Does your dog or cat possess a gleaming set of pearly white gnashers? If they do, you’re probably already helping them take care of their teeth. Yet many pet owners aren’t aware how important tooth care in pets is, with studies estimating that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over three years of age are suffering with some form of dental disease.
Just like humans, dogs and cats benefit from regular tooth brushing. Without this as part of their regular grooming routine, plaque and tartar can build up. These yucky, bacteria-filled substances not only cause bad breath but, more worryingly, can lead to inflammation and infection, which is where problems can get really serious. In fact, by the time you notice your pet’s breath is on the stinky side, they may already have serious dental disease which requires antibiotics and tooth extractions.
In the worst cases, severe infections can lead to irreversible destruction of the structures supporting the teeth, including the jaw bone, which creates chronic pain. Some teeth may even fall out. Bacteria can also spread through the blood stream to other areas of the body, which can affect the heart, liver or kidneys, causing life-threatening problems.
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Plaque and tartar lead to inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. This is reversible with dental care, but if left leads to periodontitis. This causes the gum to become detached from the teeth, allowing bacteria to get into the root of the tooth and cause it to rot.
Serious dental problems are preventable if you brush your pet’s teeth regularly – ideally on a daily basis. If you’re not sure how to go about it, your local veterinary team will be only too happy to show you. You’ll need a special pet toothbrush or finger brush and pet toothpaste – which come comes in a range of lip-smacking flavours. Never use human toothpaste as it contains ingredients that are harmful to animals.
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Some small breeds of dogs are more prone to periodontal disease due to misalignment of their upper and lower jaws, including the Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Cavalier King Charles, Papillion and Dachshund.
Your pet will accept tooth brushing more readily if you get them used to it at a young age. Introducing it to an older pet requires plenty of patience and should be done in stages. Every pet is different, so keep sessions short, go at their pace and give them lots of praise.
How to brush your dog’s teeth
- First, get your dog used to the taste of the toothpaste – so put a little on your finger for them to lick off.
- Next, run your finger around their gum line, so you pet gets used to you feeling inside their mouth.
- Then, let your dog lick a bit of toothpaste off the pet toothbrush or finger brush, so they know what it feels like. You may want to stick with this stage for a week or so before you introduce actual brushing.
- Once your dog feels comfortable with this, start some gentle brushing for a few seconds, gradually building up to a couple of minutes. You do not need to open your dog's mouth to brush their teeth, just lift their lips to expose the teeth. Use three pea-sized amounts of pet toothpaste – one each for the left, right and front of the mouth. Put your hand across your dog’s nose and lift the lips. Gently brush their pointy canines up and down. Slowly move along to the teeth behind the canines, using a circular motion. Finally, carefully brush the front teeth up and down.
Once this becomes part of your pet’s regular routine, they may even start to enjoy the extra attention and meaty-flavoured ‘treat’ of the toothpaste. Dogs Trust have a great video which shows how to make teeth cleaning a fun part of your dog’s day, which you can view here >>
For those dogs who are stubbornly reluctant about having their teeth brushed, your veterinary team can advise on alternatives such as chews, gels, water additives that help keep their mouth healthy. An annual tooth check is also recommended and, even with regular tooth care, a complete scale and polish under anaesthetic may still be required.
The cat tooth cleaning challenge
There’s no doubt that brushing a cat’s teeth can be a really tricky, but it’s worth giving it a go.
- Start by getting your cat used to having his or her head held by rewarding with praise and a tasty titbit when they let you do this. Repeat this regularly.
- Once (or if) they are accepting of this, try placing your hand flat on top of their head, with your little finger pulled back so it rests on the neck, with your thumb down towards to corner of the mouth. You can then gently rotate their head back, using your little finger on the neck like a hinge. As the head comes back, the mouth will naturally open a little.
- Next, get your cat used to the taste and texture of the toothpaste by putting a little on your finger and gently putting it onto the lips or gums.
- Then place some toothpaste onto the brush, and place gently onto the side of the teeth. Slowly move the brush in a circular movement for a few seconds. Over a period of weeks, you can gradually increase the length of time you spend and the effectiveness of the cleaning.
If there’s absolutely no way your feline will put up with having their teeth cleaned, you should never force this upon them. Feeding a good diet can help, such as the award-winning Burgess Wellbeing cat food range. It includes Dental Defence Technology which contains natural fibre and a specialist ingredient which is proven to reduce plaque formation and support healthy teeth and gums.
Caring for your small pets’ teeth
For fibrevores, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, whose teeth grow continually, the issues are not plaque and tartar, but the risk of teeth overgrowing and the development of sharp edges, known as spurs, caused by abnormal wear. Spurs can cut the tongue and cheeks, potentially resulting in soft tissue damage, ulceration and abscesses.
The best way to help fibrevores keep their chompers in tip top condition is to provide plenty of high quality feeding hay as chewing it helps to keep teeth at a healthy length. Burgess Excel Long Stem Feeding Hay is Timothy Hay grown on a farm, cut at the right time and dried within 48 hours. The long, tasty stems satisfy the chewing requirements of fibrevores, providing optimum dental health. As an extra tasty treat, Burgess Excel Gnaw Sticks can also help promote good dental health in our small pets.
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