Say Ahhhhh! What pet owners need to know about dental health.

In February, we celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month, which reminds us that our furry friends don’t always have a toothbrush with them and that their teeth may require some attention. Like us, our pets need regular dental care, and that care should happen year-round and not just during the month of February. Good oral health is an important component of good general health for your pet! 

Periodontal disease (gum disease) is very common and can cause bad breath, oral pain, behavioral changes like reduced appetite, and may affect a pet’s kidneys, liver, and heart. 

At Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital, our Board-certified veterinary dental specialist, Dr. Judy Rochette is trained to diagnose and treat genetic and acquired dental problems. Using specialized diagnostics, including dental radiology, laboratory and CT evaluations, Dr. Rochette can provide proper diagnosis of oral health and related medical problems prior to treatment planning. Dr. Rochette is trained in specialized dental treatment options, including surgical options, which means we offer a wide range of treatment options. 

Dental Health Needs Vary 

There is no “one size fits all” situation for dental health, but there are lots of options for our pets to live their best life. All pets are different, and they will develop tartar at differing rates. Your pet’s age, size, breed, genetics, and lifestyle can all contribute to the development and progression of dental disease. In fact, a study published in 2021 showed that small dogs are at higher risk of developing tartar and dental disease than larger dogs and they tend to show evidence of dental tartar at a much younger age. Cats seem to fall somewhere in the middle.  

How Can Pet Owners Prevent Dental Issues? 

1. Daily tooth brushing is the first line of defense.

In a perfect world, we would train all our puppies and kittens to allow daily teeth brushing, just like we do with our furless children. Dogs and cats are very clever and learn with just a little training. Your family veterinarian can set you up with a “how to” document that teaches you how to teach your pet to accept dental care.

Even if you can’t commit to daily brushing, even doing this a few times per week or on some regular schedule can still benefit your pet.  That said, even with daily brushing, we humans still need to have a professional cleaning done on a regular basis to keep our teeth as healthy as possible, and so will our pets. 

2. Brush The Right Way.

There are several different brushes or finger brushes available, but the most important factor is to ensure that in time, you can brush all your pet’s teeth both front and back on both the inside and outside of each tooth. 

    • Start by rubbing your finger around their mouth. 
    • Move to a finger brush. 
    • Progress to a toothbrush to help reach the back teeth.
    • Use dog-specific or cat-specific toothpaste.  
    • Speak to your veterinarian about the best approach and product for your animal. Make sure to never use human toothpaste or rinses for your animal. 
3. Nutrition and Diet.

Diet matters in combating dental disease. A well-balanced, healthy pet food will protect your pet’s whole health, giving them the ability to fight off diseases and aid in healing.

Certain pet foods contain specific nutrients and unique formulations to help with this. You will often see these diets referred to as “Dental” diets. What this means is that the kibble may be designed such that the action of chewing creates a scrubbing action on the surface of the teeth. These dental diets alter the size and shape of the kibble in addition to the texture of the kibble to allow this to happen.

Some dental diets also contain nutrients which help to minimize calcium from depositing onto the plaque on the surface of the teeth. You may see them listed as things like sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, or sodium pyrophosphate.

4. What About Dental Chews?

Not all chewing is equal when it comes to dental prevention. Bones or hard chew toys will increase the risk of fracturing (breaking) your pet’s teeth, which can contribute to dental disease rather than help with it.  

However, there are some dental chews on the market which have dental claims and are formulated to help support dental health. We need to remember though, dental chews are not calorie free, so choosing the right dental chew for the size of the pet is important, as our pets should not be getting more than 10% of their daily calories from a source which is nutritionally unbalanced.

Your family veterinarian can determine how many calories your pet should be getting each day, which will help you find a chew that will fit into your pet’s caloric needs rather than being “extra” calories that we don’t think about.


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