We make taking care of your pet's teeth easy with 9 expert dos and don'ts.
Should you brush your cat's teeth? Will crunchy kibble keep your dog's teeth clean and plaque-free? When it comes to pet dental care, many Canadians remain in the dark. Unfortunately, our ignorance may cause undue dental pain and discomfort to our companion animals. One recent study found that up to 80 per cent of pet dogs and 70 per cent of pet cats in North America show signs of dental disease by age three.
Don't let dental pain put the bite on your pet. Here are the top nine dos and don'ts for protecting Fido and Fifi's teeth.
1. Don't presume your pet will inform you his teeth hurt. Some people think the key indicator of tooth pain is when their pet stops eating. "Their natural instinct to eat for survival is very strong, so pets will often continue to eat despite intense oral pain," says Dr. Doug Roberts, a Kentville, N.S., veterinarian and President of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. It's better to be pro-active and schedule annual vet checkups, during which the vet can examine your pet's teeth and gums.
2. Do brush your pet's teeth. We know: not fun. But there are ways to ease into this daily care regimen. Start young, if possible, and use plenty of positive reinforcement. "We can also train our older pet to accept brushing of their teeth if we introduce it gradually, gently, and again with lots of positive reinforcement," says Dr. Roberts. Ask your vet to show you how to get the job done.
3. Don't think pet dental care is a luxury. Oral care products for cats and dogs are now widely available – and inexpensive to boot. You can find brushes and other cleaning devices, plus feline and canine toothpastes at your vet's office, pet boutiques and at pet care chains, like Pet Valu, all for under $10.
4. Do feed tooth-friendly foods. Crunchy food – particularly special "dental diet" kibble formula – is better for your pet's teeth than canned food, which may promote plaque and tartar buildup. (However, some pets require a canned-food diet for medical reasons. If this is the case for your cat or dog, stick with the vet-recommended diet.) Remember, crunchy food is just part of the healthy-mouth equation, it won't keep plaque and tartar at bay on its own.
5. Don't give your pet candy, ever! Pets should never get candy of any kind. Like chocolate, sorbitol-sweetened candy is toxic to dogs. (And regular candy is as bad for Rex’s teeth as yours!) Even "good" treats from the vet clinic should comprise no more than 10 per cent of your pet's diet.
6. Do trade tooth-damaging toys for tooth-protecting ones. Nylon tennis balls can erode the crowns of teeth, so trade them for rubber road hockey balls or Kong toys instead.
7. Do approach certain dental-care treats with caution. "Caution has to be used when offering bones or rawhide to your dogs. Though they may be helpful at keeping the teeth cleaner, they may also cause harm by causing tooth fractures and premature erosion. Bones can also be swallowed and cause gastrointestinal injury or obstruction. And rawhide can result in choking," says Dr. Roberts.
Discuss these issues with your vet. If you choose to give your dog bones or rawhide, talk with your vet about frequency and correct sizing. You may want to limit these treats to when you're going be with your pet, not when you're heading out the door.
8. Don't skip vet exams. "During annual veterinary exams, your pet's teeth are examined and recommendations will be made regarding its dental health and needs," says Dr. Roberts. In some cases follow-up care may be necessary.
"Many pets will periodically require professional scaling and examination of their teeth under general anesthesia. Simple hand scaling of the large pieces of tartar while the patient is awake is grossly inadequate," says Dr. Roberts.
9. Do call your vet if something seems "off." Bad breath, excessive drooling, inflammation, or visibly damaged or missing teeth usually indicates a trip to the vet is necessary – even if Rex is full of beans or Lola’s cleaning her plate. "Our pets are often very clever at masking dental pain, and their owners often assume that if they're still eating, then they must not be experiencing any discomfort," says Dr. Roberts. Remember that this is not always the case. (But if your pet isn’t eating, consider that a red flag.)
When in doubt, call your vet to see if you need to bring your pet in for a visit. Better safe than sorry.
How to brush your pet's teeth