Let’s face it: we all want that million-watt smile, and we do a lot to maintain it. From tooth bleaching to cosmetic dentistry, we all want that perfect selfie-ready grin. After all, if people don’t need sunglasses when you flash your pearly whites at them, you’re just not working hard enough! But when was the last time you checked out Fido’s fangs or Fluff’s incisors? The fact is that as important as oral health is to you, it’s just as important for your pet.
Taking care of your pet’s dental health will not only prevent a number of unpleasant consequences for your pet, such as tooth loss and bad breath, but it’s also going to improve their overall health and quality of life. After all, there’s nothing worse than a toothache, and the last thing you want is for your precious fur baby to be in pain. Managing your pet’s dental health can even prolong her life, as tooth and gum diseases are often directly linked to other serious health conditions, including heart and kidney disease. So what can you do to keep your beloved pet’s chompers in mint condition?
Why It Matters
No matter how close you and your fur baby may be, pets can be very, very good at hiding pain. Your pet may eat, drink, sleep, and play much like they always have, meaning that you may not even know there’s a problem until it’s escalated to an all-out emergency. The fact is, though, that without annual cleanings and routine at-home oral care, an estimated 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will have developed a periodontal disease or tooth decay by the time they are just three years old!
Get Them Started Early
One of the most important aspects of protecting your pet’s dental health is to get them used to the routine early. Just as humans need to practice good oral hygiene each and every day, so too should your pet. Ideally, you would incorporate daily toothbrushing into your pet’s ordinary routine, but brushing even just 2-3 times a week can help prevent tooth loss and gum disease.
Unfortunately, you can’t exactly sit your dog down and have a good old fashioned heart-to-heart on the importance of daily brushing. And anyone who has ever owned a cat knows darn well you can’t get them to do anything they don’t want to do. If you get them used to daily oral care early on, though, they will be less afraid of your handling their mouth, a very sensitive part of the body that animals instinctively guard.
Don’t expect it to be easy, especially at first. It’s normal for animals, even young puppies, and kittens, to resist that which they aren’t familiar with and don’t understand. So don’t try to do too much, too soon. Starting with cleaning just a few teeth at a time is perfectly fine. You can add a bit each day until your pet is comfortable with your brushing all his teeth in one go.
Above all, don’t lose your cool. If you get stressed or frustrated, your pet will sense it and they will mirror your feelings. The last thing you want is for your pet to associate dental care with bad experiences and an unhappy pet parent.
Old Dog, New Tricks
Sure, it’s a lot easier to get your pet accustomed to something when starting them on it young, but even an older pet can get used to routine oral care at home — provided you take some important precautions. The first thing to do before diving into a new routine is to have your pet’s vet check for signs of infection, abscesses, broken or lost teeth, cavities, or gum disease. If that’s the case, your pet may require an antibiotic before you can begin your toothbrushing routine. Otherwise, you risk introducing bacteria from the mouth into your pet’s bloodstream when you brush.
Your vet may also opt to perform a preliminary cleaning under anesthesia, or refer you to a good veterinary dentist for a check and cleaning. Professional cleanings are something that you should, in fact, repeat regularly, at least once a year and even more frequently if your pet begins to show any signs of disease or discomfort. However you and your pet’s vet choose to begin, this preliminary check can help make caring for your pet’s teeth at home more comfortable for your fur baby — and easier for yourself, too! Approaching this potentially daunting task under the guidance of your pet’s doctor will also help you — and your beloved pet — feel more secure.
Make It Fun
If we could give you only one tip for managing your pet’s dental health, it would be this: Make it fun! No matter how much of an angel your four-legged child maybe, they’re not going to go along with the routine unless they know — and like — what’s in it for them. Make sure you have a vet-recommended toothpaste that is palatable to your pet and let them have a good taste before you set to brushing. When you’re first getting your pet used to brushing, reward them with a tasty treat or chew every time you touch their mouth. That way, they’ll learn to associate having their mouth handled with very good things.
Once they’re more comfortable, you can reserve the treat until after the brushing is done — just make sure they get their reward every time! And then top it all off with something even more special, such as cuddle or playtime with mama and daddy. If you play your cards right, your pet may even look forward to the sight of his toothbrush!
Watch Your Mouth
Taking care of your pet’s oral health is about more than annual cleanings and daily brushing at home. It’s also about protecting your pets from the seemingly endless dangers she’s exposed to each day. Just as fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly, dogs (and, to some extent, cats) gotta chew. Unfortunately, almost inevitably, what they choose to chew is often not the healthiest or the safest thing for them.
As much as we depend on our electronics, for example, those wires can pose a serious risk for our fur babies. Chewing on electrical wires is a common source of injury for both dogs and cats, putting them at risk not only for fatal electrical shocks but also for severe burns to the mouth and tongue. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to stop little Max or baby Mimi from munching on cords. Because your little ones are probably great at ferreting out precisely what you don’t want them to find, trying to hide the cords alone might not be the best option. Instead, invest in low-cost, stylish, and durable charging boxes and bite-proof cord covers.
The Not-So-Great Outdoors
Protecting your pet from hazards inside your home isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. As much as your pet may love romping in the fresh air and warm sunshine, the outdoors is filled with potential threats to your pet’s dental health. For whatever reason, many dogs just love to crunch on rocks and sticks. And aside from the catastrophic injuries, this can pose to your pet’s throat, esophagus, and stomach, it can also lead to broken teeth and mouth injuries.
Your pet might also look at the insects and critters in the great outdoors as if it were some endless smorgasbord, but these small creatures can pose a big danger. For instance, dogs and cats alike seem to think that bees and wasps are a rare delicacy, and you may have quite a job trying to deter them. But chewing on these insects not only puts your pet at risk for painful stings, but it may also lead to life-threatening allergic reactions similar to humans.
Maintaining your pet’s dental health isn’t just a good idea — it’s an essential aspect of responsible pet parenting. Ensuring that your pet’s teeth and gums are in showroom condition is about more than fresh breath and a pleasing appearance, it’s about saving your pet from painful infections, abscesses, and tooth fractures. Not only this, but good dental health will also help protect your pet’s vital organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Your pet’s oral health begins with a comprehensive check and, ideally, cleaning by your pet’s regular vet or a veterinary dentist, with annual follow-ups (or more, if your vet recommends it). But good dental care doesn’t end with the vet. It also means safeguarding your pet’s delicate teeth and mouth from dangerous chewing temptations, such as electrical cords, rocks, sticks, and stinging insects. Caring for your fur baby’s teeth and gums also mean practicing routine brushing at home. However, it’s going to take time for your little one to adjust to the process.
Getting them started young is the best strategy, but even if your pet is older, they can still learn to like — or at least tolerate — the process. The key is to make it fun, rewarding your baby’s compliance with lots of praise, treats, play, and cuddles!