Got dental questions? We've got answers!
For both dogs and cats, it's important to have regular dental check-ups at the vet, dental cleanings, and at-home tooth care for a long, happy and healthy life. Here are some of the most common questions we hear from pet parents about caring for your fur-baby’s mouth, teeth, and gums.
Why do I need to brush my pet’s teeth?
Both dogs and cats should have their teeth brushed regularly to help prevent periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is one of the most common health issues that veterinarians encounter – affecting as many as 70% of cats and 80% of dogs over the age of 3.
The reality is, many pet parents don’t think about oral health until their dog or cat suddenly develops stinky breath! Bad breath is one of the most common early signs of gingivitis or periodontal disease.
Aside from preventing dental disease (which is painful and expensive to treat), dental hygiene is important because it affects more than just your pet’s teeth. The mouth is where good health begins – it’s actually where the body starts to digest food (yes, it begins breaking down in the mouth while your pet is chewing!). Periodontal disease can have a ripple effect, leading to kidney and liver damage, lung infections, and heart conditions. Good oral health means a better quality of life for your furry family member.
When and how should I start dental care at home?
For most puppies and kittens, adult teeth grow at around 6 months of age. This is the time to start your dental care routine at home with consistent tooth brushing.
Good dental habits actually start even earlier! The first 6 months of life is a crucial period where your puppy or kitten is adjusting to their environment and is open to new experiences. During this time, do everything you can to get your fur-baby familiar with having their mouth (and other body parts) touched and handled. Play with your puppy or kitten’s feet, toes, ears, mouth, and lips. Touch all over their body, from head to tail, making it a gentle and positive experience.
This is called deconditioning, and it will help adjust your pet to a life of being handled in a medical way – so when they go to the vet or you are caring for them at home, it’s not so scary to have their ears cleaned, nails trimmed, or teeth checked!
How often should I brush my pet’s teeth?
Daily brushing is ideal. At a minimum, you should be brushing 4-5 days per week for 30 seconds per side for effective dental upkeep. Within 2 days, plaque sitting on the teeth can begin to grow bad bacteria which leads to inflammation. If plaque is left to sit for too long, it will calcify (harden) and turn into tartar – which cannot be removed by brushing and requires a professional dental cleaning.
How do I brush my pet’s teeth?
If your fur-baby isn’t accustomed to having their teeth brushed, they may feel stressed or alarmed at first. It’s important to gradually get your pet accustomed to having their mouth handled and touched, and work your way up to using a toothbrush. Our step-by-step guide on How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth walks you through the process of making your pup or kitty comfortable and getting their teeth nice and clean!
Is it okay to use human toothpaste?
No, you should never give your pet toothpaste meant for people! Human toothpastes contain ingredients that are dangerous if swallowed by your pet. Some contain high levels of sodium and fluoride which can make dogs and cats very ill. Others contain xylitol which is extremely toxic for dogs!
Why is pet-specific toothpaste recommended?
Pet toothpastes are safe for dogs to swallow and are available in a number of different flavors that are appetizing to our furry friends such as poultry, beef, malt, and mint. Your pet will be more likely to enjoy the brushing experience with a toothpaste that tastes yummy.
My friend recommended that I use baking soda in place of toothpaste. Is this okay?
No, do not give your pets baking soda or a baking soda mixture. If swallowed, baking soda can upset the acid balance in your pet’s stomach and digestive tract (due to its high alkaline content!). Many cats and dogs also don’t like the taste, which may give your pup a negative association with toothbrushing.
What type of toothbrush should I use?
Choosing the right toothbrush depends on your pet’s size and your own comfort. There are many toothbrushes specifically designed for pets. The most common are:
- Dual Tip
- Angled Dual Tip
- Finger Tip
Many pet parents find the finger tip brushes are the easiest to use when starting out.
What else can I do to maintain my pet’s dental health?
In addition to brushing, there are other strategies that can help prevent plaque and tartar from building up. None of these can replace tooth brushing, but they can be used in conjunction with brushing to maintain great oral health. Here are a few popular options:
- Dental Chews: Healthy chewing is a great way to help keep your pet’s teeth clean. Chewing can help to strengthen and clean under the gumline (where the gums meet the teeth) which is where dental disease often begins. Chewing is also a highly rewarding activity for many pets! Some dental chews have a wax that gets distributed under the teeth and along the gum line as your pet chews, repelling plaque from binding to the teeth.
- Oral Gels, Sprays, Wipes: There are a number of pet-safe gels, sprays, and wipes that you can apply to your pet’s teeth to help break down plaque, freshen breath, and kill bad bacteria in the mouth.
- Water Additives: Adding a few drops to your pet’s water can help freshen their breath and maintain the right balance of oral bacteria – encouraging good bacteria to thrive, while deterring bad bacteria from forming. (Note: Your pet may not like the change in how their water tastes. Start by adding just ¼ of the amount recommended on the label, and gradually increase over time to help ease your pet into the change.)
- Meal Toppers: Adding a topper to your pet’s food can be an easy (and yummy) way to add nutritional benefits to their diet. Some meal toppers include vitamins and minerals that help reduce bad bacteria, support good bacteria in the mouth, and prevent plaque formation.
- Diet and Nutrition: The food your pet eats contributes to how much plaque builds up on their teeth. Diets that incorporate raw food can help maintain better oral health throughout your pet’s life, by reducing plaque build-up and supporting healthy microflora in the mouth. Our nutrition experts are here to provide personalized advice and help you find the right diet to support your pet’s unique health needs.
When should my pet get a dental cleaning?
Most puppies and kittens should have their first dental check-up with a veterinarian around the age of 6 months, when their adult teeth come in. Cats and small dogs (less than 30 lbs) should have their first professional dental cleaning around 1 year of age. For larger dog breeds, it’s usually closer to 2 years old, as their bodies develop at a slower rate.
If your pet has signs of early-stage or advanced gingivitis or periodontal disease, a professional dental cleaning will be required to prevent the disease from developing further.
My pet needs a dental cleaning. What should I expect?
Taking your pet for a dental cleaning can feel overwhelming when you’re not sure what to expect. The good news is, dental cleanings are a fairly routine procedure for veterinarians and most pets need very little recovery time. Our blog post on What to Expect at Your Pet’s Dental Cleaning will walk you through the process from beginning to end. And, you can always call our medical team at JM Pet Vet Clinic if you have specific questions about your pet’s health. We’re here to help!