Dental Series #2: Dental home care: What you CAN do for your pet’s teeth for very little cost and time?
Ok, I have to get this off my chest before I even start. I don’t brush my dog’s teeth every day. All right, or even every other day (Gasp!) I have two young children, extracurricular activities, and my husband and I both work full time…we have a busy little family! I get it; but I WANT to. At least once a month I make a resolution to be better at it! In fact, I am going to start. Today. This time for real.
The fact is, having some form of a dental homecare routine for your pet is extremely beneficial to his/her health. Dental homecare should involve daily brushing, may involve an appropriate dental diet, products that encourage chewing, and other products such as water additives.
There are a couple of really important points I want to mention right away:
Homecare routines should be started on mouths with minimal dental disease. If your pet has significant gingivitis and/or periodontal disease, the routines I am recommending might be painful! Ask us first. We may recommend a dental cleaning and/or procedure before you start.
Be critical when using products in your routine. Ask your veterinarian if they are a) safe and b) effective. There are many products that are recommended that might actually do more harm than good!
-Plaque starts to accumulate on the tooth shortly after cleaning. This must be removed mechanically within 36 hours, or it will harden and adhere to the teeth as tartar. This is why brushing is recommended DAILY. Brushing once every 6 weeks at the groomer is NOT ENOUGH.
-Do not use human toothpaste. Use a fluoride-free pet toothpaste. Or, just use water. The mechanical action of brushing is much more important than toothpaste.
-Please do not attack Molly with the toothbrush tonight. Your assault might turn her off brushing for good! Slowly work up to teaching her to accept brushing! Check out step-by-step instructions by Veterinary Dentist Dr. Fraser Hale: http://www.toothvet.ca/dentalcare.html
-“…But Dr. Stephanie, I have a CAT”. So? Having a cat is not an excuse. Cat’s can be trained…ok, that’s a lie, cats can’t be trained…cats can be encouraged to accept brushing too.
-I want to really show off at your next visit. Work up to using an electric toothbrush with your pet! Just remember, that cheap Barbie Spinbrush at the drugstore spins…so long-haired dogs and cats beware!
-Chewing stimulates salivation, and may also aid in mechanical removal of plaque and tartar. Interestingly, it is also thought to exercise the important ligaments that hold your pet’s teeth into their sockets. In the wild, this is achieved by hauling down zebras on the plains. Hopefully, Fluffy isn’t doing much of that, but we can still exercise those ligaments with appropriate chew toys!
-We do NOT recommend antlers, natural (real) bones of any sort, dried hooves, hard toys or ice cubes. No, I don’t want to argue about it. I don’t care what the girl at the pet store said. No antlers…unless you want to give me some extra business when your Chewie fractures his tooth??
-Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council website. www.vohc.org. They are an independent organization that offers its seal of approval on products that meet their very strict standards for plaque and/or tartar control.
-Use common sense. Don’t give Hoover any kind of chew if he is not a “responsible chewer” and will swallow it whole. Do not buy your Chihuahua Taco, the size LARGE chew for dogs 60lbs+ because you think it will last longer. Taco might choke.
Dental diets do work. There is lots of peer-reviewed scientific studies to attest to this. If oral care is a concern to you, and there are no health reasons that might prevent you from using a dental diet, they are a great choice. There are several different ways that a dental diet can be effective, from enzyme coatings to size and consistency of the kibble. Use a product with a VOHC seal for plaque AND tartar.
4) OTHER PRODUCTS
There are many products out there that claim to be great for your pet’s teeth; water additives, dental sprays, dental rinses, and dental gels fall into this group. They might not all be safe or effective. Again, I defer back to advice from your veterinarian and the VOHC website for recommendations.
5) PROFESSIONAL DENTAL CLEANING
Last but not least, I have to recommend that you come and visit us on a regular basis to assess your pet’s teeth. You and I generally get our teeth professionally scaled every 6-9 (ok maybe closer to every 12) months. Also we brush twice daily! Giving your pet a professional cleaning every 1-2 years, complete with dental x-rays, is one of the best ways to keep him or her healthy and happy for many years.