By Kevin Erickson, DVM
February is National Pet Dental month and it seems like I’d be shirking my responsibilities if I didn’t write a piece related to pet dental care. Whether we like it or not, brushing is the hallmark of keeping your pet’s teeth clean and breathe smelling good. Honestly, would you want to kiss your spouse, significant other or anyone for that matter if the last time they brushed was months, if not years ago?
Granted, every time I recommend that pet owners start brushing their pet’s teeth, I have flashbacks to professional TV wrestling. All I can envision is a cute, wiggly Cocker Spaniel, its neck held in the death grip of the owner’s arms, its butt wiggling frantically, a toothbrush being thrust at its mouth and an owners’ face grimacing with determination that they will win this battle. The visions are even worse when I think about cats and usually end with more blood than a slasher movie.
Home dental care doesn’t have to be that bad and really is worth the effort. Pets with regular home dental care are healthier, have fresher breath, maintain their teeth longer and are able to go longer between dental cleanings.
As I’ve already mentioned, brushing is the gold standard of home dental care. I know, you barely have enough time to brush your own teeth, let alone Rover’s. I get it! We all have more things to do than we have time for already, now some veterinarian is laying a guilt trip on me about not brushing my pet’s teeth. No guilt trip here. I’m just wanting to let you know the best option for taking care of your pet’s teeth.
For the visually oriented there are tons of YouTube videos that demonstrate brushing. We even have a couple on our website: KulshanVet.com. Basically, it just takes time and patience to get your pet used to the brushing.
Start by playing with your fingers around your pet’s mouth. Once they are comfortable with this, progress to rubbing the outer surface of their teeth with your finger. As they learn to accept your finger, add a little pet toothpaste to increase the efficacy. It’s imperative that I mention the importance of using pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste would work, but it contains fluoride which can make pets sick if swallowed and teaching pets to spit is well beyond the scope of today’s discussion. Finally, once your pet is comfortable with your finger and toothpaste introduce a finger brush or soft bristle toothbrush to the process and you’re golden. If you really want to impress your pet, a favorite treat following brushing goes a long way. And while the purist would say this treat defeats the purpose, if a single treat makes your pet a more willing participant in the process, I say it’s worth the trade off.
I can hear it now. Many of you are saying, “But doctor, you don’t know my pet. He’d take my arm off before he’d ever let me get close to his mouth with my finger, not to mention a toothbrush.” Trust me when I say I believe you. Remember I work with all kinds of pet every day and just between you and me, even I’ll admit that some would need heavy sedative, if not full anesthesia, to safely brush their teeth. Realistically brushing is not for pet and pet owner. Some pets have Odontarrupophobia (the fear of toothbrushes). If that describes you or your pet, other options are available.
In honor of pet dental month, consider starting a new habit of brushing your pet’s teeth if you aren’t already or talk to your veterinarian about other home dental care options that might work better for you and your pet.