February is National Pet Dental Health Month
It sounds impossible, but you can making brushing a part of any pet’s routine care. This includes cats! It takes some time and some training, but for many it can be a successful routine!
Why is brushing important?
Brushing removes plaque from teeth, and prevents gingivitis and the buildup of tartar and calculus. One additional, and often overlooked, benefit is that regular brushing allows concerns (such as broken teeth, painful teeth, bad breath, and tumors) to be noticed early. Early detection leads to early treatment!
Is brushing enough?
Most pets will need routine dental care performed by a veterinarian. Just like humans need professional cleanings, pets also need general anesthesia to clean the plaque that lies below the gums.
What tools do you need?
A soft bristled toothbrush or a finger brush. For small pets, a small toothbrush allows for better reach. For some pets just using toothpaste on a gauze square is effective. Use a pet specific toothpaste, many times these are poultry flavored or beef flavored.
It takes training!
You don’t just expect your dog to roll over without some training, and you can’t expect him to think brushing is fun without a little time and work! Training isn’t just for dogs. We can train a cat to allow tooth brushing as well! You can do it! Here’s a step by step!
- Start slow- initially just touch the brush to the lips, let him sniff it, and reward him for good behavior! Do this for about 1 week.
- Next lift the lip and let your pet have a taste of the tooth paste. Do this for about a week. Reward good behavior with praise and a favorite treat.
- Put a little tooth paste on the brush, and let your pet lick the tooth paste off. Then gently touch the teeth and with the brush, but don’t start physically brushing. Encourage good behavior with positive rewards. This step should also last about a week.
- Gently brush for a very short period of time, gradually working up to longer and more thorough sessions as your pet tolerates. This can take 3-4 weeks depending on your pet’s tolerance!
- Focus on the outside surfaces of the teeth. Don’t try to brush the inner surfaces of the teeth.
Set reasonable goals. Brush a minimum of 3 times a week for best prevention of plaque. Brushing daily on tolerant pets is ideal. Don’t start brushing immediately after a dental cleaning, as the teeth and gums will be sore. You will also run the risk of disrupting sutures from any extraction sites.
Are there alternatives?
Treats and chew toys can be helpful in preventing tartar build up. The VOHC (veterinary oral health council) has several approved products. Treats and chews are considered to be secondary to brushing in effectiveness at preventing dental disease, but for some of our pets, these are the best option.
Things to Monitor
When brushing, you’ll have a prime seat for monitoring your pet’s oral health. Broken teeth, worn teeth, loose teeth, or teeth with exposure of the bifurcation (where the roots split) should be seen by a veterinarian. Lumps should be checked out as soon as possible. Changes in breath are also a good indication that something you can’t see readily is going on in the mouth.