Moment of Paws: Just like we do, pets need proper dental hygiene

Dogs--like Champ--need to practice good dental hygiene, just like their owners. Call your veterinarian and schedule a check-up.

It was a question from the dentist we all dreaded when we were growing up. “How often do you brush your teeth and are you flossing regularly?” Then, as we aged, we realized how important good dental hygiene is. And, just like us, good dental hygiene is important for our pets.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month! The perfect time to call your veterinarian and schedule a dental check-up.

When we neglect our dental health, it leads to the development of plaque, which leads to tartar. When the tartar penetrates below the gum line, periodontal disease sets in. That is the most common dental issue for dogs and cats, and most pets present signs before the age of three. It can be painful, lead to tooth decay, and, eventually, tooth loss. Poor dental health can also lead to secondary diseases.

When infection sets into the gums, bacteria can find their way into the bloodstream and affect organs in the body including the liver, kidneys, and heart.

Common health problems associated with poor oral hygiene include blood or bone infection, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The pain caused by periodontal disease can also trigger poor appetite and lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies.

How do you know if your pet has dental disease? Signs include bad breath, red and inflamed gums, increased salivation, tooth discoloration, lack of interest in favorite chew toys, and poor appetite.

The good news: Prevention is the best medicine. Start your pets on an oral hygiene regimen at an early age to reduce the risk of problems in the future. Discuss the best course of action with your primary veterinarian to see what the best plan is for your pet.

Some tips to get you started:

Brush your pet’s teeth daily to prevent plaque and tartar buildup (this is a process that involves time and dedication to get your pet used to the toothbrush and brushing). Use a toothbrush designed for pets or a piece of gauze).

Use only toothpaste that’s meant for animals.

Offer your pet dental treats that are designed to prevent plaque buildup.

Speak with your veterinarian to see if a “dental health” pet food is appropriate for your pet.

Along with preventive measures, dental procedures for pets have come a long way over the last 10-15 years. Many private practices now offer dental services in-house.

During your pet’s next wellness visit, talk to your veterinarian about oral care for your animal, and what steps you can take to make sure they live a long, healthy, and pain-free life. Talking about this now will have a tremendously positive result in the future.

Dr. Edward Schettino is the president and CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, and has a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Pet questions? Email ARL at

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