Did you know that by the age of 3 years, 80% of dogs and 70% cats have some sign of dental disease? If left untreated, dental disease can lead to premature loss of teeth and gum tissue. The bacteria in plaque can also spread to vital organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys leading to infection and further problems.
At Castle Vets in Reading we see a huge number of pets every month with some form of dental disease. Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition and affects both dogs and cats. Infection and inflammation of the gums is caused by the bacteria in plaque and calculus (tartar) on the teeth.
Common signs of periodontal disease include
- Weight loss
- Not eating well
- Rubbing the face
- Bad breath
- Loss of coat condition
- Bleeding gums (gingivitis)
- Inflamed gums (gingivitis)
- Receding gums
- Plaque or staining visible on the teeth
- Loose teeth
- Missing teeth
Prevention of dental disease is much better for your pet than treatment and it is important to remember that most dental disease is preventable; it is a good idea to start preventative health care as soon as possible in order to help avoid putting your pet through lengthy dental surgery when he or she is older. As with humans, daily brushing will keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy and help prevent bad breath.
- Brushing can be started at any age but should always be introduced slowly.
- Remember to reward your pet after brushing his or her teeth.
- Always use a pet toothbrush because they are designed with the shape of your pet’s teeth in mind, so will do a much better job than a human toothbrush.
- Always use pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste can be harmful to pets.
How to brush your pet’s teeth
Gradually build up the following stages over a period of 1-2 weeks until your pet is happy with the procedure. It is really important that you remember to reward your pet after each session to encourage acceptance.
Stage 1 – Without using a brush, gently stroke the outside of your pets cheeks with your finger and try lifting each lip slowly for about 30 seconds.
Stage 2 – Repeat stage 1 and also offer your pet a small amount of pet toothpaste on the end of your finger or a toothbrush and let them lick it off. (At Castle Vets we recommend C.E.T. Toothpaste and Logic Oral Hygiene Gel for tooth brushing)
Stage 3 – Repeat stage 2 but this time start to gently run your finger or toothbrush, with a small amount of toothpaste, over your pet’s teeth for about 30 seconds. Don’t press hard onto the teeth or gums, just use light forward, backward, up and down motions.
Stage 4 – Repeat stage 3 with the toothbrush, adding another 15 seconds to the time spent brushing. You can now start to add in circular motions over the teeth and gums with the toothbrush.
Stage 5 – When your pet is comfortable with tooth brushing, you can build up to 1-2 minutes a day on each side of the mouth. If your pet wont stay still for that long you could try doing one side in the morning and the other in the evening.
Hints and tips for successful brushing
- The daily brushing procedure should be and enjoyable experience for your pet. If you follow up each brushing session with a really good reward your pet is more likely to accept the procedure. For cats this could be a bit of tasty fish or a cat treat, for dogs you can use food treats or follow brushing with a walk or a play session.
- Take things slowly with your pet when you initially start brushing. If your pet becomes uncomfortable with a stage, go back to the previous stage and try again. If your pet becomes distressed at the procedure, stop. If you continue or force your pet the whole procedure will just become more difficult.
- Try to choose a time of the day when you can spend a few minutes of relaxed contact with your pet, rather than trying to fit it in when you are rushing about.
- Find a position that is comfortable for your pets. With dogs you could try lying them on their side with their head on your lap so you have easy access. With cats sometimes less restraint is better; a cat that enjoys the taste of the toothpaste may just let you raise the lips and brush.
- The small teeth at the front of your pet’s mouth (incisors) tend to be more sensitive than the rest of the teeth, so don’t start brushing these until your pet is comfortable with having the rest of their teeth brushed.
- The outer surfaces of the upper teeth are the ones that tend to attract the most plaque, so these should be given the most attention – fortunately they are also the easiest to get to.
- You don’t necessarily need to brush the insides of your pet’s teeth as your pet’s tongue and the toothpaste will do a fairly good job.
- Make sure you include the gums when brushing teeth as the gum line is as important to keep clean as the teeth.
- Some cats hate the idea of finger brushes. With these cats try a small piece of gauze over your finger, it should be abrasive enough to clean the teeth but will be far less invasive.
- We recommend you use a finger brush or a piece of gauze for tooth brushing because you will be able to feel exactly where the brush is going and the pressure you are applying. Long handled toothbrushes can bump and bruise gums which will upset your pet. We don’t recommend the use of electric toothbrushes on your pet as they can be too harsh on the teeth and gums.
- If your pet wont tolerate brushing at all, please come in and have a chat with one of our veterinary nurses about alternative methods. Nothing is as good as brushing but some of the alternatives are better than doing nothing at all.
Think about what you feed your pet
You pet’s diet can play a major role in the development of plaque and calculus. Soft or sticky foods should be avoided, especially if you cannot brush your pet’s teeth. Commercial dry pet foods are not enough, simply because the biscuit just crumbles when the animal chews so they do nothing to clean the teeth. A specially formulated ‘dental’ diet called Hills t/d is available at Castle Vets. Hills t/d has a special fibre matrix structure that grips the tooth all the way to the gum-line when the pet bites into it. These fibres scrub tooth surfaces to remove bacteria-laden plaque as the pet chews. The biscuit size is also larger than most pet foods to encourage chewing instead of just swallowing the biscuits.
Alternatives to brushing
Although nothing beats brushing, we understand that some pets will just not tolerate it. Fortunately there are a few of other ways that you can help your pet including dental gels and mouth washes, special diets and dental chews (dental chews can contain a lot of calories, so your pet’s usual food should be reduced accordingly).
Logic oral hygiene gel is a medicated dental gel that helps prevent the formation of dental plaque and fights bad breath. The multi-enzyme system in Logic Oral Hygeine Gel supplements the animal’s own defence mechanism to help fight harmful bacteria in the mouth. The gel also contains a surfactant which ensures that the active ingredients remain in contact with the teeth and gums and mild abrasives that help break down existing plaque. Logic is ideally used as a tooth paste with brushing but, in the case of a pet that won’t accept brushing, it will still be beneficial due to the abrasive and enzymatic properties.
C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Rinse is a dental mouthwash and breath freshener for cats and dogs. It provides antibacterial action and plaque prevention and is effective in helping maintain oral health when used daily with or without brushing.
ProDen Plaque Off is a supplement that can be added to the pet’s food once daily. When the unique agents of Plaque Off reach the saliva they effectively prevent oral bacteria from producing plaque and tartar. Existing tartar becomes porous and loosens by itself or is easily removed through normal brushing of the teeth. Improvements are normally seen within 5-8 weeks. Plaque Off is also made from 100% natural ingredients. (Plaque Off may not be suitable for use in animals with hyperthyroidism or other diseases due to the iodine content).
Dental Chews: Chewing produces saliva, which can help protect your pet’s teeth and some types of dental treats can significantly reduce tarter build-up and plaque. Rawhide chews, dental chews, dental biscuits and chew toys are all helpful as long as they encourage sustained chewing. Watch out for the calorie content of these products though as they can range from 30 kcal to 200 kcal per product, so your pet’s normal food should be reduced accordingly. You should also consider the size of the chew as well; if your pet can swallow it in one bite, it’s not really going to help keep his or her teeth clean.
We hope you enjoyed this article on dental care.
Please make a free appointment to see one of our veterinary nurses about your pet’s dental health. The veterinary nurse nurse will give your pet a dental check and advise you on how to keep your pet’s teeth and gums in tip top condition. We also have some free step by step guides to brushing your pet’s teeth available at the practice or on our website.