February is National Pet Dental Health Month!
So how do you begin to keep your dog or cat’s teeth healthy? The key is to start early. As soon as your new furry friend comes home, you want to start them on a good crunchy food regimen. There are even special treats to help promote pet dental health, such as DentaStix made by Pedigree, which serve as a natural way to reduce plaque and ultimately tartar build-up. Chew toys are also great for your pet’s teeth. They massage your dog or cat’s gums, scrape the tartar, and strengthen the teeth. As a bonus, they also satisfy an animal’s natural urge to chew. And yes, cats do have as great an urge to chew as their canine counterparts, and there are chew toys designed just for them.
Food, treats, and chew toys are a great start to pet dental health but just as with humans, proper and regular tooth brushing is critical to good oral hygiene. Pet supply stores carry toothbrushes and toothpaste designed specifically for dogs and cats. These toothbrushes generally have smaller heads, softer bristles and longer handles. The toothpaste is formulated specifically for pets; human toothpaste is too harsh and abrasive and can actually damage a pet’s enamel. There have also been cases of fluoride poisoning in animals, which is a common ingredient in toothpaste for humans. One good alternative involves using your index finger wrapped in gauze and a homemade paste of baking soda and water.
What is the proper way to brush your pet’s teeth? Begin by preparing your pet to have his or her teeth brushed. Once you have earned your pet’s trust, touch the area around its mouth and lips, and rub your finger across its gums and teeth several times a day until your pet seems comfortable with it. When you are ready to begin brushing, put your finger wrapped in gauze or the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the teeth, and begin brushing in small, circular motions. Pay careful attention to the surface of the teeth that comes in contact with the inside of the cheek, as that is where the most tartar build-up tends to occur.
Another crucial aspect of your pet’s oral health is regular dental cleanings by your veterinarian. These are typically done annually and many animal hospitals offer specials on this service during the month of February.
How can you tell if your pet is having dental problems? One way is to smell your animal’s breath. Normal cat or dog breath does not exactly smell like a bed of roses, but if it is particularly foul, then it is time to talk to your veterinarian. Also, check your pet’s gums on a weekly basis. A dog or cat’s gums should be pink, not white or red, and they should not be swollen. Also, the teeth should be clean, without brown spots.
How can poor dental health affect your pet? Bacteria can travel from the mouth to other parts of the body and can infect the kidneys, digestive tract, joints, and even the heart.
Good dental health is essential to your pet’s overall health and well-being.
Jen Jones has a master’s degree in animal behavioral sciences from Cornell University and is a licensed veterinary technician. She owns Alpha Pets, Inc., which offers dog walking, training, pet sitting and new pet consultation. She can be reached at 866-990-PETS and firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.alphapetsinc.com.