Dogs and cats need dental care, too! Over time dogs and cats can get plaque and tartar buildup on their teeth that can lead to bad breath and infections. Veterinarians will monitor that buildup on the teeth at your pet’s regular visits and make recommendations for keeping those teeth in the best shape possible. At some point, that will involve a dental exam and cleaning treatment under general anesthesia where the teeth are x-rayed, probed for pockets or cavity-like problems, cleaned and polished. Sometimes problems are found that require advanced care like removal of teeth or referral to a veterinary dentist (yes, they do exist). Fortunately, there are a lot of things that you can do at home to help keep the teeth in good condition. Just remember that most home care products will not remove tartar that is already there – they just prevent further accumulation.
There are many different options now for home dental care. The most traditional is daily tooth brushing with pet toothpaste, such as C.E.T. Enzymatic toothpaste, which is fluoride-free and comes in flavors that pets like. It can take some practice to get your pet used to the brushing, so start with just some toothpaste on your finger and rub it on the outside surfaces of the teeth. Once that is accepted, then move up to a finger brush, then finally to a pet toothbrush which is soft and angled for easier use. Follow up each brushing session with some sort of reward for the pet – it is easier if they look forward to the process.
Dental chews are readily available and work well when given daily to dogs that like chewing things. Oravet chews are great for dogs – they are formulated to help with plaque removal as well as limiting plaque accumulation. Greenies are another good product for both dogs and cats. They are readily digestible and work well to limit tartar formation. Rawhide-based chews that have enzymes added to help limit tartar formation, such as C.E.T. Enzymatic Chews or DuoClenz, can be useful. Just be certain that the rawhides are made to be digestible – if not, then there is a risk that they will get stuck in the digestive tract and cause problems.
Dental diets or treats are another option, which work particularly well for cats. Several pet food companies (Royal Canin, Hill’s, and Purina most notably) have specific dental diets that are formulated for tartar control. These work best as actual diets, but sometimes the kibbles can be helpful when used as treats in addition to the regular diet. Cat treats are available for tartar control as well. Remember that to work best, the food or treats must be chewed, so this option may not work for pets that do not chew their food well.
An alternative for pets that refuse brushing and are particular about treats or food would be water additives, like Vetradent. These additives help reduce plaque formation and freshen breath. They are added to the water daily and are safe for both dogs and cats.
These are only a few of the many home dental care products available. Two great resources to help decide what is best for your pet are your veterinarian and the Veterinary Oral Health Council website (vohc.org). Regular home care combined with regular veterinary dental care will go far to keep your pet’s mouth clean and happy.