Healthy Teeth, Happy Pet

By Tracy Line (Reprinted with permission from Tails Pet Magazine)

Published in: Update - Issue 1 - 2013 »     Listen to Article ♫

Oral care is a growing trend among pet guardians and for good reason. A healthy mouth is vital to a healthy body. "Dental care is one of the simplest things you can do to help maintain a dog or cat's long-term health," says Dr. David Smith, a veterinarian with Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Michigan. In fact, oral disease is the most commonly diagnosed illness for adult cats and dogs, affecting nearly 80 percent of those over the age of three, according to A good dental regime can help you beat these odds and keep your pet's mouth clean and healthy.

Doctor Wilson uses a special finger toothbrush to brush the teeth of a chocolate Lab

Symptoms of periodontal disease

Bad breath is often the first sign of oral disease but definitely not the last. Pets may also experience bleeding, swollen gums and tooth decay. Worse yet, left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to secondary infection within the body.

Many guardians tend to wait until a problem arises before having their pet's teeth examined and waiting too long can just make things worse. Pet guardians can avoid extensive problems by having the teeth cleaned regularly. Smith recommends annual examinations for optimum health.

Three steps to good oral care

Dental care need not be time consuming or difficult. The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) recommends three steps to prevent oral disease.

First, have your dog or cat's teeth examined and (if needed) cleaned by a professional. If possible, start regular exams when your pet is young and healthy as older animals may find the experience more stressful.

Doctor Wilson uses a regular toothbrush to brush the teeth of a chocolate Lab

Next, feed your pet a healthy diet and clean his teeth regularly. Brushing can be done with a pet toothbrush, a child's soft bristled brush or by using gauze wrapped around your finger. Most pets need time to get used to the brushing, so be patient and exercise caution. Spend a few days introducing the toothbrush by slowly sliding it into his mouth. Always praise or reward your furry friend for his cooperation. Work your way up to gently brushing the teeth, using circular strokes along the gum line. Start at the back of the mouth and work your way forward.

If your dog or cat resists, try a pet-formulated toothpaste. While it isn't necessary (the abrasive scrubbing is what cleans the teeth), the taste will make brushing more appealing. Stay away from human toothpaste; the foam is messy and can be toxic if ingested. Smith recommends brushing a minimum of three times a week for good oral hygiene.

Last, take your dog or cat for annual dental checkups. Oral disease may be common, but it's also easily preventable. Not to mention, those kisses from Fido will be a lot more appealing if his breath is fresh and clean.