Do I really need to brush my pet’s teeth?

Do I really need to brush my pet’s teeth?

Does your dog’s breath smell like death? Does your cat drop food out of her mouth when eating? These are classic signs that your pet’s teeth might be in poor condition. Now that Pet Dental Month has come to a close, now is the perfect time to get started.

Since the onset of Covid-19, we more of us are at home working. This has given us time to see and sometimes smell what is going on in our pet’s mouth. For some of us, it has been a rather rude and smelly awakening. Pet parents around the world are starting to realize their pets need their teeth brushed!

In a recent Q & A with Dr. Dia McPherson-Hurt from Tuskawilla Oaks Animal Hospital in Oviedo, we had to get the skinny on just how important it is for pet parents to pay attention to and take preventative measures to make sure their pet’s teeth are in good condition.

WPPC: When should pet owners begin attempting to brush their pet’s teeth?

Dr. McPherson-Hurt: I recommend starting this process when puppies or kittens are young and still have their baby teeth, typically between 10-13 weeks old.  This is an ideal period of time to expose our young pets to new things like other animals, people, car rides, etc. without them becoming fearful.  So although they will lose their baby teeth, it’s still a good time to get them acclimated to brushing their teeth as well.

WPPC: How often should pet owners brush their pet’s teeth and is that a different answer for different kinds of pets?

Dr. McPherson-Hurt: I will speak on dogs and cats because that is what I primarily work with although every animal needs dental care, from guinea pigs to horses.  All animals are capable of developing dental disease, even our wildlife in zoos and in the their natural environment.   This is why dental care is one of the primary concerns for zoo/exotic veterinarians.

As far as our small companion animals are concerned, daily brushing is the gold standard but I have found that at least 3 times a week may be sufficient for those of us who may forget to do it daily (like me!)  I always remind owners to compare themselves to their pets.  Humans are supposed to brush twice a day every day to have optimum oral health so imagine if we never brushed and how disgusting our mouths would get.  All of us would have really bad dental disease and would be in a significant amount of pain.  I recommend trying different flavors of toothpaste to see which one your pet likes the best.  There are minty flavors but there are also meaty flavors like chicken or fish for our feline friends.  I know that sounds gross for toothpaste but the point of the paste is to remove bacteria from the surface of the tooth, not necessarily “fresh breath” that we look for as humans.  Focus on the outer portions of the teeth and be gentle when brushing. Most pets are not going to allow you to brush the inner or occlusal surfaces.   You can use a regular toothbrush or a “baby toothbrush” (the rubber ones you put on your finger).  The toothpaste should be fluoride free and foam free since our pets can’t spit it out.  Dental treats, chews, and water additives may be beneficial as well.

WPPC: What is the long term effect of not brushing your pet’s teeth?

Dr. McPherson-Hurt: Horrible dental disease which can lead to pain, tooth loss, abscesses and the possibility of oral bacteria spreading to other places in the body.  Even when owners take really good care of their pets teeth we usually still clean their teeth periodically.  Sometimes there is dental disease below the gum line at the root that you can’t see just by looking at the teeth superficially.  A dental prophylaxis every few years is a good idea to get a full picture of your pet’s oral health.  This is done under a safe anesthetic protocol tailored to your pet.  Dental x-rays are taken to assess for any changes with the roots of the teeth. We check for any oral masses or abnormalities and then the teeth are scaled and polished just like when a person goes to the dentist.  If a good dental regimen has happened at home the hope is that no teeth will need to be extracted, BUT if there is a significant amount of bone loss causing a loose tooth then it’s best to remove the diseased tooth.

We do NOT recommend anesthesia free dentals for several reasons.  Please visit the website of the American Veterinary Dental College to learn more about why anesthesia free dentals are NOT advised at afd.avdc.org.  This website also has other resources for owners about dental health for pets.

It is clear that pet parents must be proactive in the dental health of their cherished pets. Each February, Winter Park Pet Concierge tries to lend a helping hand to local veterinary hospitals, groomers and play camps by donating toothbrushes so that they can be given out pet parents. It is one way that we contribute to the communities we serve.

cat & dog

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