From the date of adoption a unique, mutually beneficial relationship develops between you and your pet. You no doubt love the abundance of hugs, kisses, and snuggles—until your pet’s breath becomes too foul to bear. Many pet owners believe their pet’s bad breath is normal, when in fact it can signal dental disease. Unfortunately, by age 3, more than 70% of pets have some form of dental disease that can have consequences far more serious than bad breath.
The root of dental disease in pets
Your pet develops bad breath, also known as halitosis, when bacteria that live around the teeth combine with food particles to form plaque, and then tartar if the plaque is not removed. Once the bacteria reach under the gumline, they can destroy the connection between the gums and the teeth, causing infection, called gingivitis, and other problems, including the foul mouth odor.
Brushing teeth can build your relationship with your pet
The best way to prevent bad breath and dental disease is by brushing your pet’s teeth daily.
Regular brushing decreases the number of bacteria on and around her teeth, and stimulates the blood supply in the gum tissue to fight the bacteria under the gumline. To start your pet’s daily toothbrushing regimen, which ideally should be performed at the same time each day, follow these steps:
- Week One — Choose a flavored, pet-friendly toothpaste. Offer your pet a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and let her lick it off.
- Week two — Apply a small amount of toothpaste with your finger to a tooth, and slowly increase the number of teeth.
- Week three — Gently spread toothpaste on your pet’s gums and teeth each day.
- Week four — Switch to a small pet toothbrush to apply the toothpaste.
The toothbrushing process requires time, patience, and perseverance, and constant treats rewarding each step, but many pets learn to enjoy the routine, which will not only nourish their health, but also their bond with their owner.
Some pets will not tolerate toothbrushing at all, but many dental products, including prescription dental diets, food and water additives, oral wipes and gels, and chews can help in those cases. Always use Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved products for dogs and cats, because they are the only items proven to slow plaque and tartar accumulation. VOHC-approved products can also be used in conjunction with toothbrushing to take at-home dental care to a higher level.
Oral pain can affect the human-animal bond
If left unchecked, the oral bacteria and infection will continue moving deeper into the gums and cause loose teeth, tooth-root abscesses, and other problems that will cause your pet significant pain. However, pets are masters at hiding disease and pain, and you likely will not realize your pet is ill until the disease has advanced, when she may begin eating less, eat only soft food, or be reluctant to play or exercise. Of course, her reluctance to move affects her time spent, and her bond, with you.
To protect your pet, ensure she has professional dental check-ups and cleanings at least yearly, in addition to her at-home regimen. Our veterinary team will perform the procedure under anesthesia to ensure she suffers no pain or anxiety. We will first examine her mouth visually, then take dental X-rays, which will allow us to examine the condition of her teeth below the gumline, where most of each tooth is found. Then we will scale and polish her teeth, monitoring her constantly during the procedure and her recovery from anesthesia. She will awake with a fresh mouth and clean, sparkling teeth, completely unaware of the procedure.
This yearly oral maintenance will allow any issues to be discovered and addressed as early as possible, and a happy, healthy, pain-free pet will want to spend more time with you.
You may be surprised that brushing your pet’s teeth, in addition to her yearly veterinary oral maintenance, can strengthen and preserve your relationship with your pet, but you will both enjoy your time together much more when your pet is not in pain—and you will both be happy when you do not shy away from her kisses.