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Dental Bites: Mastering Proper Oral Care for Your Pet

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We know that brushing our teeth every day is necessary for good health, but most of us fail to extend this wisdom to our pets. Not only is poor dental hygiene just as dangerous for our cats and dogs as it is for us—it’s also way more common.

By age three, most dogs and cats have signs of periodontal disease, according to the American Veterinary Dental College. Periodontal disease begins with tartar build-up, which creates plaque, which in turn leads to everything from bad breath to lost teeth to internal organ damage. Veterinarians recommend yearly professional dental cleanings, along with regular at-home preventative care.

Brushing your pet’s teeth doesn’t have to be a scary undertaking. Most animals eventually get used to it, or at least learn to tolerate it while waiting for the treat at the end. Any cleaning is better than no cleaning at all, so for pets who really won’t let you brush there are other options.

Read on for the lowdown on taking care of your pet’s pearly whites.

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Bite-sized tips

1. If your pet is resistant to brushing, start by using a washcloth to wipe off surface food particles, gradually building up to a cotton pad, sponge, or toothbrush. For pets who never get used to brushing, there are a variety of veterinary-prescribed dental additives you can apply to your pet’s water bowl or teeth.

2. Look for kits with brushes and toothpaste made specifically for cats or dogs, or use a soft piece of clean gauze and a baking soda/water mixture. Do not use fluoride on animals younger than six months because it can stunt proper tooth growth. Never use human toothpaste with your pets, as it can cause stomach upset (they’re not so good at resisting the urge to swallow).

3. The use of specially formulated food and treats to combat between- cleaning tartar buildup is helpful. So are most bones and chew toys, which satisfy your pet’s natural urge to chew and make his teeth strong while scraping away built up tartar. Toxin-free, nylon, or rubber chews appropriately sized for your pet are a good choice.

4. A regular diet of high-quality food will help your pet’s teeth stay their best, but for concerned pet parents there is special food designed to slow down plaque formation.

Know the signs

If you notice any of these symptoms, head to your vet:

Bad breath. Your pet’s breath may not be “minty fresh” all of the time, but a particularly foul or offensive smell can often signal an infection.

Inflammation. Once a week, lift your pet’s lips and examine her gums and teeth. The gums should be pink (not white or red) and there should be no sign of swelling. There should be little to no brown tartar.

Pain or discomfort while eating/ chewing. Watch your pet’s behavior as he eats or chews on toys. Any signs of pain or discomfort while chewing may indicate a bigger issue.

Play with a purpose

Wouldn’t it be great if your pet’s favorite toy did double duty and cleaned his teeth too? Here are some perfect teeth-friendly toys to try:

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