Did you know that February is National Pet Dental Health Month? As humans, most of us have a regular dental hygiene routine. We brush twice a day, attempt to floss at least once a day, and see our dentists/dental hygienists twice a year. We do this to keep our teeth as healthy as possible and address concerns as soon as they arise. The month of February is a great reminder to recognize that pets need dental health care just as much as we do.
How to care for your pet’s teeth:
Just like people, the best at home care for your pet’s teeth is brushing. Studies recommend brushing at least 5 times per week or more to reduce plaque/tartar build-up. Even though the task may sound daunting, a little training can go a long way.
The first step is making sure that your dog or cat is comfortable having his/her mouth handled. Make it fun and reward with treats.
Once your pet is comfortable with your hands around their mouth, upgrade to getting them used to the brush. For dogs, I typically use a soft-bristled human tooth brush. If you have a small dog or cat, you may want to try a finger brush or a pet-specific toothbrush. Most pet toothbrushes have a smaller head/bristle area. I like to start by putting a pet flavored tooth paste on the brush and letting my pets lick it off. Caution: I had one client whose dog thought the treat on the toothbrush was tasty enough that they bit off the whole head of the toothbrush and swallowed it. If your dog is prone to gulping treats, you might want to start with a plain tooth brush (no toothpaste or treats added) first. Then you can reward with separate treats when your pet shows interest in the toothbrush. Rewarding the most when they allow the toothbrush into their mouth.
Once your pet is excited to see the toothbrush, you can start slowly brushing. At the beginning, I start with short sessions and work up to brushing the entire mouth. You do not have to worry much about the insides of your pets teeth (unless they have a specific health concern there) as most of the plaque/tartar build-up occurs on the outside of the teeth.
What if you can’t or don’t want to brush your pet’s teeth daily?
I encourage everyone to attempt to start a daily teeth brushing routine with their pets. Just about any pet will accept a toothbrush if introduced slowly. If you know you won’t be able to brush frequently enough, find some dental chews/treats to give on days you don’t brush. Look for the VOHC seal on dental care products to know that they have been tested and proven to aid in the reduction of plaque or tartar or both.
And of course, full dental cleanings provided by your veterinarian pair wonderfully with any amount of teeth brushing. A full oral exam and cleaning under anesthesia is the best way to find, treat, and prevent oral health problems in our pets. See your local veterinarian for more details about dental cleanings. Many veterinary clinics will be running specials this month in honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, so don’t wait. Talk to your vet about your pet’s dental health this month!