Brushing your dog or cat’s teeth is easy once you get the hang of it. Pets can be trained to love the process and keeping your pet’s teeth clean can add years of health to his or her life. Here’s how to get started.
Start When He’s Young
Ideally, you should introduce your dog or cat to his toothbrush and toothpaste between the age of 8-12 weeks, but any pet can be trained to have his teeth brushed provided you keep the process stress free and full of praise or food rewards. Remember that most young dogs and cats lose their baby teeth between the age of 16 and 24 weeks and may experience oral pain. If you notice that your pet is missing a baby tooth or two, consider giving your pet a break from brushing so you don’t cause additional discomfort.
Have The Right Supplies
Because dogs and cats don’t understand that they are supposed to spit out the toothpaste when the brushing is over, you should not use human toothpaste. Dogs and cats will swallow it and it will make them sick. Instead, buy a toothpaste designed specifically for dogs and cats. These pastes are manufactured to taste like treats and come in chicken, beef, or tuna flavors. Similarly don’t use a toothbrush designed for humans; they’re usually too big to reach the back teeth of most dogs and cats. Toothbrushes for pets come in a variety of sizes and can be purchased from our online store or at our practice. Brookfield veterinarians especially like the finger brushes that fit over your index finger like a long thimble. Some veterinary dentists don’t believe that the bristles on finger brushes remove plaque as well as those on a toothbrush, but the finger brushes can be a great way to transition to a pet or child’s brush for your pet and certainly is better than no brushing at all. Thoroughly rinse your pet’s toothbrush every time you finish brushing and wash your hands when you are through.
Signal That Toothbrushing Will Be Rewarding
Before you try to brush your pet’s teeth, spend a day or two just showing him or her the toothpaste and the brush. Start by sitting in a spot that’s comfortable for you both. Hold the toothpaste near to your pet. When the pet reaches towards the tube to sniff it, give him a taste of toothpaste or his favorite treat. You can do the same with the toothbrush. Graduate to variations of this process: allowing him or her to lick the paste from tube or to lick the paste from the brush. While your pet is preoccupied with the paste, stroke his muzzle, touch his face, scratch his chin, and even gently slip your finger under his gum to touch his teeth. This last step is especially good if you are planning to use the finger brushes we discussed in the previous section. Be gentle and go slowly. Shower your pet with praise as he responds positively to your touch. Your objective is to train your pet that toothbrushing is really reward and love time; the fact that his teeth are getting brushed during the process should feel incidental to him.
How To Brush Your Pet’s Teeth
Place a pea-sized portion of pet toothpaste onto the pet toothbrush of your choice. Allow your pet to smell the paste and to lick it. Gently hold your pet’s muzzle with your free hand, lift the side of your pet’s lip, and brush the outside surface of the teeth. Keep the brush at a 45 degree angle and use a circular or back and forth motion. Try to get the teeth in the back of the mouth, and make sure that you brush along the gum line. Brushing the tongue side of the teeth is not as important as getting the cheek side. It’s common for your pet to lick the entire time you are trying to brush his teeth and to chew on the brush. Brushing shouldn’t take more than 1 minute. Don’t fight your pet or allow the experience to turn negative. Call us if you see anything unusual in your pet’s mouth including any changes in your pet’s gum color, any bright patches of red (usually seen on the gum line and a sign of oral infection), any cracked or broken teeth, or any growths.
What About Greenies, Water Additives and Other Supplements?
Nothing can top the value of brushing to keep your pet’s teeth, but some pets resist brushing in which case dental supplements may help. When selecting a dental supplement, use the following criteria to help you choose right.
What does the product claim to do?
There are only two ways that dental supplements can act to retard plaque up: 1) they provide some abrasive action that scrapes plaque from teeth or 2) they inhibit the formation of plaque in some manner, usually by acting on bacteria in the mouth responsible for producing plaque or with the use of enzymes to disrupt the chemistry of formation. In general, the biggest risks behind products that provide abrasive action are that the pet swallows them without really chewing; that the chew has been treated with preservatives or chemicals that make the pet sick; or the product is swallowed and causes obstruction of the bowel. The biggest risk to products that chemically retard plaque build up are that they contain toxic chemicals like xylitol; taste bad so are never consumed (like some water additives); or contain other chemicals that have not been researched long enough to know if they are indeed safe for pets. To help you with your decision, speak to one of our doctors or review the list of products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council mentioned below.
Kinds of Supplements
Water additives may have limited benefit in slowing plaque formation. Pets drink by scooping the water with their tongue and swallowing so there is limited contact with their teeth. Pets certainly don’t swirl the additive around their mouth for a minute! Brushing a pet’s teeth and using dental diets or dental chews is therefore more effective than water additives.
Chews help to remove plaque by providing an abrasive action and by containing antimicrobials and chemicals designed to stop the formation of plaque. Brookfield stocks Oravet chews because they have the added benefit of coating the teeth with a benign film that has been shown to stop plaque from adhering to teeth.
Prescription diets like Hills T/D and Healthy Advantage Oral are balanced, nutritious diets that are formulated to have a specific hardness and shape. When pets chew on them, the kibble scrapes plaque and tarter from the teeth.
Has the product been registered with the Veterinary Oral Health Council?
The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) consists of nine veterinary dentists and scientists. Product manufacturers looking to receive the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval must submit for review studies that demonstrate their product’s effectiveness. The standards of the council are very high. The VOHC promises that products that receive its seal of approval reduce the severity of periodontal disease in pets when used on a regular basis. You can review a list of VOHC products here.
What are the ingredients?
Some water additives contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener toxic to pets. Many other products include antimicrobials designed to reduce the number of bacteria in the dog or cat’s mouth that contribute to tartar buildup, but which can negatively impact the natural biome of the mouth. Refer to the list of the VOHC approved products for those products with the safest ingredients.
Where was the product made?
Buying U.S. made dental supplements are a consumer’s safest option. U.S. companies have higher standards than other countries and consumers can more reliably trust the safety of the ingredients in the product.