From the day they are born, dogs and cats are groomed. As they grow, their fur, their faces, their ears... get cleaned by their moms, their siblings, and even their good buddies. And they groom themselves as much as possible, even after we bring them into our homes. If we are attentive parents we help them out with regular brushings, trimmings, de-shedding, and ear and eye cleaning to help keep them healthy and comfortable. But many of us neglect our pets' teeth.
Whether out of fear of loosing a finger (!) or queasiness about the tooth-brushing process, our pets' teeth tend to be ignored as part of their routine grooming, yet it can be argued that teeth-cleaning should be the most important part of their grooming sessions. In the wild, canines and felines eat the raw meat and bones of their prey and the abrasion of those foods help keep their teeth clean, but domesticated cats and dogs typically dine on processed foods which don't abrade their teeth adequately. "Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats, and is entirely preventable," according to the American Veterinary Dental College.
And it's not just 'adult' dogs and cats who need teeth cleaning; the beginnings of periodontal disease are found by the age of three in domesticated dogs and cats. Ignorance, in this case, does not lead to bliss - not for your pet or your pocketbook. Veterinary dental treatments are not cheap.
So, begin in the beginning, as early as possible, to brush your pets' teeth and gums - when you first bring the cutie home and start his grooming. Make it part of your pet grooming routine. The sooner you and your pet get started, the sooner you both will become accustomed to the process.
Your veterinarian can advise you on this process, but I'm going to share my tips from many years of experience as a dog and cat owner and home-groomer. Soon you will both look forward to your pet's dental cleanings.
Pet Dental Supplies For Home Care
You don't need much to help your pet keep her teeth clean, but here are a few suggestions for supplies.
1. Raw Food With CERTAIN Bones
A grain-free raw food diet with soft bones is considered ideal for dogs and cats, but it requires research and is much more time-intensive to prepare than pouring dry food from a bag or opening a can of pet food. Not only does a raw food diet provide the most natural nutrition available for your dog or cat, but it is closest to what your pets canine and feline cousins eat in the wild. You can purchase the items separately from your grocery and have them all ground appropriately or you can purchase frozen packages of natural food from your local pet store; some of them include raw vegetables as well as natural protein sources; they may also include ground bones to help clean teeth and supply calcium. Many pre-packaged raw pet foods contain added vitamins and minerals. If you are going to make the raw food meals yourself, you will have to provide additional supplements to make sure your dog or cat is getting all the proper nutrition necessary for their health and/or particular health challenges. Again, veterinary assistance is highly recommended.
You can also buy raw food freeze-dried, like Stella & Chewy's dog meals and meal mixers and Stella & Chewy's cat meals and mixers. You can select from 5 different meals for both cats and dogs. Meats, poultry, or seafood should constitute at least 50 percent of a raw diet.
2. Dry Food For Dogs & Cats
Grain-free kibble is not a substitute for raw food, but it is the next best food for dog and cat teeth health, as crunching on it removes some tartar from their teeth.
One study, reported by PetMD, found that
increasing the size of dog kibble by 50 percent
led to a 42 percent reduction in tartar!
Cats should definitely supplement their kibble with a grain-free wet diet like Wellness, because indoor cats don't get enough fluids.
If your veterinarian agrees, you can also supplement your dog or cat food with raw chicken or turkey wings to increase natural abrasion of the teeth. DO NOT HEAT OR COOK BONES FOR DOGS OR CATS: BONES CAN SPLINTER EASILY AFTER HEATING.
3. Toothbrushes For Dogs & Cats
You can use soft bristle human toothbrushes for dogs and cats, but I find 'finger brushes' much easier to use, especially for newbie owners and pets.
A finger brush is a brush that fits over your finger, most commonly your index finger. Amazon's best-selling dog and cat toothbrushes, Pet Republique Cat & Dog Finger Toothbrushes, are made of FDA-approved food-grade materials (they feel like nylon or soft rubber) and the bristles are firm but flexible. Cats and dogs have very different teeth patterns, but these brushes are indeed good for both arrangements because you can direct them easily to where you want to clean without having a handle in the way like you would if you were using a toothbrush made for humans. Small dogs and cats may require a smaller brush on a wand like the Cat Toothbrush below.
I will give you tips on how to introduce the Finger Toothbrushes to your dog and cat below.
RoundPaw has another version of the finger toothbrush and a full set includes toothbrushes with wands that are handy to reach tough spots in the back of your pet's mouth. I would wait to use the longer toothbrushes until your pet is accommodated to the finger brush.
Spin brushes with soft bristles made for children or adults are my favorite toothbrushes for pets, once you've moved passed the finger brush. They easily clean the teeth and gums and seem to feel really good to a cat or dog used to having his teeth cleaned, and they stimulate their gums without much effort on your part.
4. Toothpaste for Dogs & Cats
Yes, there are toothpastes for dogs and cats. The best ones are flavored with poultry; dogs and cats seem to like that. Additionally there are peanut-flavored toothpastes for dogs and malt-flavored toothpastes for cats. Petrodex and Virbac are the pet toothpaste kings and their enzymatic toothpastes are very popular among pet owners. I use the Poultry Petrodex Enzymatic for my dog and cat, but the Virbac Enzymatic comes in poultry, beef, seafood, malt, and vanilla-mint (!?) Don't use human toothpaste for your pet; it contains ingredients that are harmful to them.
5. Dental Treats For Dogs & Cats
Wow! There are soooo many dental treats for pets on the market and most of them are good for your pet's teeth. You might want to see if your pet's chosen treat is approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, but do check the ingredients and ask your vet if they are suitable for your cat or dog.
There are many kinds of chewy treats for dogs. Depending on the current condition of your dog's teeth, you can try natural bones such as bully sticks by Cadet. They are on the pricey side, but they are natural and they are processed without preservatives and packaged in the U.S. Best Bully Sticks are a bit less expensive and they are quality-comparable to Cadet.
Veterinarians are slowly coming out against cow hooves and ears and other natural, but sharp, animal parts. Of course, you always need to be around your pet with a chew toy or bone, but certain animal parts are more dangerous than others.
If you want to save money, Greenies are a very popular chew toy for dogs, but they are not natural, nor are they grain free. They do come in different sizes and contain a variety of supplements for dogs with different issues, such as joint problems.
Rubber, rope, and nylon chew toys are a favorite with dogs and chewing on them also helps clean their teeth and gums. Kong Toys are best sellers for large dogs and aggressive chewers. I recently wrote up the Playay Ball for small to medium dogs, which is not only a great chew toy, but a challenging treat holder for your dog.
Hard dog biscuits, small or large, are good for a dog's teeth. Just remember to check all the ingredients to make sure they are grain free. I like Wellness Crunchy Well-Bars.
Cats can chew certain bones, but they don't chew on bones like dogs do, so for cats I recommend something softer to chew like Petstages Dental Health Cat Chew. It's made of cloth, so there's nothing harmful for those sharp teeth to tear up and swallow.
Feline Greenies are popular dental treats for your cat and they come in many flavors - Oven Roasted Chicken, Ocean Fish, Savory Salmon, Tempting Tuna, Catnip and Succulent Beef. They are not grain free, but they do contain some healthy supplements like taurine, vitamin D3, and B12. You may need to try a few of the flavors to find one your cat likes. My cat like the Tuna best, but will turn up his nose to the Oven Roasted Chicken, which sounded best to me....
How To Brush Your Dog Or Cat's Teeth
1. Your Grooming Set-Up & Routine
Grooming should be fun for you and your pet! Starting as early in your pet's life as you can; set aside half an hour to an hour for grooming your pet. Place your pet at a comfortable level for you to groom her. If your dog is large, you will have to sit on the floor, but make yourself as comfortable as possible, using knee pads, pillows, and whatever other support you can get. Lifting your pet to a table is the best bet, if you can, so he won't be tempted to run away. (I stand my guys on the washing machine. It's a perfect level for my height.)
Cover the surface of the grooming area with a comfy, machine washable bath towel (two adjacent towels for a large dog) - double it up and try to get your pet to sit. Gently stroke or massage your pet - relax as much as possible and eventually your pet will relax too, especially if you are massaging places he likes. Dogs are especially partial to massage around the neck or behind the ears. Cats like to have their mouths massaged; that's where they excrete pheromones and they enjoy doing that! Catit Senses Gum Stimulators are fun for some cats.
When introducing tooth brushing to your routine, your initial objective is to make your pet feel good, so no de-matting, or other possibly uncomfortable grooming steps, should be included during the first few grooming sessions. After massage, a gentle fur brushing is the next most relaxing step for most pets. You can clean your pets eyes and ears before beginning brushing your pet's teeth.
2. Massage Your Pet's Gums
Before introducing the finger brush to your pet, start massaging your dog or cat's mouth with your finger on the outside of his mouth, using small circular movements.
Cats love this and dogs do too, after they get used to it. Do this for a few days before introducing some flavored pet toothpaste (see number 4 above) on your finger, allowing your pet to lick it off. Then slowly introduce your finger with toothpaste, rubbing it on the gums near the canines; he will lick it off. Let your pet get used to you putting your fingers in his mouth and massaging his gums.
This cat's massaging his own gums....
3. Introduce The Finger Brush
Brushing your pets teeth is not hard; the tricky part is to get your dog or cat used to you doing it. Now you can put the pet toothpaste on the finger brush and let your pet lick it. Then you can slowly put your finger into his mouth and massage a tooth (I start with an upper canine) near the gum line very, very gently. See how he reacts. Then try brushing the matching lower canine. Introduce the brush slowly and make it fun.
Most vets advise you to start brushing the front teeth but, for me, that's the hardest part, so I do the back of the teeth first, upper, and then lower. You can add a section of the mouth every few days; the first few days, just do a few teeth. If your pet wants you to stop, stop. Give her a favorite treat to let her know she's great, and praise her a lot. If she will let you, start brushing again. Don't spend more than 10 minutes on the process, including the pause for praise and treats.
You will be happy to learn that you don't have to clean the inside of your pet's teeth. The inside gets cleaned by the chewing action of the teeth and the contributing saliva.
Once you both become accustomed to your grooming routine, you can transition to a different toothbrush if you think one would be handier for you or perform better than the finger brush. You can use child or human toothbrushes, even spin brushes, as long as the bristles are soft. Don't use the same brush for more than one pet, and wash and rinse in hot water before and after brushing.
If you have more tips on getting your pet to accept teeth brushing, feel free to add them below in the comments section.
That's the buzz for today!