Why Brush? The Importance of Oral Hygiene for Your Pets

Sinking Your Teeth into Oral Hygiene

We all want our dogs and cats to be happy and healthy.  We make sure they are up to date on shots.  We spay/neuter them (if you are wondering what this has to do with their health, we recommend this page for a good overview.).  We stick to our veterinarian’s guides about what and how much they should eat.  We walk or play with them to make sure that they get their exercise.

But what about their teeth?  Do pets need to have their teeth brushed?  Do they need regular dental checkups just like we do?  Of course!

How and how often will be explored in future posts. But for now, we’ll address ‘Why?’ 

Catch Their Breath: First Warning Sign

Many of us become aware of our pets’ oral hygiene because of their breath. Dogs and cats will not have the fresh, minty breath that we humans strive for.  Breath that smells particularly bad or different for no known reason is something to pay attention too.

Teething Problems: Dental Effects

Dental hygiene in pets keeps their teeth healthy.  Dogs can get cavities, but more commonly they suffer from lesions on the gums or dental fractures.  Cats suffer from gum disease as well.  These are painful and can lead to absesses requiring surgery.

On the Tip of Your Tongue: Beyond the Mouth

It isn’t just the teeth and gums though.  The first problem is that your pet may experiencing pain which can lead to them not eating.  This can be very dangerous for cats, as severe or sudden weight loss can cause serious liver complications, as well as exacerbate diseases such as diabetes.

In addition, toxins from periodontal disease are absorbed into the blood stream.  These toxins can cause oral cancers, but the toxins also travel in the blood stream to the kidneys, liver, heart and brain.  “Some oral diseases can be associated with feline retroviral diseases such as feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV)”.*

The good news is that you can prevent this suffering in your pets and other animals you care for.  Keep coming back to see the rest of the series.

*Quimby Jessica M, Elston T, Hawley J, Brewer M, Miller A, and Lappin M.  “Evaluation of the association of Bartonella species, feline herpesvirus 1, feline calicivirus, feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus with chronic feline gingivostomatitis”.  Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.  10(2008): 66-72 as quoted by Chelsea Sonius in Feline Oral Health at http://zimmer-foundation.org/sch/csa.html, accessed November 28, 2013.

Guest Post: Simple Ways To Improve Your Cat’s Oral Health – Cleaning Their Teeth and Gums

Below is a guest post from Marie Amsterdam “MarieDogwalker”. This post originally appeared on The  Kitty Corner.  In upcoming posts, Cats in Tow will be focusing on dental health, and we thought this would be a great introduction.

A very important part of your cat’s overall well-being is the quality and health of their teeth and gums. Keeping their oral health in check can be a challenge especially if your kitty eats a diet comprised solely of wet, canned food.  However, there are many methods to keep your cat’s teeth in top shape.

Tarter buildup on teeth, over time, will deteriorate gums and lead to foul smelling breath and painful teeth. If kitty is unable to chew food properly, or if eating becomes so painful they refuse to eat all together, their overall health and quality of life will diminish. What to do?

Feed Dry Food

The crunching of the dry food will help prevent tarter build up.  Wet, canned food can be fed in combination with the dry kibble but feeding a diet of only wet food will, over time, be detrimental to your cat’s oral health.

Brush/Clean Your Cat’s Teeth

Cats are more likely to tolerate having their teeth brushed if it is introduced to them at an early age.  Kittens are much more accepting to new experiences so starting a teeth brushing ritual as soon as their adult teeth come in is preferable. Do not use human toothpaste as it contains ingredients that are toxic to your kitty, rather choose an enzymatic toothpaste that is specially formulated for cats. The proper toothbrush is also important. Specially designed kitty toothbrushes have a small, angled brush head to comfortably fit in their mouths.

cleaning teeth

Introduce the toothpaste and brush slowly.  First, rub a small amount of the toothpaste on their nose so they will lick it and get familiar with its taste and texture.  Next, introduce the toothbrush by letting them sniff it, touch it, lick it – whatever makes them feel comfortable. Let that be all for the first introduction. The next day, put the toothpaste on the brush and brush kitty’s front teeth. If they resist, be firm but gentle and limit the brushing to one or two teeth. Continue in this manner, each session gradually brushing more teeth and for longer duration until a full mouth brushing is accepted.

If your cat absolutely refuses the toothbrush and toothpaste there are gel cleaners that can be wiped on using a gauze pad. Or your cat may prefer a finger toothbrush that has rubber nibs as opposed to bristles. These are alternatives to traditional brushing that your kitty may prefer but will attain the same results.

Dental Treats?

There are cat dental treats that promise to act as a preventative to poor oral hygiene.  However, I have not found a dental treat that is crunchy, healthy, and safe for a cat. Does anyone know of a good product, safe for cats and full of healthy ingredients, that will also freshen breath?

Feed crunchy food as part of their everyday diet and brush teeth at least once a week to keep kitty’s teeth and gums healthy. They will benefit by having good health and quality of life well into their senior years.