Person getting ready to brush dog's teeth
I make sure my dog’s teeth get brushed regularly. OK, technically I delegate that job to my husband, who is much better at it than I am. And Healey (our Beagle-Spaniel mix) loves it. I’m not sure if it’s the attention he gets or the flavored toothpaste, but either way, he looks forward to the nightly ritual. When my husband is away, I don’t exactly relish the task. But I always do it. Why? I can’t imagine going a day without brushing my own teeth. That’s motivation enough for me.

Plaque and tartar build up on cats’ and dogs’ teeth the same way they do on ours. In fact, dental disease is the most common disease in adult dogs and cats. By the time dogs and cats are 3 years old, most of them have dental disease.

Fortunately, we can take our pets for regular dental exams and cleanings, and we can brush our pets’ teeth each day (just like we do to protect our own oral health). But like many people, my husband and I travel occasionally. And whether we take our dog to a kennel or he spends time with a family member, we wanted to find a way to continue combatting dental disease while we’re gone.

Most kennels won’t attempt to brush a pet’s teeth, no matter how well-trained and used to the process a dog or cat is, and we don’t expect our parents — who haven’t had a pet in years — to attempt it either. So we looked into other products that could help.

As it turns out, there are a bunch of great options you can use to help keep your pet’s mouth healthy between exams. You might find that a combination of these products works best for you. Or if you try one method and it isn’t successful, you may need to try something else. When in doubt, ask your vet which products she likes best.

Your At-Home Arsenal for Keeping Dental Disease at Bay

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

These are your main weapons against dental disease.

Choose a toothbrush that’s the right size for your pet. Toothbrushes come in a variety of sizes, so when in doubt, ask your vet to help you pick the best fit for your pet.

Always use pet toothpaste — never human toothpaste, which isn’t meant to be swallowed and can make your pet sick. Choose one that contains chlorhexidine gluconate, which is a clinically proven antiseptic and antimicrobial, or enzymes like glucose oxidase or lactoperoxidase, which have antibacterial properties that decrease plaque.

Dental Diets

Several companies offer diets specifically formulated to help control plaque and tartar in dogs and cats. Look for one that carries the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance, given to products proven to help control plaque and tartar when used as directed.

Dental Chews

These treats typically have an abrasive texture that mechanically helps control plaque and tartar. Some also include sodium hexametaphosphate, which reduces tartar formation, or chlorhexidine gluconate, which can work for up to 24 hours.

Watch your pet at least the first few times you give a new type of dental chew. Your pet should chew it for a few minutes. If your pet swallows a chew whole or after one bite, stop giving the chews.

And stick to dental chews rather than opting for real bones, which can damage teeth and cause gastrointestinal problems.

Oral Rinses and Sprays

These products contain active ingredients such as chlorhexidine gluconate and zinc to help fight plaque and bacteria and help maintain your pet’s oral health. One that has a point-and-squeeze applicator can make it easier to rinse your pet’s teeth after a meal.

Drinking Water Additives

A simple way to help prevent plaque accumulation, these products can be added to your pet’s drinking water daily. Some come in premeasured packets to make dosing more convenient.

When using water additives, pay close attention to your pet’s drinking habits for the first few days. Cats especially may not like the taste of the additive and stop drinking water. If this happens, consider offering two water bowls, one with the additive and one with regular water, to make sure your pet continues to drink.

Dental Sealants

These products reduce plaque and tartar formation by creating a barrier that prevents bacteria from attaching to the teeth. They are ideally applied after a professional dental cleaning and need to be reapplied once a week.

A Simple Strategy

Brushing is the gold standard for at-home dental care, but sometimes life gets in the way. Adding products to help control plaque and tartar to your pet’s daily routine can help protect your pet’s dental health between veterinary visits, even on days when you can’t brush.
This article originally appeared in the winter issue of HealthyPet Magazine.

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