Dr. Benjamin Quarrles
Q. I have a dog (Little Bear, 2) and a cat (Cindy Lou, 7). Ever since my vet told me about all the problems that can affect pets as a result of poor dental health, I started being extra careful about making sure my furry little ones’ teeth are clean and healthy. I brush both of their teeth about once a week—Little Bear doesn’t mind it, but Cindy Lou absolutely hates it. I’m curious to know what else I can do to protect their dental health. Are there any chew toys I should buy (or avoid)? Do you have any tips for getting my cat to relax while I brush her teeth? Anything else crucial I should know about cleaning their mouths? All advice is welcome! Thank you!
A. It’s wonderful that you are committed to maintaining good oral hygiene for both Little Bear and Cindy Lou. I’m not surprised that you are having more difficulty brushing your cat’s teeth, as they often have smaller mouths, sharper teeth, and are more resistant to brushing than dogs. I find that gently rubbing against the outside of the teeth with a long Q-tip moistened with water is easier in cats (and keeps your hand outside of the mouth). In addition, using a quiet time and location, with much affection, can make it easier for Cindy Lou during brushing.
In regards to Little Bear, using a dog toothbrush, place the handle in your palm with your index finger behind the bristles—this will allow for better control and effectiveness when brushing. Also, gently hold his mouth closed with one of your hands to prevent too much movement or biting on the toothbrush.
Chew toys can also help support oral health; however, I often see chew toys that are much too hard for a dog’s teeth, leading to fracture, pain, and infection. When this occurs, the only two options are root canal or extraction. Therefore, look for chew toys you can easily bend or compress, so you know that they will be softer than the dog’s teeth.
There are many products on the market that can help maintain your pet’s oral health. Veterinary Oral Health Council (VO HC.org) awards its VOHC seal to products that meet strict standards. These are the best studied products in helping slow tartar accumulation in dogs and cats, and include food, gels, rinses, chews, water additives, and more. It must be emphasized that proper daily brushing of the outside of the teeth is best for tartar prevention, but a combination of products is often used to better support overall dental health.
ABOUT the Vet
Dr. Benjamin Quarrles works with animals every day at Higgins Animal Clinic in Chicago. He graduated from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009, and is originally from the Seattle, Washington area. He enjoys Chicago’s big city atmosphere, and in his free time, he enjoys playing sports and reading.