At-Home Dental Care For Your Pet
Home dental care can be very important for maintaining oral health and preventing systemic infections in your pet. The more frequently home dental care is performed, the better it is for your pet. Please keep in mind that these steps are guidelines for dogs and cats who can be handled safely by their owners and who are not likely to growl or bite. If your pet has an aggressive tendency, this may not be a safe activity for you to perform. Do not risk getting bitten by your pet – dog and cat bites can be very dangerous. You may need to speak with your veterinarian to tailor your home dental care regimen to your individual pet.
The goal of dental brushing is to maintain and slow the progression of calculus (tartar) accumulation on the teeth. It is unlikely that you will be able to remove calculus that is already cemented on the teeth. Even with humans who brush multiple times a day and go to the dentist regularly, calculus still builds up between professional cleanings. You can imagine what’s happening in your pet’s mouth! Our goal is to have you keep your pet’s mouth healthier so professional dental cleanings are not required as frequently. Genetics, breed of animal, diet, and overall health can impact how quickly calculus develops.
As you begin working on home dental care with your pet, it is important to keep the activity very positive. Provide praise and positive reinforcement as you work on these steps so this becomes a fun activity for both of you.
- If you have a puppy or kitten, start early! Of course, it’s never too late to start. Begin to work on handling his or her mouth by first massaging the outside of the cheeks and lips, then by rubbing small areas on the outer surface of the teeth and gums. You do not need to pry the mouth open – you just really need to focus your care on the outside surface. If your pet shies away from handling the mouth, take baby steps to get him or her used to this type of touch. While you’re working on this, you can also be working on Step 2.
- Place your dental supplies (enzymatic toothpaste, toothbrush, finger brush, CET Chews) in a container in the bathroom where you brush your teeth. Be sure to place treats for motivation or food kibble in the container as well. The initial goal is to train your pet that every time you brush your teeth, they will receive a reward. Call your pet into the bathroom when you brush your teeth and reward him or her with a treat or piece of food. When your pet starts coming automatically for the reward, you can move on to the next step. Don’t try to handle the mouth in the bathroom – this time is simply used to create a good association between the act of brushing and a positive reward.
- Once your pet is comfortable with basic handling, begin gently rubbing the flavored pet toothpaste on the outside of the teeth, starting on one side of the mouth, then eventually the other side of the mouth, and the front of the teeth. You do not have to open the mouth, but rather slide your finger along the inside of the cheek and the outside of the teeth. Be sure to keep this positive and use an excited tone of voice to praise your pet. If your pet resists, work on offering the paste as a treat that they can lick from your finger. Continue these steps until your pet is comfortable. You may be able to target all of the teeth during one session, or if it is too stressful, you may need to divide the mouth into smaller areas and target one section at a time.
- Once you’ve mastered these steps, try switching to a finger brush or soft toothbrush with the toothpaste applied to it. You can now try short intervals of brushing, but remember to keep the initial sessions short and provide praise. You can slowly increase the amount of time you are able to brush the teeth without your pet losing patience. Make sure to change your toothbrush every 3-4 months and always use a new brush after a professional dental cleaning.
- Daily brushing would be excellent, if possible, but you should try to brush at least 2-3 times per week. Remember, the more often you brush, the more successful you will be at maintaining healthy teeth – and fresh breath! Do not try to scale or scrape your pet’s teeth at home. More vigorous home dental care such as scaling can actually create grooves in your pet’s teeth that attract tartar.
While brushing is the gold standard, you may not be able to perform this activity with your pet every day. When you don’t have time to brush, you may try a dental treat such as a CET chew. As your pet chews on a CET chew, both the physical act of chewing as well as the enzyme ingredient inside can help remove calculus. This can be a great adjunct to brushing. Using a CET oral rinse daily or a special dental diet such as Hill’s Science Diet Prescription T/D may be alternatives for your pet if brushing is not feasible. You will find many products at the pet stores that are sold for dental health but you should be skeptical of these products. While probably not harmful, most of these products do not truly benefit oral care.
Your veterinarian will recommend a professional dental procedure if your pet develops excessive calculus, gingivitis, periodontal disease, tooth infections, or cavities. Under general anesthesia, we thoroughly clean the teeth both above and below the gum line, assess gingival pockets, remove diseased teeth, and polish the teeth. Once your pet’s teeth have been professionally cleaned, try to maintain a healthy mouth at home with regular brushing.
Content prepared by St. Francis Animal Hospital, 1227 Larpenteur Ave. West, Roseville MN. 55113