We love our pets. Sixty-two percent of U.S. households have one, according to the 2011 – 2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. We spend big dollars on their care -an estimated $2.9 billion in 2012-and many hours in their presence. In addition to supplying love, exercise, food, medical care, boarding, chew toys and cute sweaters, we must give them good oral hygiene.
Pets can get gingivitis, periodontal disease, tooth loss, and tooth decay, too. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. Providing good oral care from the time you bring your puppy or kitten home will help establish a healthy foundation.
Start a brushing routine early in your pet’s life. Easing into the process will help make the adjustment more comfortable for both parties.
1. Sit or kneel near your pet to keep the encounter relaxed and non-threatening.
2. Start by lightly rubbing a soft cloth or gauze-wrapped finger along his or her teeth.
3. After practicing this daily for a few weeks, start using a fingerbrush with pet-specific toothpaste or a paste of baking soda and water. The American Animal Hospital Association and others recommend brushing at a 45 degree angle using a gentle, circular motion. Be sure to lift your dog or cat’s lip to brush along the gum line.
4. Brush for at least 2 minutes. You may need to start with shorter intervals and build as your pet adjusts.
Look for changes to your pet’s teeth, gums and mouth. His or her gums should be pink. Red, white or swollen gums are not normal. Offensive breath or unusual eating patterns are also cause for concern. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you notice these things.
Oral health changes and problems can be a sign of other illnesses-in humans and pets. For instance, halitosis may be the result of kidney failure, diabetes and other serious ailments.
Visiting the vet
During your pet’s annual checkup, your veterinarian will give your dog or cat an oral screening. He or she will look for swelling and other signs of periodontal disease and/or decay, and then make recommendations regarding professional cleaning and home care.
Much like the professional cleanings we humans get twice a year, professional pet teeth cleaning is more extensive than at-home care. Your pet will be put under general anesthesia and monitored during the cleaning. The vet will perform a more thorough exam before using special tools and instruments to remove plaque and tarter buildup on the teeth and along the gum line, polish teeth, and apply fluoride.
The frequency may vary, but professional cleanings tend to be an annual procedure, especially in older pets.
Oral health and overall health are linked in humans and animals. As such, it is important to make oral hygiene part of your pet’s routine care. After all, we want to give our pets the longest, happiest life possible.