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Dental Care for Your Dog or Cat

By Dr. Ira R. Luskin, Diplomate, AVDC

Proper dental care for your dog or cat is a team effort. You provide the day-to-day brushing and your veterinarian supports you with professional cleanings and dental exams.

Start when your pet is young

Dental care starts when your pet is young. First, it needs to become accustomed to you working with its mouth. Start by massaging the animal’s muzzle and reward your pet with treats to develop its trust. Once it readily accepts the hand touching, use a rubber finger brush to gently apply some animal toothpaste to the outside surface of the teeth. Most toothpastes are designed to taste good to your pet and are readily accepted. If you are not sure what to use, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

Make sure toys are safe.

Make sure to use safe chew toys with your pets. Avoid hard play objects since animals’ teeth are weaker than ours. These include “indestructible” bones, hooves, rocks and sticks Young animals’ teeth are more likely to be damaged by inappropriate hard chew toys. 

Do not promote games such as tug-of-war. Not only does it incite dominance behavior, but it also has a high risk of damaging teeth. Catching Frisbees in midair can also lead to either tooth fractures or damage to teeth.

If you see damaged teeth in your pet’s mouth (pink or grey in color), visit your veterinarian immediately. A dead tooth can drain into the surrounding supporting bone and cause it to weaken and eventually fracture.

No food is a substitute for proper care.

There is no pet food or treat presently available that eliminates the need for daily home dental care and periodic cleanings by your veterinary team. Like your own mouth, your pet’s mouth requires daily brushing. The mouth is the gateway to either health or disease and the number one disease affecting dogs and cats is periodontal disease. This can start as early as seven to nine months of age, soon after the adult teeth erupt. 

Why do I need a veterinarian for dental care?

As with people, the accumulation of plaque on the teeth leads to the gums becoming swollen and inflamed. Bad breath and bleeding gums are the most consistent signs that the pet owner notices at this early stage of disease. The animal might drop food and rub its mouth as well. Veterinarians can reverse the damage with a proper dental cleaning or prophy.

Unfortunately, most owners are accustomed to their pet’s bad breath and they think that foul smelling “doggy or kitty breath” is normal. They don’t realize that, during early stages of gum inflammation, the disease can be stopped and their pet’s oral health returned to normal. Bad breath is not normal. There is a reason for it and that reason needs to be addressed and treated.

How do I know if my pet has oral disease?

Visit your veterinarian if your pet is exhibiting any of these symptoms.

  • Acting hungry but being reluctant to eat

  • Dropping food out of their Mouth

  • Refusing to play with their toys

  • Halitosis or bad breath

  • Rubbing or pawing at their face

  • Salivation or drooling

  • Sneezing and Nasal discharge

  • Facial Swelling

  • Red swollen gums

  • Loose teeth

  • Listless and just not acting right

Sink your teeth into a good dental care regimen and keep your pets healthier and happier.

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Maryland Veterinary Medical Association l PO Box 5407 l Annapolis, MD 21403
phone: 410-268-1311 l fax: 410-268-1322

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