Dental Care for your Pet

Dental care for your pet will make a great difference in your pet's comfort and health.  Dogs and cats alike, as us humans, experience plaque, tartar, gum disease, tooth loss and tooth aches.  Bacteria from the inflamed gum tissue and infected oral cavity can enter the bloodstream and affect internal organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.  The more you can do for your pet at home, the less your veterinarian will need to do.  This will not only have a positive impact on your vet's bill, but your pet's overall health will benefit from it as well.  

Pets, like humans, will enjoy less food or even eat less food when they are faced with painful oral conditions.  Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help maintain and improve your pet's dental care.  The approaches listed below may not be exhaustive, but combining the methods can have a significant impact on your pet's teeth and overall health.

Brushing your pet's teeth is one of the most effective methods to curtail and even improve dental disease.  Daily brushing is recommended to improve dental health, while brushing every other day will help maintain your pet's dental health in its current state.  Dogs and cats have sensitive gum tissue, and specifically designed pet toothbrushes and toothbrush kits can be purchased in almost every pet store, veterinarian's office, or even online.  It is important to note that cats' toothbrushes will have a different bristle length and shape than dogs' toothbrushes in order to optimize the brushing and cleaning effectiveness.  

Veterinarians recommend enzymatic toothpastes such as the CET toothpaste for pets which is pet safe and comes in several flavors such as poultry, vanilla, mint, beef, seafood, and malt.  The CET enzymatic toothpaste helps eliminate mouth odors, provides natural antibacterial action, and contain no foaming agents which means that it is safe for pets to swallow.  In addition, the abundance of different flavors ensures that you can find a taste that will be well accepted by your pet.  Whether you choose the CET brand or otherwise, it is advantageous to get an enzymatic toothpaste for your pet as the enzymes in the toothpaste will help break down existing plaque and accumulated tartar, improving dental health with each daily brushing.  Under no circumstances should you use regular human toothpaste with your pet. The fluoride in human toothpaste is toxic to dogs and cats and can be an issue when swallowed by your pet!

Baby steps: the key to successfully brushing your pet's teeth is to be patient and gradual in your routine, while combining it with praise and positive reinforcement.  For the the first week when you first introduce your pet to toothpaste and toothbrushing, just add a small dab of pet toothpaste on your finger and let your pet lick it as a "treat."  Here is where the different pet toothpaste flavors come in handy.  I have 3 dogs myself, and 2 of them prefer the poultry flavor, while the third dog prefers the malt flavor.  Make sure to always choose the same time of day to establish a brushing routine.  The week after that, you can then use your finger with a dab of pet toothpaste to massage the gums and teeth of your pet.  Here is where an enzymatic toothpaste is advantageous, as the enzymes will work for you even without actually brushing your pet's teeth.  For the third week, introduce the toothbrush with a dab of pet toothpaste and let your pet lick the toothpaste off the brush.  Finally, in the fourth week, you can start to work the brush with the toothpaste into your pet's mouth.  Do not worry about thoroughly brushing your pet's teeth right away!  What is important is that your pet becomes used to having a toothbrush in their mouth.  Brush mainly the outside of the cheek and lip teeth, canines, and incisors, using a gentle up-and-down motion.  I myself start with the top teeth at the back of one side, working myself to the opposite side on the top and then switching to the bottom.  

Do not be discouraged on your first tries.  I have ended up with more toothpaste on myself and everywhere else on my dogs except in their mouths!  To top it off, one of my dogs, to this day, still tries to chew the bristles off his toothbrush because he loves the taste of his pet toothpaste.  Just remember to keep each toothbrushing session short, with each day progressing just a little further.  Keep your body language, voice, and comments calm but assertive.  Key is positive reinforcement.  The moment you become frustrated and impatient, your pet will notice it immediately and fight you every inch of the way.  Teeth brushing should be a positive and even fun routine.  Not a punishment!

With time and practice, you will become a tooth brushing pro.  You will be able to successfully brush your pet's teeth in 2-3 minutes tops.  I myself prefer to brush my pet's teeth after I had dinner.  Others might prefer to brush their pet's teeth in the late afternoon or before you go to bed.  Whatever time you choose, just make sure to make it a routine experience for your pet at the same time of each tooth brushing day.  

Chlorhexidine oral rinses are another method of providing dental care for your pet.  These rinses provide antibacterial benefits that last for several hours, are deemed safe for pets and rarely cause any problems.  Chlorhexidine binds to the oral tissue, tooth surfaces and existing plaque.  It is gradually released into the mouth.  Some pets may dislike the taste of these rinses however.

Surprisingly, putting your pet on an exclusive dry food feeding program will have little benefit for your pet's dental health.  However, some chew type products and specific diets have been shown to be of benefit in increasing dental health for pets.  Veterinarians recommend Science Diet T/D, which is a "mesh type" dry food diet that actually scrubs your pet's teeth as it eats.  

Some chews, such as the CET enzymatic chews, contain enzymes that improve dental health by eliminating plaque forming bacteria, while combining natural antiseptic activity with abrasive action.

CET also offers their line of HEXtra chews with contain chlorhexidine. These chews combine the mechanical action of rawhide and the antiseptic properties of chlorhexidine in order to improve your pet's dental health.

Kongs are also popular as chew toys.  They are firm rubber toys that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be filled with healthy treats.  

Veterinarians do not recommend chews such as cow hooves, pig ears, antlers, natural bones or hard Nylabones.  All these types of chews are actually harder than your pet's teeth, and are often associated with broken teeth in pets.  

Whatever the type of chew, please remember to monitor your pet while they are using the product.  Never leave a pet unattended wile they are enjoying a chew or chew toy until you are confident that the pet will not choke on or destroy the chew.