Imagine how you would feel if you stopped brushing your teeth for months and never saw the dentist.
Not only would your mouth feel unhealthy, but you probably wouldn’t have many teeth in your old age! Because dental health is so important to our overall well-being, infections and preventable diseases could even shorten your life.
Unfortunately, this is too often the reality for many of our pets, simply because some pet owners are unaware of proper dental care for cats and dogs. But the San Diego Humane Society has many resources that can help people take care of their pets’ dental health and help them live longer, healthier lives.
February is Pet Dental Health Month, a great time to remind pet owners of the importance of dental care.
Why Pet Dental Care Is Important
Dental disease affects up to 90% of dogs and cats in the United States. It occurs when bacteria in the mouth solidify to form plaque on the teeth, which will harden into tartar in 3-5 days if the teeth are not brushed, causing inflammation, bleeding, tooth loss and bad breath. .
Once tartar has formed, it can only be removed by professional cleaning, much like the cleanings you do at your own dentist.
Studies have shown that untreated dental disease can even contribute to and aggravate heart, liver and kidney disease, making them more expensive and taking longer to treat. So it’s in your pet’s interest — and yours — to take care of their dental health!
How do I know if my pet needs help?
Here are some signs that your pet needs dental help from your veterinarian:
- Dark spots on their teeth
- Redness in their gums
- bad breath
- Pain when their gums are touched
- Pain when eating
What can I do?
There are two keys to maintaining good dental health for your pet:
- Home treatment, including regular brushing of your pet’s teeth at least twice a week. Feeding them a healthy diet and giving them plenty of proper chew toys will also help maintain a healthy mouth!
- Professional teeth cleaning as directed by your veterinarian.
Have you ever brushed your pet’s teeth? Do not worry. It’s easier than you think because pet toothpaste comes in many flavors designed to appeal to your pet, including the ever-popular “poultry” flavor.
To warm up, just let your dog or cat lick a dab of toothpaste. Then put a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and gently rub a few teeth together. Praise your pet for their cooperation.
Go slowly, brushing a few teeth at a time and pausing to praise your pet, until the entire mouth is brushed. Switch to using a soft pet toothbrush or finger brush from there; the goal is to brush your pet’s teeth at least every other day.
Brushing your pet’s teeth at home is the best way to keep their mouth healthy, but most pets still benefit from professional cleanings at least once every two years. Your veterinarian or a qualified veterinary technician will use special equipment to clean above and below the gumline while your pet is under general anesthesia (because animals will not sit there and keep their mouths open while someone is one scratches and cleans his teeth for 30 minutes).
If you’re wondering about non-anesthetic dentistry, often advertised by groomers and the like, steer clear. Tartar is like an iceberg: most of it is below the surface, below the gumline. Only anesthetic dentistry can eliminate this greatest source of plaque and tartar.
Want to learn more about proper dental care for your pet? Check out my book published by National Geographic: Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior and Happiness – The Veterinarian’s Approach to Pet Care at Home.
Taking care of your pet’s dental health will improve their life and give you happier years together. To learn more about where you can find affordable dental care for pets in San Diego County, visit the San Diego Humane Society website.
Gary Weitzman is a author, veterinarian and passionate animal welfare advocate. He was President and Chief Executive Officer of San Diego Humane Society since 2012.