Most dog and cat owners never take a good look inside their pet’s mouth. That’s unfortunate because many pets show signs of gum disease by the time they are four years old and it’s because they weren’t given proper mouth care. Exam your dog’s mouth regularly to prevent future periodontal diseases and keep his smile dazzling with a mouthful of pearly whites.
What to look for when checking your pet’s mouth:
- Malodorous (bad) breath – Normal dog breath doesn’t smell like lavender and rose petals but if his breath is extremely offensive and is accompanied by loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive drinking or urinating, it’s a good idea to take them to the vet.
- Healthy gums – Don’t forget to check their gums! Healthy gums should be pink, not red or white, and should show no signs of swelling.
- Signs of Oral Disease – Some additional symptoms of more serious periodontal disease include excessive drooling, loose teeth, broken or fractured teeth, discolored teeth, and cysts under the tongue.
So what should you do to keep your pet’s teeth healthy? In addition to your regular home checkups, follow these steps:
1. Start with your veterinarian and get a dental exam for your pet
This is the first step in a successful dental program for your pet. Your veterinarian will give a thorough examination of your pet’s mouth: teeth, gums and oral cavity and make a recommendation if a professional cleaning is necessary.
2. Ask your veterinarian for a tooth care demonstration after the dental cleaning
Starting a home dental program while your pet is young is the best bet for good dental health. Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the proper techniques for your particular pet and any special needs they may have.
3. Shop for an appropriate toothpaste
Your veterinarian and most pet supply stores will likely carry a selection of toothpaste choices. Do not use human toothpaste! Besides not being tasty for pets, human toothpastes are “sudsy” and meant to be rinsed out, not swallowed.
Many pet toothpastes are enzymatic, offering greater cleansing action on food debris and plaque and can be swallowed (do not need to be rinsed out). Most pets prefer meat-flavored toothpastes, such as beef and chicken over mint flavors. Start with a small sample first, if possible to find a flavor your pet likes and agrees with.
4. Shop for an appropriate tooth brush or cleaning tool
There are alternatives to a tooth brush if your pet cannot tolerate the bristles in his mouth. Be sure to select a brush size that is appropriate for your pet’s mouth with soft bristles. If this will not work for your pet, consider a finger-tip “brush”, a tissue or cloth or, as a last resort, a mouth spray (for animals who cannot tolerate anything in their mouth).
5. Introduce your pet to brushing and dental care slowly
The most important things to be aware of when starting a home dental care program is to: 1) not get bitten and 2) not harm your pet’s mouth in the process of brushing. If you are not sure of how your pet will react, go slowly. Start with a small amount of toothpaste — let your pet smell and taste it, praising and encouraging him.
Add the brush (or other tool) once you feel comfortable and your pet knows what to expect. Brush gently, stroking from the gums downward. Do not worry about brushing the inside of the teeth (by tongue), as they are cleansed by saliva.
6. How often should you brush your pet’s teeth?
Just like humans, brush them daily. If this is not possible, try to brush their teeth at least twice a week to establish a routine so they become comfortable and know what to expect.
7. Bones or chew toys to help keep teeth clean
Chew toys can satisfy your dog’s natural desire to chomp, while making his teeth strong, massaging his gums and help keep his teeth clean by scraping away soft tarter. Ask your vet about toxin-free rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys.
8. Foods or treats to keep teeth and gums healthy
There are a variety of biscuits out there labeled as “tartar control”. Ask your vet if this is an option for your pet for daily oral care. As with all treats or special diets, be mindful of the calories and your pet’s overall weight!
9. How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Just like humans, dental care is very important for cats and dogs. Having a healthy mouth will not only affect the teeth and gums, but also the heart, liver, kidneys, and the overall health of your pet. Learn the basics of tooth brushing in this video.
For more information about dental care treatments, please visit our website or contact our hospital at 619-422-6186 to set up an appointment to talk to our veterinarians.
By: Jagpal S. Deo, DVM