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Healthy Teeth, Happy Pet

By Tracy Line

As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us are thinking about what to give our loved ones for the holiday. How about a dental exam? February is National Pet Dental Health Month and since chocolate isn’t an option for our friends with fur, an oral exam is about the best present you can give your favorite cat or dog.

Oral care is a growing trend among pet guardians and for good reason. A healthy mouth is vital to a healthy body. “Dental care is one of the simplest things you can do to help maintain a dog or cat’s long-term health,” says Dr. David Smith, a veterinarian with Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester, Michigan. In fact, oral disease is the most commonly diagnosed illness for adult cats and dogs, affecting nearly 80 percent of those over the age of 3 according to www.PetDental.com. A good dental regime can help you beat these odds and keep your pet’s mouth clean and healthy.

Symptoms of periodontal disease

Bad breath is often the first sign of oral disease but definitely not the last. Pets may also experience bleeding, swollen gums, and tooth decay. Worse yet, left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to secondary infection within the body, according to Dr. Louise Murray, of the ASPCA in New York City. “Bacteria doesn’t just stay in the mouth,” she says. Instead it can compromise the immune system and travel to the heart, lungs, and kidneys. “Oral health is important for overall health.”

Many guardians tend to wait until a problem arises before having their pet’s teeth examined and waiting too long can just makes things worse. “If it’s an emergency situation, the dentistry becomes much more involved,” Murray says. Pet guardians can avoid extensive problems by having the teeth cleaned regularly. Smith recommends annual examinations for optimum health.

In addition, by the time the physical signs of oral disease are visible, your pet has likely withstood a great deal of pain. We all know how much a toothache hurts. Dogs and especially cats are masters at hiding their distress. Alleviate the pain and you’ll see a change in personality; a once lethargic pet may become energetic and playful once again.

Three steps to good oral care

Dental care need not be time consuming or difficult. The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) recommends three steps to prevent oral disease. First, have your dog or cat’s teeth examined and (if needed) cleaned by a professional. Most veterinarians will clean your pet’s teeth. Alternatively, try utilizing a board-certified veterinary dentist; a listing of dentists can be found on www.AVDC.org. Many pet insurance providers help cover the cost so check your policy for specific information. If possible, start regular exams when your pet is young and healthy as older animals may find the experience more stressful.

Next, feed your pet a healthy diet and clean his teeth regularly. Brushing can be done with a pet toothbrush, a child’s soft bristled brush or by using gauze wrapped around your finger. Most pets need time to get used to the brushing, so be patient and exercise caution. Spend a few days introducing the toothbrush by slowly sliding it into his mouth. Always praise or reward your furry friend for his cooperation. Work your way up to gently brushing the teeth, using circular strokes along the gum line. Start at the back of the mouth and work your way forward.

If your dog or cat resists, try a pet-formulated toothpaste. While it isn’t necessary (the abrasive scrubbing is what cleans the teeth), the taste will make brushing more appealing. Stay away from human toothpaste; the foam is messy and can be toxic if ingested. Daily brushing is a good goal, but if you forget a day or two, don’t panic. Smith recommends brushing a minimum of three times a week for good oral hygiene.

Last but not least, take your dog or cat for annual dental checkups. Oral disease may be common, but it’s also easily preventable. Monitoring your pet’s oral health will go a long way in keeping him comfortable, happy, and healthy. Not to mention, those kisses from Fido will be a lot more appealing if his breath is fresh and clean.

JAKKS Pacific White Bites Oral Care Treats
($1.50-$15)
(310) 456-7799
www.White-Bites.com

Looking for a tasty way to clean your dog’s teeth and breath? Try JAKKS Pacific White Bites Oral Care Treats. These award-winning doggie treats are tasty, safe, and even digestible. Chewy and abrasive, these bone-shaped chews break down plaque to clean teeth and contain baking soda to freshen breath.

Petz Life Oral Care Gel
($22-$25)
(888) 334-0096
www.PetzLife.com

For healthier teeth and gums, try Petz Life Oral Care Gel. This product is formulated with all-natural ingredients designed to end plaque and tartar buildup by killing bacteria on contact. Petz Life claims regular usage will freshen breath and give your pet healthy gums and teeth for life.

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