Timbercrest Dental Center

How to Keep Your Pets Healthier by Brushing Their Teeth

Dr. John Luther

Dr. John Luther, D.D.S. & Founder

Jul 11, 2016


A cat or dog is often more like a member of the family than like an animal, and keeping them healthy longer is important to anybody who shares their home with one. Most of us here at Timbercrest Dental Center either currently have a cat or dog, or have shared our home with one in the past.

Good oral health is a major part of keeping your pet’s general health in top condition. Just like your human child, good pet oral health can prevent periodontitis – your pet’s most common oral disease. By the time your cat or dog is three years old, he or she may already have some form of periodontal disease. Early detection and treatment is crucial, because (just like in humans) as periodontal disease progresses the toxins from periodontal disease are absorbed into your pet’s bloodstream where the kidneys, liver and brain filter the blood. Small infections can occur, which can become very painful and/or can cause other health problems, including kidney, liver and heart muscle changes.

The best route is to prevent periodontal disease in the first place, with good oral home care. Frequent removal of dental plaque and tartar can keep your dog or cat in optimum health.

Some pets become irritable when they experience dental problems, so any change in your pet’s behavior should warrant a visit to your veterinarian.

What signs of dental problems do you need to watch for in your cat or dog?

  1. Bad breath
  2. Loose teeth – or teeth that are coated in yellow tartar
  3. Bleeding from the mouth
  4. Loss of appetite or refusal to eat
  5. Pain or swelling in or around the mouth
  6. Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food from their mouth
  7. Abscesses or infected teeth
  8. Cysts or tumors in the mouth
  9. Broken teeth or jaw

While most veterinarians recommend professional teeth cleanings for your cat or dog on a yearly basis to remove the harmful buildup below the gumline, it’s the everyday cleaning of your pet’s teeth that is the single most effective means to dental health.

Just like in humans, dental plaque (that sticky bacterial film that adheres to the teeth) will harden into tartar if it’s allowed to sit on the teeth for any length of time. This plaque film is easily disrupted by the mechanical action of brushing. But to be effective, it should be done on a daily basis. Once the plaque hardens into tartar, brushing will no longer remove the buildup, and a professional cleaning by your veterinarian is recommended.

Yes, your dog or cat will allow you to brush their teeth – but you may have to work up to it slowly over a couple of months. Don’t give up; it will be worth the effort for a healthier pet.


Cat Dental Care

Most cats require a very gradual introduction and a gentle approach, done in stages. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) suggests it might be smart to wrap your cat in a towel to prevent getting scratched.

  • Special meat flavored toothpaste (usually chicken or seafood) introduced on your finger in tiny amounts will get them familiar with the scent and tastecat.
  • Next, put the dentifrice on their specially designed feline toothbrush (ask your veterinarian whether they recommend the feline brush with a handle or a finger brush) and let them lick it off.
  • This third stage involves gradually putting the toothbrush in their mouth and gently adding the brushing motions. Human toothpaste should not be used due to the abrasive and foaming agents used. Also, the artificial sweeteners used in human toothpastes are toxic to cats and dogs and should never be swallowed by your pet.

Special dental specific cat treats have been shown to retard the accumulation of dental plaque and tartar in cats, but remember – these are treats and not to be substituted for a daily diet. Each cat is unique in their acceptance of a home oral hygiene program.

And, you may have to try out several brush and dentifrice options before they will let you brush their teeth. Be patient and use a gentle approach – this will reap the best results.


Dog Dental Care

Just as with cats, brushing your dog’s teeth is the single most effective action you can do on a daily basis to keep them in optimum health. Most dogs will eventually allow you to brush their teeth with a bit of initial effort to get them familiar with the process. (Follow the gradual three stage introduction outline listed above for cats, to get your dog familiar with the concept of brushing their teeth.)

There are canine-specific tooth brushes with an angled design and soft bristles to help reach the back teeth; although some dogs may prefer a soft finger brush. Dog-specific toothpastes come in chicken, seafood and beef flavors. Your veterinarian can supply both to get you started with good oral home care.Dog

Dental specific diets have been shown to decrease the occurrence of dental disease, using special kibble designs or a chemical anti-tartar poly-phosphate ingredient.

Dogs are carnivorous – they chew on bones in the wild. The AVDC does not, however, recommend the use of cow hooves, hard nylon products or dried natural bones. These are too hard and can cause broken teeth or damage your dog’s gums. Rawhide chews can be helpful with supervision, but ideally should be chewed every day. You can increase palatability by smearing peanut butter or soft cheese on the chew toy.

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