Updated: Nov 4, 2022
It seems rude to gag at the smell of someone’s breath, even if that someone is our pet—and yet pet parent’s everywhere often resign themselves to this smelly fate, no matter how ill-advised. We’re not saying your pet should smell like a flower, but you shouldn’t be holding back a shudder every time they boop noses with you.
Unfortunately, many pet parent’s either overlook or are misinformed when it comes to their pet’s teeth—but we’re here to set the record straight!
If you’re in need of resources at the beginning of your pet’s dental health journey, we’ve gathered five must-do tips, as well as one thing to avoid as you’re finding your footing. Without further ado, let’s shine a light on those pearly whites!
Why Should You Care?
Getting on top of your pet’s dental health as soon as possible can add years to their lives. That’s not just us being dramatic, either: when your pet has an excess of tartar on their teeth, their gums can recede or even separate!
Quick reminder: tartar is plaque that has accumulated and hardened and can only be removed by professionals. Not only can this damage be permanent, but it can also create “pockets” between the teeth and gums where bacteria can grow and fester.
Furthermore, this toxic buildup of bacteria can allow infection to spread through the jaw into the rest of their organs, specifically your pet’s heart, liver, or kidneys. Plus, did you know that between 70–80% of cats and dogs have some form of dental disease by the age of three? The first indicator of disease is often truly terrible breath.
Is Kibble the Easiest Way to Clean Your Pet’s Teeth?
NO! This particular rumour is quite pervasive, but it’s a myth we’re ready to disprove!
The theory behind kibble is that it’s crunchy enough that it cleans plaque by abrasion, which only makes sense so long as you don’t think about it too hard. Consider the last time you munched on a bag of chips—sure, it was crunchy, but how clean did your teeth feel afterward?
Similarly, even if kibble scrapes off a little superficial plaque (which it might not—modern kibble is small enough that cats and dogs can swallow the majority of it without chewing), it doesn’t do anything for the plaque building at or under the gumline.
In fact, due to its high starch content, kibble can actually exacerbate plaque and tartar buildup!
If Not Kibble, Then What?
1. Practice Daily Brushing
If you’ve tried this before but your pet didn’t tolerate it, don’t lose hope. It’s true that not all dogs or cats will let their pet parent brush their teeth right away.
While we recommend starting a dental hygiene routine sooner rather than later, it may take several “sessions” of practicing with your pet before you can advance to actually brushing—and that’s okay! Patience is key when teaching your pet to tolerate you messing around in their mouths; cats may take even longer to adjust, being the stubborn little overlords that they are.
Start in a quiet setting while your pet is calm. Begin with gently handling their lips and manipulating their mouth. So long as they tolerate this, give them a treat right away as a reward. If they resist, then stop, don’t give any treats, and try again later.
Move to touching their teeth and running your finger along their gums. When they’re comfortable with this, you can use a piece of gauze or rough cloth over their teeth and slowly introduce veterinary toothpaste.
2. Pet Toothbrushes and Toothpaste
You might think you can get away with using that spare toothbrush that’s been in the back of your bathroom drawer for the last 3 years, but trust us: having one of these special brushes makes cleaning your pet’s teeth so much easier. And when it’s easier, you’re more likely to actually do it. Plus, you’ll be able to get to each of their little fangs faster, so they’re more likely to put up with it too!
There are either brushes with longer, curved handles (best for large dogs with long snouts) or a plastic finger cap with a brush on the end, which gives you more control and has a similar feel to when you were practicing handling your pet’s lips and jaw.
You’ll also want to find veterinary-approved toothpaste; human toothpaste often has ingredients like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs and cats. These kinds of pet-specific toothpaste come in flavours enticing to your dog or cat, like bacon or peanut butter. Your pet might actually start reminding you when it’s time for their daily brushing!
3. Regular Vet Cleaning
Unfortunately, even the best brushing regiment won’t beat seeing the actual specialists. Adding a full dental clean to your regular vet check-up is a crucial step for scraping off any built-up tartar on their teeth that is almost impossible to get off with brushing alone. This procedure usually happens under general aesthesia—there are a lot of sharp pointy tools in and around your pet’s face, after all.
4. Meaty Raw Bones
Raw bones are our favourite method to stay on top of your pet’s oral health: they’re soft enough to flex around the shape of your pet’s teeth but thick enough that the gnawing motion naturally cleans off most of the surface plaque.
As a bonus, they’re an incredible source of mental stimulation and helpful minerals!
5. Don’t Ignore Dental Warning Signs
One of the best reasons to get your pet comfortable with your fingers in their mouth is to understand what is “normal” for their dental health. This way, when something unusual starts cropping up, you’ll be able to notice quickly. Keep an eye out for particularly stinky breath, loose teeth, bleeding or inflamed gums, sudden difficulty eating, or developing sensitivity around their mouth, as any of these could be a sign of dental disease.
The Final Floss
Making new habits around your pet’s dental care might seem like a burden on your wallet and free time at first, but the ramifications of ignoring it can be even more time-consuming and costly!
Getting familiar with your pet’s dental health is one of the many ways to help your pet live a longer, happier, and healthier life. Not to mention having a pet with a clean bill of oral health means fewer stinky pup kisses and not waking up to smelly cat breath wafting in your face when your kitty loafs on your chest in the morning.
It’s a win-win situation all around—what’s not to love?