Firstly, congratulations on being a great pet parent. You’ve decided your pets’ dental health is important and you’re right! Starting your pet on a regular dental hygiene routine and getting them started young so they are used to the intervention is key. Your pets’ teeth are super important and keeping them in good health for as long as possible is a great idea. 

0ver 87% of adult dogs and 70% of adult cats experience periodontal disease caused by inflammation of the teeth and gums. 

There are some key terms we use a lot when we talk about dental health…

Plaque – The build-up of food particles, saliva and bacteria forming a clear film on the tooth surface 

Tartar – The next stage of dental disease – The build-up of plaque on the tooth surface forming a yellow hard thickening on the tooth surface

Calculi – A further advancement of dental disease – The thickening and solidifying of tartar layers on the tooth surface

Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gums that leads to tooth loss.  

Periodontal disease – Disease of the teeth and gums 

Halitosis – the result of dental disease = smelly breath 

What are the benefits of good dental hygiene for my pet?

  • Reducing plaque and tartar keeps gums healthy and teeth happy
  • Healthy gums and teeth mean it’s easier and more comfortable for your pet to eat contributing to their overall health
  • Pets with healthy mouths are pain free and groom/ play often

There is lots of different advice regarding how often you should brush your pets’ teeth. However, it has now been ascertained that brushing 3-4 times a week clinically reduces the build up of plaque, tartar and maintains gum health. 

But it’s difficult to get your pet to accept dental hygiene routines, isn’t it?

Actually, not at all. Like introducing anything new to a pet, start slow. If using a toothpaste type product, introduce first the taste of the product, letting them either lick it from the tube or off your finger. Lots of toothpastes are meat flavoured and so this should be enjoyable for your pet. If this is well tolerated, get your pet used to having your finger in their mouth and rub the toothpaste on their gums, then their teeth. 

If this is tolerated, introduce a toothbrush or finger brush – remember to make it fun and use plenty of praise and reward for positive reactions. The whole process of introducing dental hygiene routines should take a couple of weeks. If your pet doesn’t accept one of the stages, go back a stage and give them more time to accept it. There are a number of videos online to demonstrate technique if you get stuck, and your vet practice may offer a nurse clinic to help you crack the technique if your pet doesn’t initially like the idea.

Toothpastes and types 

There are different quality and composition toothpastes available on the market. I recommend an enzymatic toothpaste such as Ceva®Logic Oral Hygiene Gel or Virbac® Enzymatic toothpaste due to their enzymatic composition. These toothpastes contain enzymes that actively break down the plaque and tartar on the surface of the tooth with very little brushing effort, so, these are good for pets that aren’t super good at sitting still or those that aren’t keen on the brushing process itself. 

Otherwise, if considering a generic toothpaste, it’s just about the taste and flavour to get your pet to accept the process of toothbrushing. So choose a flavour they like whether it be poultry or fish. 

DO NOT be tempted to use human toothpaste as often they contain ingredients that are toxic to our pets such as fluoride. 

What if they REALLY don’t like it?

If your pet really doesn’t get on with toothbrushing there are other products available. While brushing is usually best, if it isn’t an option, these can help with dental health and may be more suited to you and your pet:

Diet for dental health

Some diets have been scientifically formulated to help keep teeth healthier e.g. Hills t/d and royal canine dental formula. The foods’ shape and composition are designed to reduce plaque and tartar build up leading to fresher breath.  These diets are great for pets that tend to get a lot of plaque build-up and for those that brushing alone doesn’t seem to keep the problem at bay. 

Water additives e.g. Aquadent

These products are added to your pets’ water, and are designed for those of us with pets that are not safe to attempt toothbrushing with. The products are almost tasteless so your pet shouldn’t be aware of the product being offered. The product should be in each available water source at the correct, labelled dilution and water should be refreshed daily. 

Food additives e.g. PlaqueOff

Some pets aren’t regular drinkers like cats and so some owners feel that dental formulas are best delivered through the diet, especially if your pet has a good appetite. These products are generally granulated and mixed into a wet diet. Again there is minimal taste to these so they should be readily accepted by the pet. Be aware that some are contraindicated in pets with certain diseases (particularly overactive thyroids), though, so just check they’re suitable for your pet’s health first.

Chews and treats 

Chews and treats are useful in the prevention of tartar and calculus build-up, but they are treats. It is important to remember that these products are often very high in fat and so even if used once daily, if the diet is not adjusted appropriately, this can lead to obesity. Dentastix are some of the more well-known chews (although their calorie count is very high!)  as well as veggiedents and Greenies or Whimzees. 

Veterinary interventions 

Your vet and/ or veterinary nurses are best skilled to help you with your pets’ dental health. Each year at your pets’ annual health check, their teeth will be examined for disease and overall health. Your vet can then advise on any ongoing preventative care or interventions required. If you are worried in the meantime and notice excessive halitosis or a change in the way your pet plays with toys or chews their food, contact your vet for advice. 

Eventually, this may need a dental descale and polish, dental x-rays and extractions. Sometimes, just like us, we need some help maintaining dental health in our pets. Talk to your vet about dental care at the clinic if you think your pet is experiencing dental pain, disease or you are worried about the health of your pets’ teeth.