Everything You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Oral Hygiene
Most pet owners do not think much about their pet’s oral hygiene. One of the reasons for this is because dogs and cats are not prone to cavities like their pet parents. As a result, most pet parents overlook oral care as part of regular pet wellness exams at their veterinarian.
What Is Pet Wellness Oral Hygiene?
Both dogs and cats are prone to plaque buildup on their teeth that hardens and turns into tartar— just like humans! Once tartar forms, it can cause irritations along the gum line and lead to gingivitis.
Gingivitis is a general inflammation of the gum tissue. If you notice your dog or cat has bleeding gums, chances are they have gingivitis. Other signs of gingivitis could include:
- A discoloration of the gum tissue
- Sore or swollen gums
- Problems chewing and biting
- Foul and bad smelling breath
If your pet is not treated for gingivitis, it can progress into periodontitis. This is considered advanced gum disease. Periodontitis progresses through several stages, and it becomes harder to reverse the effects. Eventually, in later stages, all that can be done is to manage the disease to prevent it from worsening further, as it is irreversible.
Typical signs of periodontitis include:
- Sore and swollen gums
- Bleeding gums
- Receding gum tissue from the base of the teeth
- Loose teeth
- Teeth that fall out
- A reduction in bone density in the jaw bones
- Problems chewing and biting
- Discolored gum tissue
- Constant and very noticeable bad breath
If left untreated, the bacteria that causes both gingivitis and periodontitis can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. This bacteria can cause infections in the kidneys, brain, liver, and other major organs. Furthermore, some infections can cause permanent damage to your beloved pet.
Pet oral hygiene requires removing the plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth. There are several effective ways this can be done. It is important to stress that a combination of methods provides the best prevention and will help to keep your pet’s teeth clean.
How to Maintain Good Oral Hygiene for Your Pet
Now that you understand how poor oral hygiene can affect your pet, let’s look at how pet wellness oral hygiene is different from human oral hygiene. Proper oral hygiene in dogs and cats is slightly different, so we will look at each animal separately.
In dogs, oral hygiene requires removing the plaque and tartar that cause gingivitis and periodontitis. Most dogs do fairly well to take care of their teeth on their own if they have access to hard chew toys like their favorite rawhide bone.
As they gnaw at the bone, it rubs the plaque and tartar and can help remove them from the teeth. Pet parents can also focus their dog’s diet on more of a meat-based hard dog food diet. Hard foods also stimulate the gums and help remove plaque from the teeth, but they cannot be relied on alone.
In cats, plaque and tartar tend to be more of a problem for pet parents because they may not get plenty of hard foods as part of their diet. Consuming mostly soft foods allows an excess amount of plaque to form that will eventually harden and become tartar.
In the wild, cats chew on bones and grass to help “brush” their teeth. For indoor cats, you will want to provide access to things they would get outdoors, like a pot full of cat grass they can chew on, or a nice beef rawhide bone! While you might not think your cat would be interested in a chew bone, most pet parents are surprised when it becomes their new favorite toy.
In addition to providing access to chew toys and hard meat-based foods, pet parents should have their pet’s teeth cleaned at least annually at our veterinarian and animal hospital in Fort Collins. This procedure is very similar to how your dentist cleans your teeth during your bi-annual visits.
However, to make your dogs or cats comfortable, they are normally sedated and put to sleep during the process unless they will sit still and allow the vet to brush and clean their teeth. Once they are asleep, then the teeth are cleaned using various dental tools to remove the plaque and tartar from their teeth.
Keep in mind, depending on your pets’ diet, they could require bi-annual cleanings for proper oral health. Your veterinarian will let you know if this is the case with your pet. Additionally, if your pets are seniors and already having bi-annual wellness exams, it is a good idea to have their teeth checked at each visit and cleaned as needed.
Pet Wellness Oral Hygiene Tips for At-Home Care
Pet parents are surprised to learn there are special pet toothpastes formulated for dogs and cats that can be used at home. Your veterinarian may also recommend a special doggie toothbrush or kitty toothbrush.
- TIP: Never use human toothpaste to brush your cat’s or dog’s teeth. Human toothpaste contains fluoride, and it is very toxic to both cats and dogs. It can make them extremely ill and could potentially kill them.
Since your pets cannot brush their teeth on their own, it is up to pet parents to do the task. Getting your dogs or cats into the mood can be challenging, but does not have to become a major chore, like giving your dog a bath.
The best way to introduce your dogs to brushing is to let them smell and chew on the brush. You can try to brush their front teeth to start and, gradually, work up to brushing longer and longer. Eventually, your dogs should get accustomed to the process. Just remember to reward them with a treat afterward as encouragement.
Cats can be harder to get used to the process. A good place to start is also to let them play with and chew on their kitty toothbrushes. You could put some of the kitty toothpaste on the end so they also become familiar with the flavor and scent of the toothpaste.
Eventually, your cats might allow you to brush a few of their teeth before they are no longer willing to sit still. That is perfectly fine, as long as some of the teeth are being brushed. Over time, as they get used to their new “toy,” they could allow you to brush more of their teeth at each sitting.
- TIP: Introduce your new puppy or kitten to teeth brushing as soon as possible. By starting at an early age, it is easier for pet parents to get into a normal routine and face fewer objections from their pets. Plus they will view it as “me time” where they are getting attention from their pet parents!
Why Is Pet Oral Hygiene Important?
Oral diseases do not occur overnight. Both gingivitis and periodontitis are preventable diseases. They take time to develop and taking preventative measures sooner rather than later is highly recommended.
Pet oral hygiene should be part of your regular wellness exams. With the right oral care, it can help provide a healthier and longer life for your dogs or cats. Even if your pets are older, it is never too late to start caring for their teeth. While it might be too late to get them used to at-home brushing, they can have their teeth cleaned with regular oral cleanings at our veterinarian in Fort Collins.
If you have further questions about oral hygiene for your pets, or want to schedule an oral care and pet wellness exam, please feel free to contact Advanced Animal Care of Colorado at 970-818-5054 today!