You Want Me To What? Dental Health for Pets by Melissa Michalik

Imagine going 24 hours without brushing your teeth. Now imagine going 10+ years. Unimaginable right? Disgusting right?

Many pet owners, even the most diligent ones, fail to think about their pets’ teeth. The reality is that dental health is just as important to our pets’ health as it is ours. Dental disease is REAL. A mouth that is neglected can lead to serious health issues; the same issues that we, as humans, can develop. It can even be fatal.

How many times have we heard “That’s ridiculous! He’s a dog/cat! They don’t brush their teeth in the wild so why should mine?” Wild animals prey after their food. Their teeth are constantly tearing/ripping/chewing at the flesh & bones of their prey. Our domesticated pets are lucky enough to have their dinner (kibbles) readily delivered to their food dish. Wild animals often die early – long before dental disease even has the chance to become an issue. Our domesticated pets, on the other hand, tend to live A LOT longer, therefore, the chance of dental disease is more likely to occur if measures aren’t taken to prevent it.

Attentive dental health care DOES increase your pets’ lifespan in many ways. To name a few:

  • Reduced damage to internal organs from oral bacteria
  • Reduced risk of general anesthesia from having to undergo more dental procedures than necessary (to remove rotten teeth that have become so painful that the pet cannot eat or has caused aggression)
  • Reduced risk of malnutrition/anorexia due to a painful or infected mouth
  • Provides early detection to other medical issues that may arise. By looking into your pets’ mouth you are more likely to pick up on things such as ulcers, tumors etc that may indicate that something else may be medically wrong. Early detection could mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Oral hygiene is relatively easy once your pet has become accustomed to it. It’s never too late to teach your pet to accept having his teeth brushed whether he is 8 weeks old or 8 years old. Obviously the younger the pet is the more readily he will accept it. Ideally it should begin the moment you bring your pet home. It should become just as much a part of his/her daily regime as it is yours. I will break down the steps to help you learn how to make this part of his heath routine:

  • Begin by getting your pet used to having his mouth touched. Opening the mouth, rubbing the lips/gums. This will make it a more rewarding and pleasant experience if you put a drop of flavored water on your fingers (try low-sodium beef or chicken bouillon for dogs..tuna for cats)
  • Choose a time and location. Animals are creatures of habit so if possible get them used to having this done at the same time and place every day. In time your pet will already be waiting for you in his special seat at 7am…long before you even get there. Some people find that evenings are better since they are less rushed.
  • Once your pet is comfortable with having his mouth touched you can slowly begin to brush the teeth with a gauze or washcloth soaked in the bouillon or tuna juice.
  • The mechanical action of brushing is the very same as it is for us – a circular motion from gum to tip of tooth
  • Once he’s become used to this you can now begin to introduce dental aids such as tooth brushes, finger brushes, PET toothpaste (never use human toothpaste as it is NOT meant to be swallowed) Pet toothpastes are meant to be ingested and come in a variety of flavours.

Sounds pretty easy right? Well it CAN be if you always remember to go slow. If your pet resists it means you’re moving too fast. Go back to the previous step. Some pets will readily accept having their teeth brushed while others may be a little more hesitant. As crazy as some will think this sounds some pets will even accept flossing! But let’s work on brushing first 😀 BE PATIENT! And be sure to constantly praise good behaviour and always reward once the session is over. Make it fun! Never reprimand bad behaviour – this will just cause your pet to resent the whole thing and will make it more difficult. This should be an enjoyable experience for both of you – not a chore. Daily brushing is ideal, however, ANY time you brush is still better than none at all. Remember though that the more often it’s done the easier and faster it becomes.

There ARE other methods you can use either alone (such as in the case of a difficult to train or aggressive pet) or in conjunction with brushing that’ll improve your pets oral hygiene. From dental diets, to dental chews to oral rinses/gels/sprays to drinking water additives. Talk to your Veterinary staff. We are loaded with helpful tips/tricks! Also remember that dental exams with your Veterinarian are still important and should be done regularly.

Happy brushing folks!