Confession time: How often do you concern yourself with your pet’s pearly whites?
If you’re like most dog and cat owners, the answer is infrequently, if at all. In fact, by some estimates only 1 percent of pet owners brush their dog or cat’s teeth with any degree of regularity.
This stunning statistic is not meant to serve as an indictment of dental-neglecting pet owners, but rather illustrate that we’re all in this together. We lead busy lives and struggle to find time to consistently floss our own teeth, much less examine the 42 permanent teeth you’ll typically find within a canine’s mouth.
Since February serves as National Pet Dental Health Month, the time is right to bring this issue to the forefront. Pet dental disease is no joke. Not only can excess buildup of plaque and tartar below the gum line cause your dog or cat pain, but it can also lead to serious problems like tooth decay and loss.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. It’s the most common health problem treated in small animal clinics today, yet an ounce of prevention by pet owners would go a long way towards reducing these figures.
In many respects, your dog or cat’s teeth are every bit as important to his health and well-being as your own incisors, canines, and molars are to yours. As is the case with humans, your pet’s teeth are vitally important for food consumption, proper hygiene, and overall strong health.
At the risk of sounding like a scolding dentist, let’s get to the teeth of the matter: We need to stop overlooking this key component of pet care. Here are five ways you can succeed at improving your dog or cat’s dental health. By employing these techniques, you can be assured the doggy and kitty kisses you receive will be all the more enjoyable.
1. Periodic Dental Examinations
No one likes going to the dentist – not even your dog or cat. Yet veterinary dental exams are important to maintaining your pet’s oral health. In most cases your vet can examine your pet’s teeth in the exam room – without the need for anesthesia – provided your cat or dog proves cooperative and lacks severe dental problems. The frequency of professional cleanings your dog or cat needs depends on his age and the health status of his teeth. Whereas a young pet with healthy teeth may only require a vet dental visit once each year (or even once every several years for some felines), a senior pet demonstrating dental disease may need professional care every six months.
2. Dental-Friendly Pet Foods
From the standpoint of your veterinary dentist, not all pet foods are created equal. In general, dry foods are more orally-friendly than wet foods, as the latter tends to stick to dogs and cats’ mouths, inviting the accumulation of plaque that can cause dental disease. But some foods can help clean your pets’ teeth by scrubbing them while your cat or dog chews. Consult your vet, then seek a dental-friendly food for your pet. When in doubt, look for pet foods labeled as “accepted” by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC).
3. Regular Brushing with Pet-Specific Products
In a perfect world, you would brush your pet’s teeth daily. Many veterinarians, however, recognize this frequency as being unrealistic and contend that several weekly brushings will suffice. And even an occasional brushing for your canine or feline is better than none at all. Have your vet assist with selecting a pet-specific toothbrush and toothpaste to ensure safety for your cat or dog. By establishing a consistent routine and rewarding your pet with treats, you can foster a level of cooperation and make the brushing process easier. Between brushes it’s worthwhile to wash your pet’s mouth with an oral rinse or wipe, which can freshen breath and reduce plaque. These products are the pet equivalent of mouthwash.
4. Dental Cleaning Toys and Treats
Who knew pet toys and treats could offer so much value? The right dental-approved products will entertain your pet or provide a healthy snack – while also working teeth-cleaning magic. Your vet can advise you regarding which toys and treats are safe and useful for slowing the onslaught of dental disease in your cat or dog. Rubbery, bendable chew toys tend to perform well from a dental standpoint, as do vet-approved treats that gnaw away dental disease.
5. Pet Insurance
Anyone who’s ever had to pay a dental bill knows that adequate care for your teeth does not come cheap, and the same is true for cats and dogs. But a pet insurance plan that includes dental coverage can afford owners peace of mind. Many plans cover anesthetic teeth cleaning and dental illness treatment – without any deductible, co-pay, or waiting period. And you can start using it the day you sign up. It’s one way to ensure your best friend receives the best care.