With veterinary advances happening all the time, more and more is being learned about how important dental care is for dogs and cats. It is not uncommon for older animals to need teeth pulled due to a lack of dental care. Unfortunately, a lack of education and large amounts of misinformation in the media has most pet owners believing that a diet of dry kibble will keep teeth clean and healthy, when more care is actually needed. Tarter build up can lead to an adverse affect on other aspects of health. The build up of bacteria in the mouth can lead to it traveling to other parts of the body, like the kidney, hearts, and liver, according to Jan Allegretti and Katy Sommers, DVM, authors of The Holistic Dog.
There are several canine toothbrushes available on the market that are designed with the shape of a dog’s mouth in mind. Some of them look just like a toothbrush for humans, but a popular style that is easiest to work with are finger brushes that have small and flexible plastic bristles. They slip onto the finger and allow for flexibility and control for accurate brushing. Brushing teeth is a good habit to get into when the pet is young, when they are more receptive to the idea and can get used to it. If an older pet will have no part of getting their teeth brushed, slowly introduce them to the toothbrush with meat flavored toothpaste, letting the pet lick it off. Positive association will help the pet stay calm during brushing. The American Animal Hospital Association has this advice:
The entire process should only take a minute or two. If your dog or cat continues to resist, try gently wrapping him in a large bath towel with only his head sticking out. Above all, avoid overstraining and keep sessions short and positive. With plenty of praise and reassurance, your dental sessions can bring the two of you closer—a closeness that won’t be marred by the perils of dog breath.
If toothbrushing will not work, getting the right chewing treats and toys will keep teeth free of tarter. For dogs, Nylabone toys for chewing will clean teeth and provide dogs with a boredom buster. Raw, meaty bones are another option for dogs. The tearing action cleans teeth, and even cleans between the teeth. Never give a dog cooked bones, as they easily splinter, and always supervise your dog while they are chewing.
For cats, shredding and chewing raw meats will help cats to use their “predatory” teeth; however, over the span of a cat’s life, it is likely that the teeth will need to be cleaned at some point. There are also chewing toys for cats that have small ridges for gum massaging and teeth cleaning. Toothbrushing can be used on cats as well, but many cats are not receptive to it and may even need to have their teeth cleaned at the veterinarian. Contrary to popular belief, dry kibble does not scrape against teeth to keep them clean in either dogs or cats.
At the veterinarian, similar procedures are used to clean teeth as with humans; however, they do require that the pet be given a dose of anesthesia for a complete cleaning. Pets will be evaluated accordingly and noted if they do not make good candidates for it. Learning to clean your pet’s teeth at home from an early age aids in avoiding these services if you are concerned about your pet receiving anesthesia.
American Animal Hospital Association. Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth. Merial, 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2011.
American Animal Hospital Association. Healthy Pet. Merial, 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2011.
Postins, Lucy. Feed Your Way to a Healthy Pet. San Diego: The Honest Kitchen, 2011. Print.
*Also published on My Pet Savings in 2011.