By Dr. Anndrea Kapke

Imagine if you never brushed your teeth your whole life? Yuck. Dogs and cats don’t. And considering some of the things they eat? Double yuck.

But, you point out, dogs and cats aren’t often in social situations where they would be embarrassed by having breath that smells like three day old dead bird off a sidewalk.
But we have to live with it.

Also, rotting teeth and infected gums really hurt. It can cause your happy-go-lucky puppy to become a grouchy adult dog with a sore mouth.
Besides the smell and the pain, there are health benefits to keeping your pet’s teeth and gums healthy. There is a lot of blood supply to the gums, so when they are infected, bacteria can travel through the body’s bloodstream. This can result in infections throughout the body, most notably in the heart valves. A heart valve infection can lead to heart failure and death.
So what do you do? Prevention of a disease is always easier than treating the disease. One of the easiest things to do is to feed your pet dry dog food or dry cat food. When your pet crunches the dry food, it helps to clean the teeth. Pets that eat canned food are more likely to have dental disease. You can also buy pet food that is labeled to help prevent dental disease. I give my pets Enzadent ® rawhide chews that have enzymes added to them that help to break down plaque. Chew toys will also help keep your pet’s teeth clean.
What works best to prevent dental disease is tooth brushing. It is easiest to start this when your pet is a puppy or kitten and easiest to train, but older pets can learn to accept this too. You can use a tooth brush or you can purchase a finger brush from a veterinary clinic or pet store. Don’t use people toothpaste though. People like their toothpaste to foam and we know not to swallow it. Some cats and especially dogs, will eat anything, and the foaming action of people toothpaste in their stomachs may make them throw up. You can purchase pet toothpaste from a veterinary clinic or pet store. Pet toothpaste doesn’t have the foaming agent and conveniently comes in beef or poultry flavors. Brush your pet’s teeth once a day to help prevent dental disease.
What if your pet already has that yellow or brown tartar cemented to his teeth and dark red gums with gingivitis? Now it is time for an ultrasonic dental cleaning by a veterinarian. Dogs and cats are put under general anesthesia for this dental cleaning, because they don’t understand when we ask them to sit still and say “ahhhhh” while we clean their teeth. Sometimes very damaged teeth will be pulled. Veterinary dental specialists can do fillings, crowns, root canals and even braces.
Good dental care will not only make your pet more pleasant to have near you, it will enable your pet to have a longer, more comfortable life.

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