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 dental disease. Dental disease causes bad breath (halitosis), inflamed gums and more, and is a painful experience for your pet. It is also a source of infection and can make your pet seriously ill.
Dental disease is preventable in the vast majority of cases. Prevention can be relatively easy to achieve at home. There are many different methods to keep your pet’s teeth ‘pearly white’ and these methods are best started while they are puppies and kittens.
Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is the ‘gold standard’ and most thorough method to remove plaque, although we will discuss other measures such as feeding dental diets, playing with chew toys, using rinses, etc.
For dogs and cats with existing dental disease, a dental treatment with a scale and polish under general anaesthetic is almost always necessary to return their teeth and gums back into top condition. This will allow us to start a tailored prevention program with a clean mouth and hoping to minimise, or slow down dental disease developing again in the future.
Brushing your pet’s teeth
Brushing your pet’s teeth daily helps control plaque build up and hence minimise dental disease. Follow our steps below to accustom your pet to this process.
Select a toothbrush
- Choose a soft toothbrush
- 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 with a high-flavoured, yummy treat
- 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 toothpaste, without brushing. Allow your pet to taste the toothpaste.
- 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 often more accepting of this.
- For small dogs, try a gauze swab or stocking material wrapped around your finger
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 at a 45 degree angle to the 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. It is very difficult to clean the inside surfaces of your pet’s mouth.
- Reward – Reward your pet for their good behaviour. Try using a very special treat that your pet loves and is only used as a reward after brushing.
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.
Many premium dental dry pet foods and special dental treats are available for both cats and dogs and are specially designed to keep pets teeth clean while still providing them with a complete and balanced diet. These dental foods work using a combination of mechanical and gentle abrasion on the teeth which together help to slow the dental disease process and help prevent plaque forming. You can identify which of them are suitable by looking for the VOHC seal of approval on the packet. 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.
Reducing the speed of eating
Dogs and cats teeth need vital contact time with dry food when chewing – dry food assists in removal of plaque. Pets that eat their food very fast, i.e. “gobble”, do not have adequate contact time and therefore plaque accumulates. It’s ideal to slow the speed of eating using anti-gulp bowls or dental toys with food placed inside. Consider spreading the food on the floor or for cats and small dogs, or placing food in small muffin trays as opposed to their normal bowls.
Ensure you have the correct kibble size for the size of your pets mouth.
Rinses and gels
An array of rinses and gels are available to assist in the reduction of plaque.
There are some toys available which are again great at encouraging your dog to chew. Some of these toys include the Kong and Gumabone. Toys are a useful addition to a dental hygiene program, however they should not be relied on solely.
Treats and chews
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 and work best in combination with daily brushing. It is recommended to offer dental treats and chews under supervision.
Care must be exercised when feeding raw bones as they are not without potential risks. These include fracturing of teeth, becoming caught in the mouth, throat, food pipe, stomach or intestines. If you decide to feed your dog a bone and are aware of the potential risks, please read the below suggestions
- Do not feed cooked bones as these tend to splinter and cause internal damage
- Avoid bones with a lot of meat on them – some dogs become frustrated and cannot pull the meat off and therefore swallow the bone whole
- Always give bones under supervision and remove old bones from the yard. Avoid feeding bones to dogs that are “gobblers”
- The bone should always be bigger than the dog’s head so it cannot be swallowed.
- Exercise caution with raw poultry bones as they have been associated with a type of neurological disease
Veterinary dental treatments
In the majority of pets’ 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.