5 Ways to Freshen Up Your Pet's Dental Health

Are your pet’s pearly whites more yellow-brown in color? Does his breath make you plug your nose? We wouldn’t be surprised if many of you answered yes and yes. By the time they're 3 years old, most dogs and cats suffer from some degree of dental disease — and yellow-brown tartar and stinky breath are just two of the warning signs. But your pet doesn’t have to be part of that disheartening statistic! There are steps you can take at home — and with the help of your veterinarian — to help combat dental disease.

Check out the photo gallery below to learn how you can improve your dog or cat’s dental health.

What You Can Do to Help Stave Off Dental Disease

Labrador mouth

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Know the Warning Signs of Dental Disease

As we mentioned, bad breath and yellow-brown tartar can indicate that your pet has dental disease. Other signs to look for include inflamed gums, bleeding gums, broken teeth, pawing at the mouth, difficulty chewing and excessive drooling. If you notice any of these signs, don’t ignore them — contact your veterinarian.

Dog getting teeth brushed

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Practice Good Oral Hygiene at Home

Many pet owners neglect brushing their dog or cat’s teeth because they think it’s too difficult or not important. While it can take some getting used to, brushing your pet’s teeth probably isn’t as challenging as it seems. With patience, praise and plenty of treats, your animal will likely tolerate — or even enjoy — getting his teeth brushed. Dr. Beth Thompson shows you what to do here. And as for it not being important? Brushing your pet’s teeth daily helps remove bacteria-containing plaque from his teeth. If that plaque isn’t removed frequently through brushing and regular dental cleanings, it may harden into tartar, which is much more difficult to remove.

Just remember: Only use toothpaste that is specially formulated for pets. Human toothpastes can contain ingredients that are dangerous for dogs and cats.

Cat dental health exam

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Get Your Pet’s Teeth Professionally Cleaned

Unfortunately, even daily tooth brushing may not be enough to defend against dental disease. After an initial dental exam, your veterinarian may recommend a more thorough exam with a dental cleaning. During this procedure, she will remove plaque and tartar on the teeth and under the gumline and do a thorough examination of your pet’s mouth. She may recommend X-rays to see if there are any signs of dental disease below the gumline. Thanks to advances in pet healthcare, root canals, braces and other advanced dental treatments are available for dogs and cats. If special procedures are required, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dental specialist.

Dog with orange toy

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Provide Safe Chew Toys

Some chew toys can break your dog's teeth. As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Marty Becker says you shouldn’t give your pet a chew toy that’s hard enough that you wouldn’t want it to hit you in the knee. And while you're at it, don’t allow your pet to chew on rocks, fencing or other hard objects that could damage his teeth.

If you want to give your pet a toy that may help improve his dental health, look for dental chews, toys and treats that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance or ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

Cat eating food from bowl

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Try Alternative Treatments

If your dog or cat really won’t let you brush his teeth, there are other dental-care treatments you can try. Some foods for dogs and cats are specifically formulated to help control plaque and tartar. Look for dental diets that carry the VOHC seal of approval. Oral rinses and gels may help keep bacteria from adhering to the tooth enamel, and giving your pet drinking water additives daily can help prevent plaque accumulation. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for advice. He may be able to recommend a product that works for you and your pet.

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