Do You Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?

This is my article for my Pet Corner column in the “Community Connection,” the neighborhood newsletter that is distributed to 2500 homes here in my subdivision. Thought I’d post it here as well so more people can start thinking about being proactive and diligent in brushing their pet’s teeth.                                                                        

Do You Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?                 cartoon of dog brushing his teeth

Dental health in pets is extremely important. Good oral hygiene is not just important for bright white teeth and fresh breath, it is critical for your pet’s overall health. Studies show that two-thirds of pet owners do not provide proper dental care. Did you know that the number one disease in pets is periodontal gum disease? It is estimated that by age 3, nearly 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have dental disease. That’s significant! And it’s a disease that can be prevented with a regular dental care routine.

Why is it so important? Because not only can poor dental hygiene result in tartar buildup, ugly yellowish brown teeth, bad breath and tooth loss, it can lead to other major health issues.

Both plaque and tartar damage the teeth and gums. Defined, plaque is a colony of bacteria, mixed with saliva, blood cell and other bacterial components and leads to tooth and gum disease. Dental tartar (aka calculus) occurs when plaque becomes mineralized and hardens, adhering to the tooth enamel which then erodes the gingival (gum) tissue.

When your pet’s teeth are not cleaned plaque and tartar build up, damaging the teeth and gums. The disease starts with the gums. They become inflamed – red, swollen and sore. Left untreated, the gums will separate from the teeth, creating pockets where more bacteria, plaque and tartar build up. This is a vicious cycle, causing more damage and finally tooth and bone loss. This is not pleasant for your pet and can lead to a sore and tender mouth, making one of their favorite times of the day –mealtime– a painful experience.

This is something that a lot of people don’t realize: Aside from affecting your pet’s mouth, bacteria from the inflamed oral area can enter the bloodstream and affect major body organs. The liver, kidneys, heart and lungs are the most commonly affected. This can then lead to a whole host of other diseases.

                 Dental hygiene is as important to your pets’ overall  health          as nutrition and exercise.  happy dog brushing his teeth at vanity sink    You can add years to your pet’s life by simply following a routine dental wellness plan. This includes an annual dental checkup with your veterinarian, professional dental cleanings provided by your vet and regular brushing on your part.

FEBURARY IS PET DENTAL HEALTH MONTH!

Most veterinarians and vet clinics offer discounted dental exams and cleanings during the month of February. So make the call, get your pet on the schedule for a dental exam. It’s never too late to start a dental wellness routine for your pet.

BUT DO I REALLY HAVE TO BRUSH?                                                                         It’s fairly easy to brush your pet’s teeth. If you’re not sure exactly how to do it, there are videos on YouTube and other sites that will demonstrate for you. Here’s a good 5-minute video from the American Veterinary Medical  Association that explains dental conditions, provides a How-To demonstration for brushing dogs and cats teeth, as well as recommendations for various treats and toys that are designed with dental health in mind.

I have used the pet toothbrushes but prefer to use an electric (battery-operated) toothbrush. In using the chicken or beef flavored toothpaste my dogs actually consider it a treat! In fact, one of my dogs gets so impatient waiting for his turn that he literally tries to lick the toothpaste out of my other dog’s mouth! They find the pet toothpaste very tasty! And that’s great because it helps to approach teeth-brushing as a treat activity and get him or her excited about this part of their daily routine.

dog with electric toothbrush in his mouth

Just remember: NEVER USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE TO CLEAN YOUR PET’S TEETH AND GUMS! And stay away from any toothpaste that contains Xylitol because it is toxic to dogs and possibly cats as well.

In between brushings you can supplement cleaning with treats and food designed especially for dental health. Some dog biscuits are labeled as tartar control. “Tartar Diet” (known as T/D) is a prescription diet by Hill’s pet foods and has a scrubbing effect on tartar that is recommended by many vets. Some people feed T/D as their dog’s main diet. Since I add warm water to soften my dogs’ kibble, I use T/D as occasional treats so my dogs can get the benefit of the scrubbing effect that the T/D chunks provide.

I also give a ‘Busy Bone Dental’ as a daily treat. ‘Busy Bone Dental’ is a Purina product; be sure the package says “Busy Bone Dental” as these are different than the plain “Busy Bones.”  Purina Busy Bone Dental package   Busy Bone Dental actual product

I’ve found amazon.com’s Subscribe & Save program to be the most cost-effective way to purchase the Busy Bone Dentals. My dogs let me know when it’s 8:00pm, their snack-time. My Picasso will stare at me until he gets his Busy Bone. I’ve tested him: he came up to me in the recliner one night and stood there staring me down. I kept telling him, “when the movie is over, you’ll get your bone and not before! I’m not getting up right now.” I refused to give in. And he literally stood there –and did not move– staring at me for over 30 minutes! Relentless!

Even though it is commonly recommended by some veterinarians, I do NOT recommend rawhide products for chewing. They can get stuck in the esophagus, cutting off air supply or they can cause gastro-intestinal blockages. There are other chew alternatives that are safer, in my opinion.

So start this New Year off right: Set an appointment with your vet to take advantage of the savings during Pet Dental Health Month and get your beloved furry friend on a regular dental health wellness routine for a happier healthier pet!

 

Sources:

Vetmedicine.about.com article “What You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Dental Health” by Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM.

Animalleague.org: stats taken from “Keep Your Pet Smiling: The Importance of Dental Health”

American Veterinary Medical Association- http://www.avma.org

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