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Pet Dental Care Tips

Maintaining good dental health in our pets takes diligence. Dental problems in pets are very common, and despite the notion that it's just a matter of bad 'doggy breath' or appearance, dental problems are so much more than that. The bacteria that collects in our pets' mouths can lead to serious health issues if it's not properly taken care of.

Signs That Your Pet May Have Dental Problems

  • A bad odour coming from the mouth / excessive 'doggy breath'.
  • Reluctance to eat.
  • Chewing oddly, or refusing to eat hard food or treats.
  • Cats may stop grooming.
  • Excessive drooling.
  • Reluctance to play with toys.
  • Redness or tenderness around the gums.

Consequences of Poor Dental Health

Why worry so much about their teeth? Poor dental health can lead to:

  • Loss of teeth. This isn't about appearance, but about function - a loss of teeth makes it harder for our pets to eat properly, or to enjoy all appropriate types of food.

  • An infection might start in the gums or in the bone, and could spread to other parts of the body. Heart and kidney disease are examples of what can result from serious dental problems when the bacteria in the mouth enters the bloodstream.

  • Pain. If you've ever had a sore tooth, you know how much it hurts. The same can happen to our pets. Pain can cause pets to stop eating (or be reluctant to eat) and affects how well they feel.

Tips for Good Dental Health In Pets

So what can we do as pet owners to help keep our pets' mouths as healthy as possible?

Start With a Clean Slate

Ask your vet to do an oral exam on your pet. He or she can advise you whether your pet's dental health is serious enough to warrant a cleaning (or other dental work). A dental cleaning is almost always done under anesthesia. Many pet owners are understandably worried about the anesthesia, but your vet can run bloodwork prior to the dental to figure out whether or not your pet is healthy enough to do the work. Since poor dental health can lead to many other serious health issues, keeping your pet's teeth clean is important.

That said, try to minimize how often your pet needs to be sedated for dental work. Adopting a regular dental care routine (see below) will help. As a bonus, you'll save money from the cost of dental cleanings!

Brush Your Pet's Teeth

Some pets absolutely hate to have their teeth brushed, but with time and patience, most can be taught to tolerate it. There are soft-bristled toothbrushes made specifically for pets, or you can instead choose a soft finger-brush. You can even use a piece of gauze to 'wipe' at the teeth (taking care to ensure your pet doesn't swallow it!). Do not use human toothpaste for pets. Human toothpaste is meant to be rinsed away, not swallowed. There is specially formulated toothpaste for pets in several flavours. Most pets appear to tolerate it well, and some even enjoy it.

The good thing about regular brushing is that you can examine your pet's mouth at the same time. Keep an eye out for any unusual-looking spots, lumps, smell, or discharge.

Although ideally we'd brush our pet's teeth once or twice daily, most people don't have the time or inclination to do it so often. A more realistic goal is to brush a minimum of twice per week.

Offer Appropriate Chew Toys

Some toys are specifically designed to help massage a dog's gums and help to scrub the teeth while they chew. Many have little nubs or ridges for this purpose. For example, Kong dental toys have small grooves in them which can even be filled with dog toothpaste.

Consider Dental Sprays and Gels

Now there are dental sprays, gels, and rinses that may help to keep your pet's mouths clean. They can't perform miracles; but once your pet has had their teeth cleaned, these can help to keep them that way. Many types of sprays are available and one may work better than another for your pet. Always discuss their use with your vet first.

Consider Food and Treats That Promote Dental Health

There are 'dental health' pet foods (kibble) and treats that are supposed to gently scrub the teeth while they're being eaten. However, not all pets find them palatable - and they are not a substitute for regular care. They're popular because they're easy - just offer food or a treat, something we'd do anyways. However, dental food and treats don't prevent tartar from building up; they claim to be able to help 'clean' the teeth, but the reality is that they are no substitute for brushing... plus the extra calories can lead to a tubby pet.

Many pet owners (and some veterinarians) who feed their dogs a raw diet that includes raw, meaty bones, claim that the natural enzymes present in the food help protect the teeth and gums and keep them clean. But a raw food diet isn't appropriate for every dog, nor are raw bones suitable for every dog, even as a treat (aggressive chewers, for example, may fracture their teeth). If you are interested in possibly changing your dog to a raw diet, consult with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable and open-minded about both the raw food diet as well as the standard kibble / canned food fare that most pet owners feed.

With any type of food or treats, pet owners should be aware that very hard food can cause some pets to fracture their teeth.

Wishing your pet good dental health!

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