Brush Up On the Facts: Pets Need Good Oral Hygiene

You and your pet have many things in common – one of which is the need for proper oral hygiene. Without it, your pet could be in pain and you wouldn’t know it. As a pet owner, you can help prevent periodontal disease in your cat or dog by learning proper brushing and making appointments for your pet to receive routine teeth cleanings.

Just like you, your pet has bacteria in his/her mouth. Too much bacteria in the mouth can not only result in bad breath but can also lead to gum disease. This bacteria can then travel through the body and lead to serious infections involving your pet’s major organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver. Did you know that oral cancer is one of the major cancers affecting dogs and cats?

By the age of 3, 70% of dogs and cats show signs of gum disease. Symptoms include yellow and brown buildup along the gum line, persistent bad breath, and red, inflamed gums. Prevention of gum disease in your dog or cat is as simple as following a dental care regimen at home and following up with regular checkups with your pet’s dentist – your family veterinarian.

Getting your dog or cat used to having its teeth cleaned at home should ideally be started when they are young. However, there are ways to make the experience pleasant if you have an adult dog or cat. Be sure to use toothbrushes and toothpastes made especially for pets. Human toothpaste contains fluoride which can be toxic in large amounts. Be gentle when brushing, taking care to get the insides and outsides of all teeth. This process should be repeated approximately 2-3 times a week. To get your pet used to it, you may want to try using gauze wrapped around your finger and dipped in tuna water for cats and bouillon for dogs.

Some of the signs that your pet may be experiencing mouth or tooth pain may include:

  • Blood-tinged drooling
  • Difficulty eating/Reluctance to eat
  • Swelling/Redness of gums
  • Tipping/Tilting the head when eating
  • Refusing to eat hard foods
  • Change in mouth odor

Your pet should also be examined regularly by your veterinarian. At times, a cleaning may need to be performed to eliminate excessive plaque build-up or extract infected teeth. For pets, these cleanings are considered surgical procedures because they are performed under anesthesia.

Pets cannot tell us when they are in pain so it is important to look for the signs listed above and report them immediately to your veterinarian. You know how you feel when you have a toothache – don’t let your pet suffer the same pain.

If you need a veterinarian, please visit the Find a Veterinarian page for a list of NJVMA veterinarians in your area.