Posts

February is Pet Dental Health Month! We all know that we are supposed to brush and floss our teeth regularly to maintain oral health, but did you know that your pets also need regular dental care? Approximately 70% of cats  and 80% of dogs in the United States are affected by dental disease. Dental health is about more than just clean teeth. Caring for your pet’s oral hygiene can help prevent health problems later.

Why Dental Health Matters

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), dental disease is “a painful condition that occurs when bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up on the teeth and get trapped beneath the gumline. The bacteria can be absorbed into the bloodstream and wreak havoc on other major organs throughout the body.” The AAHA states that dental disease starts early in life and that the majority of dogs and cats have some degree of dental disease by the age of 3.

Dental disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s teeth and gums; it can also affect the function of other organs and body systems. According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats and can lead to kidney, liver, and heart changes in your pet’s older years. Neglecting your pet’s teeth can cause chronic pain and may even lead to weight loss and behavioral changes.

Signs of dental disease or issues with your pet’s oral health include:

  • Bad breath
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

Always be sure to schedule regular veterinary exams for your pets. Annual exams include a dental check-up, which can help you catch signs of dental disease early. Be sure to mention anything out of the ordinary, like foul smelling breath or excessive drooling, to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will also provide regular teeth cleanings, extractions, or repairs if necessary to help maintain your pet’s oral health.

Providing regular home dental care for your pets can help prevent problems like bad breath or tooth loss as well as keep any dental disease from worsening, thus causing chronic pain or organ damage.

Not sure how much you already know about your pet’s dental health? Take this quiz from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to find out!

Tools for Home Dental Care

  • Toothbrushes: Be sure to use a pet appropriate toothbrush. You can use soft bristled brushes that look much like human toothbrushes but are smaller or finger brushes with rubber bristles. Some people even use gauze wrapped around their finger, but be careful it doesn’t snag on your pet’s teeth if you do that.
  • Toothpaste: Always use pet safe toothpastes; never use human toothpaste. Human toothpaste includes foaming agents and other chemicals that can upset your pet’s stomach. Pet toothpastes come in a variety of types and flavors. You can get gels or pastes in chicken, beef, liver, mint, or peanut butter flavors to encourage your pet’s enjoyment of the process. There are even some oral sprays that are designed to help break down tartar build-up, but make sure you introduce that slowly to your pet as well because the action of the spray bottle could be startling or stressful.
  • Chews and toys: There are many types of dental chews and regular toys that can aid in caring for your pet’s teeth and gums. Products like Greenie chews or Nylabone toys are frequently recommended by experts. Playing tug with a rope toy can even help “floss” your pet’s teeth.

Check out this helpful video from the AVMA about the tools and tricks for caring for your pet’s dental health at home.

 

Tips for Home Dental Care

Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective thing you can do between dental cleanings to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy, and may even prolong the period between required dental cleanings. It’s not easy to brush your pet’s teeth every day (I know from experience), but even brushing 2-3 times per week can make a huge difference.

  • Start a routine when your pet is young. We don’t always have our dogs and cats as puppies and kittens, but starting a dental care routine as soon as you become their owner is important. You can always start later as well, but will likely face more resistance from your pet.
  • Start your routine slowly. Buying a toothbrush and pet toothpaste at the local pet supply store and immediately attempting to start brushing your pet’s teeth can be frustrating for you and scary for your pet. For both dogs and cats try to start small and work your way up to a full brushing over weeks or months. Here are some helpful steps from Petco to get you started:
    • Let your pet get accustomed to the toothpaste by allowing them to lick it off of your finger
    • Let your pet check out the toothbrush/finger brush and give them plenty of treats to encourage a good association
    • Massage your pet’s teeth and gums with your finger to get them used to the feeling, both with and without the toothpaste
    • Put toothpaste on the toothbrush/finger brush and brush just one tooth or a couple of teeth
    • Slowly work your way up to more teeth and longer brushing
  • Feed your pet a healthy, well-balanced diet. We know that your pet’s overall health begins with a good diet, but did you know that many dental health issues are caused by malnutrition? Work with your veterinarian to address your pet’s nutrition and develop a healthy eating plan. Consider feeding a VOCH (Veterinary Oral Health Council) approved pet food. Some pet food brands offer specifically formulated dental care foods designed to help reduce plaque and tartar build-up.
  • Offer your pet dental treats and chews. There are many brands of dental treats and chews out there. Try to find brands that are VOHC-Approved, as those have been scientifically proven to help reduce tartar build-up. There are many types of chews for both dogs and cats that are designed to help care for teeth while indulging your pet in some quality entertainment. Be careful with chews (like bones or antlers) that are hard to bend or break easily, as those can potentially result in fractured or broken teeth. While treats and chews cannot replace regular brushing, they can be a great addition to an oral health routine, and lots of fun for your pets!

Small furry Shih Tzu walking along sidewalk carrying a scrub brush in it's mouth

 

After so many weeks of social distancing we all might be looking a little ragged. Maybe your hair is too long. Maybe you haven’t gotten that root touchup or the mani pedi you were planning on. Maybe you aren’t sure when you last shaved your legs. We are all going through it, achieving that perfect quarantine cave person look. But your pets don’t need to!

Grooming salons and vet offices are closed or have reduced hours, but that doesn’t mean that your pet won’t require brushing, baths, nail trims, and hair cuts. Many of us pet owners rely on the professionals to keep our fur babies looking neat and clean. What do we do when we don’t have access to those professionals? How do we perform the routine maintenance that our pets need to stay healthy and comfortable?

Here are some home grooming tips to help keep your pet looking and feeling good:

1. Nails:

Nail trims often equal stress, for both pets and their owners. Many owners haven’t learned how to properly clip their pet’s nails and are worried about cutting too short and damaging their pets. It can be an intimidating prospect! But even if you only get a small amount of nail trimmed, your dog will be better off. If nails are allowed to grow too long they can be painful to dogs and cats and cause joint and structural damage. It may take time to get your pet accustomed to the clippers. Use lots of treats and positive reinforcement to first get your pet used to the location where you will do the trimming (make sure its a calm quiet area with a non-slip mat for them to stabilize on), the clippers themselves, the clippers touching your pet, and finally a nail trim. There are plenty of YouTube videos and step by step instructions for clipping your pet’s nails. You may even ask your veterinarian or groomer if they have any resources for you to follow. Here are a few good videos to get you started: (The second video is a bit long but has some great information and explanations)

  • Types of Nail Clippers: There are 2 types of clippers people can use: scissors and guillotine. Chose the type that you and your pet are most comfortable with, you may need to try both to see which you prefer. Be sure to get the correct size as well. It can be dangerous to clip a kitten’s nails with dog scissors because they are too large and unwieldy on tiny nails. If your pet really doesn’t like the clippers you can also try a nail Dremel, which grinds their nails down. You may need to take time to get them accustomed to the noise and feel of the grinder and you still need to be careful not to trim too short or you will hit the quick.
  • What is the quick? The quick is the blood vessel in the nail and if you cut too close your pup could start to bleed, and nails bleed a lot! If that happens don’t panic. Use styptic powder (or cornstarch if you don’t have the powder) to stop the bleeding. Press the powder firmly on the nail that has been cut. Try to keep your pup still and make sure to stay calm and reward your pup for being calm.
  • Scratch Boards and Pads: Cats love their scratching pads! Many are made out of cardboard, sisal, twine, or tough fabric/carpetting. Cats use the scratching pads to both sharpen their claws and to leave scent traces. So if your cat uses their scratching pad frequently keep an eye on his/her claws because they may need a little trim more often. However, for dogs you can do the opposite! If trimming is just too stressful for your pup you can make your own scratching board that your dog can “dig” to file his/her nails! It may take a little while to train your pup to use it but it can be fun, stimulating, and much easier than a battle with the clippers! Check out this DIY Nail Board for your pooch.
  • How often should you trim? According to the ASPCA many dogs require weekly trimming, but pups who tend to walk frequently on sidewalks and paved roads can usually go longer between trimmings. You should trim your dog’s nails when they begin to touch the ground and you can hear them clicking as the pup walks, or if you notice them snagging on the ground or carpet. Cats should have their nails trimmed every 1-2 weeks or if you notice them getting snagged on carpets or blankets.
  • Paw Pads: Don’t forget your pup’s paw pads too. Their pads provide cushion for their joints as well as protection from weather and from rough ground. They can get chapped, dry, or burned just like our skin. Make sure you keep the hair between their pads trimmed and free of debris and dirt to prevent matting. Use a special paw moisturizer (do not use human moisturizer) like Musher’s Secret or Wild Saint Paw Therapy to keep pads healthy.

2. Ears:

Ear care are another task that your pet often does not want you to do but is essential for their health. Ear infections can be caused by debris or water caught in the ear canal and can be very uncomfortable for your pet. If an infection is left untreated it can cause hearing loss and loss of balance.

  • How to clean your dog’s ears: Training your dog to accept ear cleanings can also take a lot of time. Get your pet used to having their ears handled and then slowly acclimated them to the cotton balls and the smell of the cleaner, always using plenty of positive reinforcement. Once your pet is comfortable, gently fold their ear back over their head so the inner ear is exposed. Using a cotton ball with cleaning solution on it gently wipe dirt and earwax that you see on the underside of the ear flap and then very carefully clean the ear canal with the tip of your finger surrounded by the cotton ball or gauze. Watch this video for a good demonstration:

  • How often should you clean them? Depending on the type of ear your dog has, the amount of hair in the ear, or if they produce large amounts of wax, you may need to clean your pups ears every 2-4 weeks. Don’t clean too frequently and be sure not to clean too deeply, inserting anything (especially Q-tips) into the ear canal can cause damage or infection!

If your dog is prone to ear infections your veterinarian might recommend an ear drying solution. Usually containing witch hazel, these solutions can help any remaining water evaporate from the ear canal.

If your dog is a frequent swimmer or gets bathed often you may need to clean their ears more frequently. You can also put a cotton ball in their ear prior to a swim or a bath to help reduce the amount of water that gets trapped in the ear. Be sure to dry the ear thoroughly after a bath or swim.

3. Teeth:

We’ve all heard it. The veterinarian walks into the exam room and starts looking at your pet. She asks “do you brush Fido or Fluffy’s teeth?” And you hem and haw and say, “when I remember” or “she really hates it.” And it’s true. Many pets don’t like having you stick a foreign object into their face and rub it on their mouth. But keeping their mouth and teeth clean is essential for the overall health of your pet.

  • How often should I brush? Ideally you can brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth daily, but that’s sometimes difficult to manage. Aim to brush your pet’s teeth 2-3 times per week for good dental hygiene. Only use pet toothpaste, never human toothpaste. You also only need to clean the outside of the teeth and gums but make sure to get all the way to the back of their mouth on each side.
  • How can I teach my pet to accept tooth brushing? This will take some time and practice for both of you. You can start by gently rubbing your finger along his/her teeth and gums and providing tasty treats as a reward. You can also show the toothbrush or finger brush to your pet and give them treats so they associate good things with the toothbrush. Once they are comfortable with your finger then graduate slowly to the toothbrush. If they balk at this try holding the toothbrush near their face with one hand and rubbing your finger on their gums at the same time so they can start to get comfortable with being approached by the brush. Don’t push too quickly; take your time with each step so you don’t stress out or scare your pet.
  • But she eats Greenies, isn’t that enough? While some dental treats do help, they are not a replacement for brushing. The abrasive action of brushing is what helps fight plaque. If you do use treats be sure that they are the correct size for your pet and try to find treats with cleaning enzymes to be more effective.
  • Alternatives to brushing: Like I said above, nothing is as good as brushing, but if brushing is too stressful for you or your pet or if you cannot brush frequently enough try supplementing with these options from Fear Free Pets:
    • If the toothbrush is scary for your pet, but she will allow you to open her mouth, try using dental wipes that contain mild abrasives like bicarbonate of soda. You can also use a spray or a gel on your finger or a gauze pad but make sure they say safe for cats because not all of the dental sprays are.
    • There are additives to put in your pet’s water but make sure to only put it in a bowl. The additives cannot be used in fountains. You should be replacing the water and additives daily to make sure it stays fresh.
    • For your kitty, try dipping a Q-tip in tuna water and rubbing that on her teeth. The abrasive action will help remove plaque and the tuna flavor may help her enjoy the task!
    • For dogs there are specific dental toys that your pup can chew. Most are bones or similar shapes with rubber ridges that help to scrape plaque and food debris. Some have a place to put toothpaste so that your dog can “brush” his own teeth! Other people and pets prefer rope toys. Rope provides a “flossing” ability for your pet. Make sure the rope toy is in good shape and always supervise your pet with them. Once the rope toy gets ragged, make sure you take it away before your pup ends up getting strings stuck in his teeth.
Check out The Bucket Game, developed by Chirag Patel (an internationally renowned trainer and behaviorist) to help create positive associations with grooming tasks for your pup!

The most important thing to remember is to take your time. If you get your pup to tolerate one ear cleaned, if you can brush your pet’s teeth with your finger, or if you can get two nails on your cat clipped shorter, this is a win! It doesn’t have to be perfection now, but working to maintain your pet’s coat, skin, and nails will keep them happy and healthy. This may seem like a lot to deal with while you are in quarantine, but your pet will thank you! Even a little bit every day will create positive associations for your pet, improve their ability to interact calmly with basic care tasks, and not only make your pet care easier but improve your bond with your pet at the same time!