Dental Hygiene For Pets

Temma Martin from the Salt Lake County Animal Services tells us why we should be paying more attention to our dog’s dental health.


Eighty percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats develop gum disease by the age of three (according the American Veterinary Dental Society,) and oral health issues are the most common problems treated in small animal clinics today. The buildup of bacteria in your pet’s mouth may cause more than bad breath, so it’s important to include dental care in your pet’s routine.

Your pet needs regular, professional dental care from your veterinarian, as well as daily care at home from you. Dogs and cats get common dental problems like plaque, tartar, gum disease and tooth decay. Bacteria in your pets mouth not only causes oral disease, but may also release toxins into the bloodstream that can cause problems in the heart, liver and kidneys.

It’s best to start taking care of pets’ teeth when they’re young, starting at about 4 months of age. This helps them become accustomed early to regular teeth cleaning, and preventing future problems is as easy as daily brushing to remove plaque, prevent tartar and avoid periodontal disease. Introduce brushing by gently rubbing your pet’s teeth and gums with a soft gauze wrapped around a finger. Gradually switch over to a very soft human toothbrush or one designed for pets. Reward and praise the pet for cooperating.

If your pet is already an adult, take him or her to the veterinarian for a dental exam, and make sure all regular visits to the vet include a thorough checkup of your pet’s teeth. Don’t wait for the next annual exam if you suspect a problem. Inspect your pet’s teeth regularly at home and look for bad breath, red or bleeding gums, loose teeth, discoloration and tartar buildup. If your pet already has hardened tartar, the veterinarian will need to anesthetize the pet and use special tools to clean and polish the teeth.

Begin a dental care routine at home. Your veterinarian can recommend a plan that includes brushing the pet’s teeth and feeding him specially formulated foods that fight plaque and tartar buildup. Hard crunchy foods and treats and chew toys that clean teeth are all very valuable in maintaining oral health. At the shelter we often see young dogs with terrible teeth whose well-intentioned owners thought they were “spoiling” them by feeding them canned foods and table scraps.

Brush your pet’s teeth daily or at least every few days. It may seem like you’re going overboard, and you may be embarrassed to admit it to your friends, but prevention is a lot easier and cheaper than treatment later. It takes less than 36 hours for plaque to harden into tartar, which cannot be removed with a brush. Be patient when introducing an adult pet to brushing. Pick a pet toothpaste-usually poultry or fish flavored-and give your pet a taste on your finger. The next time run your fingers over the teeth and gums. When your pet is comfortable with this, try the toothbrush. Always give your pet treats and lots of attention to make them look forward to brushing time.


We would never dream of neglecting our teeth because we know the pain and expense of dental care if we don’t take pay attention to our oral hygiene. If we care for our pets’ teeth and gums with the same dedication as our own, our furry friends with have sweeter breath, better overall health and even a longer life.

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