The Coastal Star

Paws Up for Pets: Dental hygiene, crucial to pets’ health, can be done at home

February is Pet Dental Health Month, a good time to recommit to keeping your pets' teeth and gums healthy. Illustration provided

By Arden Moore

Many of us are spot-on when it comes to bathing our dogs and brushing our cats. And some of us have perfected the art of escaping injury by performing regular nail trimming, even on our feline friends. But how many of us regularly open our pet’s mouth, inspect the gums and yes, do a sniff test?
I’m betting not many. In fact, up to 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats sport some degree of dental problems by age 3, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In honor of Pet Dental Health Month in February, I am advocating that you practice at-home pet dental care.
For starters, getting into this dental hygiene habit could keep your wallet fatter. If you pay regular attention to your pet’s teeth and gums, you can spot early warning signs of disease. By treating the dental issue promptly, you can save money on veterinary bills and keep your pet healthy and happy.
There is a direct connection between oral health and overall health in both pets and people. Periodontal disease causes chronic inflammation and makes the body’s immune system work overtime to respond to plaque and other issues in the mouth.
So, in order to identify uh-oh dental issues, you need to look, sniff and watch. Open your pet’s mouth and look for any evidence of bloody gums, tartar buildup (especially on the back molars), broken, loose or missing teeth and signs of swelling.
Second, take a sniff. Your pet’s breath should not be knock-you-back foul smelling. That could indicate not only a dental problem but possibly an issue with one of your pet’s organs.
And third, pay attention to your pet’s eating habits. If your chow hound is now turning down treats or spilling kibble from the food bowl, that could indicate he may be experiencing oral pain.
In the pet first-aid/CPR classes I teach around the country, I give my students an added reason to practice at-home dental care: You condition your pets that good things happen (translation: yummy treats and praise) when you handle their mouths. Successful teeth brushing sessions can improve your chances of administering needed pills or liquid medicine easily because your pet is less resistant to having his mouth handled.
In class, I sometimes put on a finger brush soaked in juice from canned tuna or dabbed in a soft cheese and treat Pet Safety Cat Casey and Pet Safety Dog Kona to a quick brushing. Both are happily trained to know that finger brushes equate to tasty treats. I also alert pet parents to choose a closed bathroom to minimize distractions in the house and prevent pet escapes.
Now, if you are like me and learn best by seeing and doing, an easy, step-by-step video from the AVMA on how to brush your pet’s teeth and condition him to welcome these hygiene sessions is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=wB3GIAgrTPE.
If you don’t feel comfortable brushing your pet’s teeth, you do have plenty of other options.
Among the toothbrush-free options are finger brushes, dental toys, oral gels and rinses, and treats that carry the VOHC seal of approval.
The Veterinary Oral Health Council consists of board-certified veterinary dentists who regularly evaluate dental products for quality. To find dental items that have VOHC approval, check out vohc.org/accepted_products.htm.
One word of caution: Please play it safe by using toothpaste, mouth rinses and other dental products that are made specifically for dogs and cats.
Never use human toothpaste on your pet for two reasons: Dogs and cats do not know how to rinse and spit, and fluoride in human toothpaste is not safe for dogs or cats. Human toothpaste also contains detergents and baking soda that can harm a pet’s teeth.
One of the best ways to show your pet how much you love him is by being his best health ally. And that includes regular at-home dental care. Your reward? Kisses of gratitude from your pet that are free of foul odor.
Please consider booking a dental exam this month for your pet. And check with your veterinary clinic. Some places in Palm Beach County are offering discounts on dental procedures in recognition of Pet Dental Health Month.

Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, speaker and master certified pet first-aid instructor. She hosts Oh Behave! on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more by visiting ardenmoore.com.

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