Dog dental checkup

Studies have shown that any exercise is better for you than none at all, and the same is true when it comes to dental care for your pet. Even if you can’t brush your pet’s teeth every day, there’s a lot you can do to improve his oral health. But where do you start? Here are five tips to help you get going:

#1: Pay Attention to Your Pet’s Mouth

Over 70 percent of pets over the age of 3 already have evidence of dental disease. That’s not a very comforting statistic. Dental disease can lead to other serious health issues for your pet, so the first thing you should do is realize how important your pet’s teeth are. Doggy breath is not normal — it’s a sign of an unhealthy mouth, so don’t wait for this problem, or any others, to start before you get involved.

Start with a trip to your vet. Although a thorough oral examination requires anesthesia, a brief exam in your vet’s office can tell you a lot about where your pet’s oral health is right now and what you can do to start improving it.

#2: Schedule a Cleaning

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so what better time to schedule a dental cleaning if your pet needs one? In general, at-home dental care for pets is more successful if you’re starting with a clean tooth surface. A dental cleaning removes existing tartar and creates a clean surface, so you can start slowing down the accumulation of plaque and tartar.

Worried about anesthesia? Talk to your veterinarian. Today’s anesthetic agents are very safe, and your vet’s goal is to make sure your pet comes through OK. Still nervous? Check out my recent article on this subject.

#3: Brush — If You Can

Yes, we need to talk about brushing. I actually am one of those veterinarians who walks the talk: Our pets get their teeth brushed regularly. And you know what? They love it! That’s because we don’t approach it like a chore, but rather as an opportunity for some one-on-one attention. We use a pet toothbrush, but you can also try a baby toothbrush, a finger brush or even gauze around your finger. Just be sure you’re using a toothpaste made for pets, because the kind humans use isn’t meant to be swallowed, and pets can’t spit.

Daily brushing is ideal, but if you can only manage a couple of times a week, you’ll still be doing very well by your pet. And on the bright side, at least you don’t have to floss!

#4: If You Can’t Brush, Rinse

If brushing your pet’s teeth is not in your plans, you can still help by adding a medicated rinse to your pet’s dental protocol. These products are commonly sold by your veterinarian, and they work by making the surface of the teeth a less friendly place for plaque. They also have antibacterial properties and help freshen that pungent doggy or kitty breath that we could all live without.

Some of these products are sprayed into your pet’s mouth, while others are added to his water. When combined with veterinary-recommended chews, you’re waging a real war against dental disease without any real effort on your part.

#5: If All Else Fails, Try Edible Toothbrushes

So what if you don’t have the time, ability or desire to brush or rinse? Simply providing your pets with the right chews and chew toys can help slow down the plaque buildup that leads to periodontal disease. But not just any chew will do: Veterinary dental specialists warn that chews that are too hard may break teeth, which is obviously counterproductive. How do you know if a chew is too hard? If it would hurt to have it hit your knee, it’s not something your pet should have in his mouth.

Ruling out too-hard chews leaves a lot of options, though, and your veterinarian can help you select those that are best for your pet, including chews impregnated with enzymatic solutions that will help prevent plaque from forming. There are also therapeutic foods available from your veterinarian that are designed to scrape the teeth clean as your pet chews. Some veterinarians refer to all kinds of therapeutic chews and foods as “edible toothbrushes.”  The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) evaluates pet dental care products and has a list of products that have received the VOHC seal of acceptance.

So there you have it. Start by paying attention to your pet’s teeth and scheduling a dental exam and your home care will be easy. Whatever method or combination you choose, your pet will be better off. And let’s face it — wouldn’t it be nice to say bye-bye to doggy breath and hello to “kissable breath” forever?

More on