Pets can lose teeth and suffer from gum disease. According to Dr. Judy Rochette, a dentist and oral surgeon at West Coast Veterinary Dental Services in Vancouver, dogs and cats’just like humans’experience health issues involving their kidneys, liver and heart as a result of poor oral hygiene.
Toys, treats and potions from the pet store may have some teeth-cleaning benefits, but none of these work as well as a toothbrush. ‘Brushing removes the plaque that develops on teeth,’ says Rochette. ‘If you prevent plaque from forming, you can prevent the disease from forming.’ Brushing your pet’s teeth once a day can keep plaque off their teeth.
To start your dog or cat on a daily brushing regimen, purchase a toothpaste and brush at the pet store. Don’t use human toothpaste; the fluoride and foaming agent (sodium lauryl sulfate) could upset your pet’s stomach. Choose a toothbrush based on the size of your pet. Small brushes work for cats and tiny dogs with small mouths, and large brushes suit big dogs.
Rochette prescribes plenty of calm and patience to get your pet used to having his teeth cleaned. For each specific week, practise these tips:
Week 1: Feed your pet his favourite treat with a tiny amount of paste on it once daily for three to five days. He’ll start to associate the paste with the treat.
Week 2: Squeeze paste onto the toothbrush and let your pet lick it. Follow with a treat. Do this daily.
Week 3: Your pet will be familiar with the paste by now and you can try brushing. ‘Hold the toothbrush like a pen,’ says Rochette. Use your fingers to lift his lips and, with the brush, rub the paste on the four fang-like canine teeth. Follow up with a treat. Do this daily.
Week 4: Gradually increase the number of teeth you are cleaning until you can brush all the teeth using a back-and-forth motion. Brush until your pet starts to resist or until the teeth are clean, whichever comes first. Always follow up with a ‘reward.’
It’s important to persevere. ‘Keep it positive and never turn it into a struggle,’ says Rochette. The health rewards are worth the effort, and may well save you money on future vet bills.