Smile! It’s National Pet Dental Health Month

Most of us don’t think twice about brushing our own teeth. It’s just a part of our daily routine that we wouldn’t dream of missing. But when it comes to our four-legged friends, it can be easy to forget that dental health is important for them, too. That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is sponsoring National Pet Dental Health Month in February. It’s a gentle reminder to pet parents to pay extra attention to Fido’s chompers.

“One of the most common problems veterinarians see in pets is dental disease,” Dr. Clark K. Fobian, president of the AVMA, said in a press release. “Unfortunately, these issues can get serious if untreated. I remind pet owners that an untreated dental infection can spread to the heart, kidneys and other organs, and suddenly become life threatening.”

If you notice any of the following symptoms, AVMA recommends taking your pet to the vet immediately:

  • Red swollen gums and brownish teeth.
  • Bad breath—Most pets have breath that is less than fresh, but if it becomes truly repugnant, similar to the smell of a rotten egg, it’s a sign that periodontal disease has already started.
  • Bleeding from the mouth.
  • Frequent pawing or rubbing at the face and/or mouth.
  • Reluctance to eat hard foods—for example, picking it up and then spitting it out.

Proper dental hygiene and regular check-ups can go a long way toward keeping problems at bay, including:

Professional dental cleanings

These cleanings, which include scaling and polishing the teeth, are considered the “gold standard” in pet dental health. They are done in your veterinarian’s office under general anesthesia, and the frequency depends on your dog. Some dogs accumulate tartar and plaque more quickly than others.

Anesthesia-free dental cleanings

While these types of cleanings aren’t typically as thorough as those with anesthesia, they may be a way to lengthen the time between deep cleanings. They can also be a good alternative for pets who are unable to tolerate anesthesia due to other health issues.

Feed high quality food and treats

In the same way what we consume has an effect on our teeth (think candy and soda), what a dog eats can have an effect on theirs. While we all crave a little “junk food” every once in a while, focus on feeding your pet food and treats made with high quality, natural ingredients. Try to stay away from those that are packed with fillers.

Non-Edible Bones and Chews

These products, readily available in most pet supply stores, satisfy a dog’s natural urge to chew in addition to promoting better dental hygiene. They are often long-lasting and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Supervise your dog carefully and dispose of any chew that becomes excessively worn or broken.

Tooth Brushing

With patience and gentleness, most dogs and cats can be taught to tolerate having their teeth brushed. You may have to experiment with the type of brush you use. Some fit on the end of your fingers, some have multiple brush heads, and some look like longer, thinner human toothbrushes. In addition, always use a toothpaste specifically designed for pets. Not only are they more palatable (meat-flavored toothpaste, yum!), they’re made with pet-friendly ingredients. Once a day brushings are ideal but aim for at least once a week.

Note: This article is not a substitute for proper veterinary care. Please discuss your pet’s dental health and the methods and products mentioned here with your veterinarian.