Dental Care?
- Part II: Brushing & Dental Care Products
- Part III: Already Brushing? Advanced Tips for Dental Care
Part I: Why and How Should I Provide At-Home Dental Care?
Why Should I Provide At-Home Dental Care?
1. It can lengthen your pet’s life.
You may be thinking, “I’ve had dogs and cats my whole life, and they’ve never needed to have their teeth brushed!” Yes! And over time, facets of pet care have evolved and improved. For example, we now feed nutritionally balanced food to pets. A hundred years ago, however, pets foraged for leftovers or garbage. That change in diet alone has lengthened our pets’ lives. Daily dental care is one of these important areas of care like diet, exercise, veterinary care, and wellness that can increase the time we have with our beloved animal family members.
2. It can decrease the likelihood that your pet is living with pain.
Dental disease has always existed – since the invention of teeth! But our furry family members hide pain because they have a strong evolutionary drive to do so. There may be clues pointing toward hidden dental pain, but pet owners have to know what to look for.
Signs of dental disease can include:
- bad breath
- red or recessed gums
- broken or loose teeth
- accumulation of tartar
- swelling on the face/gums/jaws
- being head-shy
- pawing at the mouth
- changes in chewing, speed of eating, or food preferences
- excessive sneezing or nasal discharge
- changes in behavior
Eating or having a good appetite does not indicate the presence or absence of dental pain, because our pets are still hungry and will eat to survive, even if they’re in pain. Sometimes, a pet has dental disease and shows no symptoms at all.
3. Your pet needs dental care to be healthy, just like you do!
You may be thinking, “My groomer brushes Fluffy’s teeth each month.” That’s great! But imagine if you waited until your barber or hairstylist brushed your teeth? Or if you didn’t brush your teeth until you were an adult? How does it feel when you’re traveling and forget your toothbrush? (I bet you just ran your tongue over the surface of your front teeth.)
4. Looking in your pet’s mouth every day helps you notice changes.
The goal of daily dental health care for your pet is to remove dental plaque (sticky, white-grayish film) off the surface of the teeth and to examine your pet’s mouth. A daily oral examination allows you to notice subtle and sudden changes to the lips, teeth, gums, tongue, or differences in behavior from day to day.
How Should I Provide At-Home Dental Care?
The Best Time to Start…
If you have a puppy or kitten, daily dental care starts within days of welcoming him or her home. Daily home dental care is just like all the other teaching and learning needed for new furry family members: sit, stay, walk on a leash, keep off the counters, and “here is where you potty.” Daily dental care involves training and learning new habits.
If your pet has just had a professional dental cleaning by your veterinary clinic staff – it’s the perfect time to start at-home dental care. After the oral exam, full mouth dental x-rays, and scaling and polishing, your fur baby will have clean, shiny teeth with a healthy mouth. Get started with an at-home program and keep them that way! Follow your veterinarian’s specific recommendations, especially if extractions or other therapies were performed.
If you don’t have a puppy or kitten, and it’s been a while since your pet’s teeth cleaning, his or her mouth may be painful. A whopping 70% of cats and 80% of dogs already have periodontal disease – by the time they’re only two years old! Before starting dental care for an adult or elderly pet, make an appointment with your vet. If your pet already has tartar accumulation, bad breath, or any of the bulleted signs above, he or she will probably need professional teeth cleaning before beginning a dental home care program.
Know that some pets will never tolerate or allow tooth brushing. Do not endanger yourself or your hands! If you can’t provide at-home care, keep in mind that your pet may require more frequent professional veterinary dental care.
Read Part II to learn about the steps and products involved in brushing or wiping your pet’s teeth!