Anybody who has pets know that they are a member of the family. You grow accustomed to their personality and behaviors as much as any other person beneath your roof.
Along with providing love and safety, you strive to provide for all of their needs and take care of them. You probably even feel like you should be able to claim them as a deduction on your income taxes (No? Just me?).
Continuing our blog’s theme of oral hygiene being crucial for overall health, your pets also rely on you to provide for this basic and important need – though they may not be able to say so. But where do you start? We all hear from early on techniques on maintaining our own and our children’s oral health. Pet oral hygiene? Not so much. There is alot you can do in the way of oral care for pets that will prevent painful health issues and expensive trips to the vet.
Like any oral hygiene regimen, the goal of pet oral health is to keep the interdental surfaces clean and eliminate any decay or odor causing plaque. This will reduce the chance for gingivitis, periodontitis, caries, calculus and pyorrhea.
Caring for your dog or your cat’s teeth should begin when they are young. It is best to ask your veterinarian when, specifically, you should begin to implement oral hygiene practices.
These practices should include, at the very minimum:
- Brushing your pet’s teeth.
- Keeping a robust supply of chew toys.
- Keeping an eye out for oral hygiene issues like gingivitis or periodontitis.
Brushing for dogs and cats
Unlike people who need to brush once or twice daily to keep up a good oral health profile, you will want to brush your dog or cat’s teeth two or three times a week. Cats, especially, rely on routines so make sure you keep up with this practice.
Brushing your pets’ teeth will be a lot like brushing your own. Make sure you are using gentle 45-degree angle strokes that cover the dental, interdental and gum spaces.
For dogs – Use a specially designed doggy toothbrush. These are available from most pet stores and also many veterinarian offices. Do not use a human toothbrush as it is too big and not properly designed for your canines canines.
For cats – While you are able to buy specially-designed kitty cat toothbrushes, cats teeth are notoriously difficult to brush. Usually, the best course of action is to wrap a piece of gauze around your finger or use specially designed finger brushes that give you better dexterity and control over the brushing.
What kind of toothpaste should I use? Well, I’m glad you asked. You should never use human toothpaste for your dog or cat (any pet, really). While swallowing a drop of fluoridated toothpaste won’t harm most adults, it can be lethal to a dog or cat regardless of size.
Chew toys are another extremely important facet for your pet’s oral health. Chewing regularly helps reduce the amount of plaque and increases salivation which prevents bad bacteria from settling into their teeth and mouth.
Certain chew toys are better than others, however. Many will advertise that they are beneficial for a pet’s oral health. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has published a list of products that meet their seal of approval, as well. Here are some general tips:
For dogs – Rawhide chews and bones are great options. For bones – avoid chicken, fish and pork bones as these are lighter and more liable to splinter which could cause traumatic damage to your dog’s insides.
For cats – Although it’s usually dogs who are depicted chasing after bones, a bone is a great way to let a cat take care of its oral health. Cats are naturally predators, so their diets are meant to include bones. Just make sure the bones are not from chicken, fish or pork for the same reasons as above.
Oral Health Issues
Like people, your cat or dog can be in for some dangerous and painful dental consequences if his or her oral health isn’t properly taken care of.
Periodontitis, a disease marked by a buildup of plaque beneath the gums, is the most common reason for veterinary clinic visits in the United States. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it is the number one reason for pets to be admitted to veterinary clinics in the United States.
Here are three of the biggest things to keep an eye out for that will indicate possible oral disease.
- Bad breath – Okay, so you might be a little worried after reading that, but I’m not talking about run of the mill “dog breath” here. Excessive halitosis and especially the smell of something decaying is probably a sign of tooth decay or periodontitis. It’s natural for your dog or cat to have a little bit of odor if you catch a whiff, but if it’s enough to make you gag or wince, it is time for them to see a veterinarian.
- Loose teeth – Periodontitis caused your dog’s or cat’s gums to recede which reduces the support structures the tooth has in the mouth. This makes the teeth loose even to the point of falling out if they chew on or bite a substance hard enough to break the already-damaged bone. If your canine or feline is exhibiting signs of loose teeth, get the leash for a run-don’t-walk to the nearest veterinary clinic.
- Reluctance to eat/chew – When something hurts, we don’t do it. Your dog or cat is the same way. A healthy mouth wants to be chewing and getting exercise whenever it can. If your dog or cat experiences a sharp drop in his or her desire to chew or eat, it could be because an oral health condition is making it physically uncomfortable for him or her to do so. Some cats and dogs chew less than others, but if the behavior seems abnormal, take them to a veterinary clinic for expert advice.
Just like your own pearly whites, your dog or cat requires certain types of care to maintain his or her healthy smile. I saved the most important piece of advice for last, and that is make sure to get yearly, thorough check-ups.
Not only will this build a relationship between a veterinarian and your dog or cat, it will make sure that any oral health issues that might be starting are caught before your companion is looking at lost teeth or overall health issues.
Combine that with an appropriate oral health routine at home, and your pet can have a smile that is as healthy as yours!
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