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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth

Feb 08, 2016 12:10PM
By Dr. Karin Derfuss

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he American Veterinary Dental Council reports that a majority of dogs and cats have dental disease by three years of age. How does this happen? People typically brush their teeth twice a day and go to the dentist for a cleaning at least twice a year, yet the hygienist is still picking plaque and tartar off your teeth. Just imagine never or rarely brushing your teeth.

Dental care for dogs and cats should be as routine as your own dental care. Brushing is best, but there are many other options as well for regular home care. At some point, your beloved pet may need a professional dental cleaning at your veterinarian’s office. Although it sounds more gentle, dental cleanings without sedation or anesthesia can ultimately be more harmful because the mouth cannot be examined fully or treated adequately. Anesthesia and sedation is serious stuff, should never be taken lightly, and a guarantee can never be made. Proper pre-anesthetic blood testing, intravenous catheter and fluids, proper vital sign monitoring, and a skilled veterinarian are all essential parts of a successful dental cleaning and additional procedures that may be found to be necessary.

Why is dental health so important? Bacteria from the mouth travel throughout the entire body and can cause severe health issues if let unchecked. The heart and urinary tract are two favorite places for periodontal bacteria to settle. Repeated urinary tract infections or endocarditis (infection of the heart valves) are common scenarios when periodontal disease is not treated. Tooth root infections can also penetrate in to the nasal cavity and cause sinusitis or permanent fistulas from the oral cavity to the sinuses. Our animals also suffer from bone loss secondary to periodontal infections, which will cause teeth to become loose. Sometimes they just fall out, sometimes they require extraction.

There are ways to care for pet’s teeth at home. Here are some useful options:

Brushing – Toothpaste for our animals must be specifically made for pets. Human toothpaste is not meant to be consumed and can contain harmful chemicals, including fluoride and artificial sweeteners that can poison our pets. CET is one brand that is enzymatic toothpaste that comes in a variety of flavors. A fingertip brush is better than one with a handle so you have closer contact with the teeth, and makes it easier to tell when you are actually brushing the teeth, and not just poking around in the mouth, or rubbing the gums too hard. Don’t forget to brush the teeth on the bottom as well as the ones on top. For cats, a Q-tip may be a better fit for the mouth.

Chew toys – There are a wide variety of chew toys that work as teeth cleaners. The major point here is that dogs and cats chew with their premolars and molars, basically the back teeth. Chewing will do nothing for the canines (fangs) or incisors. Some animals tend to chew only on one side as well. Which dental cleaning chew you use depends a great deal on your pet. Swallowing a chew whole will never clean your pet’s teeth and can potentially cause an intestinal blockage (and add extra calories). Always be present when trying something new until you know how your pet will use a dental chew. Some popular dental chew products are Nylabone Plaque Attackers, antlers, CET rawhide chews, knotted string bones (which work like dental floss), Dentabones, raw long bones from the butcher (femur or tibia are best, must be raw since cooked bones splinter).

Sprinkle products – If brushing is just not possible, there are products that work as edible toothpaste. These products, such as Vetri Science Perio Support powder, are sprinkled on top of your pet’s meal and work by having contact with the saliva and teeth. These enzyme based products help to soften and dissolve plaque and tartar. They should be used regularly with each meal.

Chew treats – If an animal will actually slowly chew a dental treat, this can be a very useful tool that requires minimal supervision compared to a chew toy. Several products from CET and Vetri Science offer treats for dogs and cats that can soften plaque and tartar.

Water additives – The Biotene Company makes an animal line of products called Oratene (formerly known as Biotene). This product becomes a mouthwash every time your pet takes a drink from its water bowl. This should be mixed fresh daily and is a great option when brushing, chews or food additives do not work for your pet.

Periodontal support products – Many animals, and specific breeds of dogs and cats, are more prone to dental disease. For these animals, supporting the bone structure and underlying periodontal tissues, with products such as Standard Process VF Bio-Dent capsules are taken in capsule form to work from the inside out.

As always, please discuss options with your veterinarian to find the best choice for your pet. Your pet’s dental health is important!

Dr. Karin Derfuss graduated from Cook College (Rutgers University) before attending Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. She is IVAS certified in veterinary acupuncture and continues her integrative studies through IVAS, CIVT and the Chi Institute. 

Dr. Derfuss practices at the Branchburg Animal Hospital, 1167 Route 28, Branchburg. 908-707-0045.  Facebook: BranchburgAnimalHospital. 

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