Caring for your pet’s teeth at home
It’s estimated that over 80% of dogs and cats over 3 years of age have some form of periodontal (dental) disease. Dental disease causes bad breath (halitosis) and pain, it is also a source of infection and can make your pet seriously ill.
Dental disease is preventable in the vast majority of cases and in most cases, easy to achieve at home. There are many different methods to keep your pet’s “pearly white” teeth and these methods should be started while they are puppies and kittens.
Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is the ‘gold standard’ and most thorough, although we will discuss other measures such as feeding raw bones, dental diets, rinses, etc.
For adult cats and dogs with existing dental disease, a dental treatment with a scale and polish under general anaesthetic is often necessary to get their teeth and gums back into top condition. This will allow us to start prevention with a clean mouth and hoping to prevent, or slow down dental disease developing again in the future.
Brushing your pet’s teeth
Brushing your pet’s teeth daily can help control plaque build up and prevent periodontal disease.
Select a toothbrush
- Choose a soft toothbrush only
- Toddler brushes are great for small dogs and cats
- Dog and Cat toothbrushes are available in vet clinics and pet retail stores
- Make sure you label your pet’s toothbrush and keep it separate from the family toothbrushes!
Select a toothpaste
Do not use human toothpaste when brushing your pet’s teeth as your pet may swallow it. Human toothpaste is not designed to be swallowed and has ingredients that can upset your pet’s stomach.
Pet toothpaste is often chicken or beef flavoured which may help your pet accept it. Pet toothpaste is also safe if it is swallowed. Sometimes our pets will like the toothpaste too much!! In this case we may suggest dipping the toothbrush in an oral rinse instead.
Introduce your pet to teeth brushing
Cats and small dogs may feel more comfortable if they can sit on their owners lap while having their teeth brushed.
- Begin slowly, initial sessions should be brief, a minute or two and well rewarded.
- Get your pet used to the toothbrush by dipping it in tuna juice, chicken or beef stock or just use water.
- Next try offering the toothbrush with the paste, without brushing. Allow your pet to taste the paste.
- When your pet is comfortable with the brush try brushing one or two strokes on a few teeth. Slowly increase the brushing as your pet becomes more comfortable.
- Start at the front of the mouth. Pets are oft en more accepting of this.
5 steps to effective teeth brushing
- Add toothpaste – apply a small amount of pet toothpaste to the brush (do not use human toothpaste).
- Correct angle – hold brush 45 degree angle to gum line.
- Circular motion – apply the toothbrush and use a circular motion with gentle pressure on the teeth and gum line.
- At least 30-60 seconds – brush for at least 30-60 seconds on each side of the mouth, remembering the back teeth. You do not need to clean the inside surfaces of the teeth
- Reward – reward your pet for their good behaviour.
Other alternatives to brushing
While brushing is referred to as the ‘gold standard’ in home dental care, it is sometimes not possible due to the personality of your pet, or the amount of spare time you have each day. Listed below are some other alternatives.
Raw meaty bones are great for cleaning teeth. Dogs and cats have to chew them causing scraping on the teeth and most importantly gum massage, aiding in the removal of plaque.
Do not feed your pet cooked bones as they may splinter and cause intestinal damage.
For large, medium and small dogs, ask your butcher for “dinosaur bones”, or bones for a large dog. For very small dogs (toy breeds) and cats, raw chicken necks and chicken wings do a great job.
Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle, and use a circular cleaning motion.
Raw beef strips for cats and pig ears for small dogs can also give gums a good massage. If you decide to feed raw bones they should be given 2-3 times per week.
Notes on bones:
- If the bone is cut it should be cut across not lengthways. This is to avoid the ‘fattening’ bone marrow being exposed.
- The bone should always be bigger than the dogs head so it cannot be swallowed.
- Bones are for chewing on not “through”.
- Dispose of chewed bones.
- Bone chewing should be started as kittens or puppies. It is inadvisable to start later in life as incorrect chewing action may lead to tooth damage
- Bones should only be given under supervision.
Treats and chews
Large hard products such as pig’s ears, noses or trotters, rawhide bones and Dentabones encourage your pets to chew. The chewing action aids in the removal of plaque via physical rubbing and the spread of protective saliva. These should not be relied on solely for dental prevention, as they are not as effective as raw bones, but could be fed once a week instead of raw bones for a change.
Many premium dry pet foods and special dental treats are available for both cats and dogs and are specially designed to keep pets teeth cleaned whiles still providing them with a complete balanced diet. Many of these suppliers offer a 100% money back guarantee if your pet does not like them.
If your pet hasn’t started these specially designed foods at an early age, it is best to start them after their teeth have been professionally scaled and polished. These foods contain enzymes and ingredients similar to those found in our toothpaste which help to slow the dental disease process and help prevent plaque from forming on the teeth.
Oral and Dental Treatments: For pets with severe or persistent dental and gum disease or bad breath, using a rinse or gel available from your veterinary clinic may be advisable. Gum protectant applications may also be prescribed for pets with problem gums.
There are some toys available which are again great at encouraging your dog to chew. Some of these toys include the Kong (conventional Kong pictured) and Gumabone. Toys are a useful addition to a dental hygiene program, however they should not be relied on solely.
Veterinary dental treatments
In the majority of pet’s lives, there comes a time when their teeth may require veterinary treatment over and above their regular examinations. This treatment involves a general anaesthetic and a full dental examination, including charting and scaling, both ultrasonically and by hand, and then finishing with a polish. A very similar procedure used by your own dentist.
Click here to learn about dental disease