Pet parents everywhere rejoiced at the invention of meat-flavored toothpaste, because it meant that surely at-home pet dental care would be easy peasy going forward. After all, what pet doesn’t love the taste of beef, poultry or bacon? Fast-forward to the realization that, although many pets are happy to eat meat-flavored toothpaste, actual brushing can be hard to make happen without some unhappiness on both sides.
Fortunately, a number of new, innovative products (that aren’t all toothpaste!) are now on the market with the purpose of improving your pet’s dental health and making both of your lives easier when it comes to your pet’s dental care.
Here’s what you need to take care of your dog or cat’s teeth:
Pet Toothbrushes and Dental Wipes
When considering a pet toothbrush, be sure to pick the right size for your pet. Small dog toothbrushes will also work well for cats. Softer bristles are easier to tolerate than hard, and you’re less likely to damage the gums with a soft brush. Clean the brush thoroughly after each use, and toss the old brush every few months or when it starts to get frayed. Each pet should have their own brush.
Some toothbrushes have multiple heads that can hit all surfaces at once, while others are double-ended so you can quickly switch brush size and angle as necessary. There are even electric, ultrasonic toothbrushes for pets. Finger brushes are also a good option, especially for smaller dogs or dogs with overcrowded teeth (just be careful, as a longer-handled brush may be safer for pets who may bite down during a tooth brushing session).
If brushes of any type are too stressful for your pet, give dental wipes a try.
Sprays and Toothpastes
Note: Never use human toothpaste for your pets. The additives and sweeteners (especially xylitol) can be toxic, and the abrasive ingredients can be too rough on your pet’s teeth and gums.
Dental sprays can also be used to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy. When using a dental spray, try not to let your pet have any food or water immediately after to allow for more time in contact with teeth and gums.
Water additives are an easy way to freshen your pet’s breath and maintain good oral hygiene even when you can’t brush. They come in both liquid and powder forms. Keep an eye on the water bowl to make sure your pet is drinking; if he balks at the taste, scale back on the full dose and reintroduce it gradually.
Pet Dental Chews
There are a huge variety of edible pet dental chews on the market, including soft chews, textured chews, enzymatic chews and treated rawhides (most chews come in cat-friendly sizes as well). Talk to your veterinarian about which dental chew is right for your pet. Depending on the condition of your pet’s mouth, some chews may be excessively harsh or even snap rotten teeth off at the gumline.
Never leave pets unsupervised with any chew, and take it away before it gets small enough to swallow. If your dog is a rubber toy fan, try a version with “dental ridges” and for added benefit, put some doggy toothpaste into the crevices.
Probiotics for Pet Dental Health
Probiotics are meant to work on dental and breath issues from the inside out by strengthening your pet’s resistance to the effects of oral bacteria (including bad gums, bad teeth and bad breath). A balanced gut microbiome boosts your pet’s overall health by improving digestion and contributing to a more robust immune system.
Food and Food Supplements
Dry kibble inherently provides some mechanical cleaning action on your pet’s teeth because it’s mildly abrasive. And some brands of pet food have options that are specifically formulated to target dental health.
Powder dental health supplements are also available and have the added benefit of making regular food more appetizing. Make sure you talk to your veterinarian before considering a diet change, as there may be other health issues, such as obesity or inflammation, that are more important considerations when choosing pet food.
Poor dental care doesn’t just affect your pet’s mouth. Other health problems found in association with dental disease in pets include kidney, liver and heart muscle changes. The pain from inflamed gums and loose or broken teeth can even make those behind-the-ear scratches or chin rubs an unpleasant experience for your pet. As always, schedule regular veterinary visits so that you can stay on top of any developing or chronic issues before they become big, expensive emergencies.
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A graduate of The University of Chicago, Melanie worked in academia and finance for many years before joining the companion animal community. She believes that a good education fosters compassion, informed advocacy, and a deeper understanding of animals as they really are. She is passionate about effective communication, and in addition to her freelance writing and editing gigs she has a burgeoning career as an instructional designer. Melanie lives in Chicago with her overlords—a flock of super-smart companion parrots and a Chi-Puggle mix named Hattie.