To highlight the importance of oral health care in our cats and dogs, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) sponsors National Pet Dental Health Month every February. You can help your dog or cat live a happier, healthier life by creating a regular dental routine at home.
The first step to protecting your pet's teeth is to schedule regular dental cleanings and exams with your vet. Just like with humans, the exam should include a visual exam, X-rays, and professional cleaning. Your pet will be placed under general anesthesia during the exam, and your vet may keep your pet for observation after the cleaning.
The next step is to keep up with regular brushing at home. You wouldn't skip brushing your teeth in between cleanings from your dentist, and neither should your pet. Not sure where to start when it comes to brushing teeth at home? Follow these steps:
- Introduce tooth brushing early. Introducing the process at a young age will help make it an accepted part of your pet's daily routine.
- Make sure you have the right equipment. You'll need a toothbrush and toothpaste made specifically for cats or dogs. Do not use toothpaste formulated for humans. You may be able to use a toothbrush designed for small children, but a toothbrush meant for adult humans is too large for a pet's mouth.
- Keep calm and brush on. When introducing your pet to brushing, the key is to remain calm and take it slow. If you become stressed, your cat or dog will pick up on your mood and become stressed, too. Let her set the pace, and don't force the issue if she struggles the first few times. You don't want her to associate the routine with negative experiences.
- Pay attention to your pet first. Don't jump right into tooth brushing. You want your pet to be relaxed and comfortable with the process. Pet your dog or cat, talk soothingly to her, and wait until she is relaxed before you introduce the toothbrush.
- Brush gradually and gently. Put a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush and let your pet lick it off. Then touch the toothbrush to your pet's teeth. After that, brush for a few seconds. Take a month or two to introduce her to this new habit. When your pet is ready for a real brushing, raise her lips to expose the teeth and gums. Then brush from the gum line to the tip of the tooth. Avoid opening your pet's mouth, which can lead to panic and struggling.
- Avoid scrubbing. The idea is to brush gently but thoroughly. If you brush too hard, you can cause pain and discomfort, which will make your pet want to avoid tooth brushing.
- Don't miss the back. Be sure to brush the front and back of each tooth, even those way in the back. Most dental problems are the most severe in the back, according to vets.
- Encourage chewing. Dogs benefit from chewing on safe toys. Look for those approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), which researches manufacturer claims for dental-health foods, chews, and rinses. VOHC is the pet version of the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval on oral health products for people.
- Feed a high-quality diet. You may also want to ask your vet about foods formulated to help with dental health, especially for pets that refuse tooth brushing.
- Maintain a routine. Ideally, you should brush your pet's teeth every day, but even a few times a week will go a long way toward ensuring your cat's dental health. Choose a time of day when you are both relaxed and are not rushed.