February is Pet Dental Health Month


iStock_000020001669MediumDog breath. We’ve all experienced it. But if your pooch’s breath is nasty enough to stop you in your tracks, maybe there’s more going on than meets the eye. Pet oral health is one of the most ignored health risk in pets and yet is the most common health problem that veterinarians see. And it’s completely preventable!

Periodontal disease – just like in humans – can result in an infection that spreads to the heart, lungs, or kidneys, and if let untreated can cause death. You can check for outward signs of trouble by examining your pet’s mouth if they will let you. (Try dipping your finger in beef broth or tuna water for a bit more cooperation.) Signs to look for include brownish teeth; swollen, red, or bleeding gums; continued bad breath; pus near the gum line; and any unusual growths. Other signs, like reluctance to chew or drink cold water, pawing at the face, and reluctance to play with chew toys, can also occur.

Part of your pet’s annual examination or wellness visit should include a dental exam. If your veterinarian recommends a tooth cleaning, you should listen. The priced of having a clean mouth is much less than treating infection or disease down the road, or even the emotional cost of losing your pet. You can also ensure a healthy mouth at home by brushing your pet’s teeth. Here’s how.

Like anything else, starting to brush your pet’s teeth will be easier the younger they are, but introducing it gradually should work for most pets. Dip your index finger into your handy beef broth or tuna water and gently rub the gum line in the mouth. Once your pet is comfortable with that, try wrapping your index finger in a piece of gauze and gently rubbing the teeth and gum line. When your pet tolerates that fairly well, you can try moving on to a toothbrush. You can use an ultrasoft human toothbrush or one specially designed for cats and dogs. Also make sure to use a toothpaste designed for pets as human toothpaste will upset their stomachs. (You can find a list of approved pet supplies here.)

If you need additional help, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a step-by-step demonstration video. Happy brushing!

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