February is National Pet Dental Health Month! Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), National Pet Dental Health Month aims to educate pet owners on the importance of good oral care for dogs and cats.

We all know how important it is to brush our teeth twice a day, but it’s important to take care of your pet’s teeth too. Dental health is directly related to overall health, so protecting your pet’s oral health is vital for maintaining overall health.

Why Is Dental Care Important?

According to the AVMA, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will develop some kind of oral disease by the age of 3. More than 85% of dogs and cats older than 4 years of age have periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats. Early detection and treatment are essential as the disease can lead to infection and travel to the heart valves, kidneys, and livers where it can cause internal organ damage.

Dental health is closely linked to other diseases and complications, so protecting your pet’s oral health is essential! Here are a few ways to keep your pet’s teeth healthy:

  1. Yearly Teeth Cleanings: The AVMA recommends getting your pet’s teeth and gums checked at least once a year by your veterinarian. This gives your vet a chance to check for early signs of dental problems. Performed under anesthesia, professional dental cleanings are important for removing dental plaque and tartar.
  2. Regular Brushing: What is the single most effective thing you can do to keep your pet’s teeth healthy between dental cleanings? Brush their teeth! Unfortunately, that’s sometimes easier said than done. According to the AVMA, frequent removal of dental plaque and tartar is needed to prevent common oral disease in pets. Making dental health a part of your pet’s daily routine is key. If daily brushing isn’t possible, try to brush your pet’s teeth several times a week.
  3. Dental Products: There are a variety of dental products that can help improve dental health. Food and water additives, as well as dental chews, can help with bad breath, plaque, and tartar.
  4. Watch for Symptoms: Keep an eye out for dental problems and associated symptoms. Be sure to visit your veterinarian if you observe any of the following problems:
    • Bad breath
    • Bleeding from the mouth
    • Pain in or around the mouth
    • Refusal to eat or reduced appetite
    • Abnormal chewing or drooling
    • Dropping food from the mouth
    • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
    • Broken or loose teeth
    • Swelling around the mouth

Tips for Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth

Getting your pet comfortable with teeth brushing isn’t always easy. But being consistent and patient will help! Acclimating your pet is a slow process, especially if your pet is a few years old and has never had his teeth brushed. Here are some tips to get you started!

  • Start out by simply massaging your pet’s gums, lips, and teeth. This will help your pet become comfortable with you touching his mouth and teeth. Be sure to give lots of praise afterward to reinforce good behavior.
  • After your pet becomes comfortable with the massage, try and introduce some pet-friendly toothpaste. Let your pet taste the toothpaste for a few days.
  • Now you can introduce a pet-friendly toothbrush. You can start out by letting your pet lick toothpaste off of the toothbrush. Then you can start gently lifting his lips and brushing his teeth in circular motions.
  • Make sure to keep teeth-brushing sessions short. If your pet isn’t tolerating it well, take a break and try again later.
  • As with all training, positive reinforcement is key! Praise your dog and offer rewards throughout the learning process.

When it comes to your pet’s dental health, prevention is so important. Now is the time to start making oral health a part of your pet’s routine. And while you’re thinking of it, it’s also a great time to call your veterinarian for a dental checkup.