The Doc Is In: Pet Dental Health, Part 2

Wish you could spend hours learning from your veterinarian? Pet Health Central has the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Rod Van Horn, DVM, a veterinarian with a large practice, on a regular basis. The interviews always focus on an important pet health topic. This month’s topic is pet dental care. Dr. Van’s Horn’s answers to commonly asked questions on this topic will be featured in a series of posts. So sit back, read and enjoy!

Pet Health Central: For those with senior dogs or cats who have never done anything proactive for dental health, is there anything that can be done to help them adapt to teeth brushing, or is it impossible?

Dr. Rod Van Horn: The old adage that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just not true with regards to teeth brushing. Yes, it might have been easier to start as a puppy or kitten. But if you are patient, go slow, and give plenty of rewards, in most cases, your older pet will soon tolerate home dental care in the form of brushing.

First, get them used to you rubbing their gums. Next, add some pet specific toothpaste to your finger as a next step. Then move to the toothbrush. Pet specific brushes are easier to use then human toothbrushes because of the size, shape and angle of the handle, which is adapted for pet use. Yes, daily brushing is the gold standard for home dental care. However, if you find this is an impossible task, there are also alternatives. There are pet mouth sprays, such as in the Petrodex line. There are also chew toys. Some even have grooves in them to allow placing pet specific toothpastes, which use both enzymatic action and physical action to aid in cleaning the teeth. There are also mouth rinses that can be added to your dog or cats water source to help reduce bacteria in the mouth. Always remember that any form of home dental care is better than none at all. Find what works best for both you and your pet for consistency.

Pet Health Central: Many cat owners are not able to ‘convince’ their cats that they should allow a toothbrush anywhere near them! What can be done for pets who refuse to cooperate?

Dr. Rod Van Horn: First of all, don’t endanger yourself if you cat absolutely refuses to cooperate with you brushing their teeth. Alternatives are certain treats, which are specifically formulated to help remove plaque and deter tartar formation. There are also diets that can help reduce dental disease. Additives, which help reduce bacteria, are a great idea for your cat’s water. It is kind of like us using oral mouth washes. They are safe to swallow and most cats tolerate them.

In the case where nothing in the way of home care seems to be tolerated, it may be that your cat needs to have their mouth examined by a veterinarian one to two times yearly. They can determine if you cat needs to have their teeth cleaned professionally, while under anesthesia.  Keeping your cat’s oral cavity clean and healthy is just as important as keeping the rest of his/her body healthy.

Pet Health Central: Can brushing a dog or cat’s teeth increase their life expectancy?

Dr. Rod Van Horn: The short answer to this question is a definite YES. Studies have shown that keeping your pet’s oral cavity in good health can increase life expectancy on the average of 1 to 3 years. If the mouth is allowed to become unhealthy, the bacteria associated with the tartar, gingivitis, and periodontal disease can affect the heart, kidneys, and liver most commonly. Dental disease can also create pain, as many of us can testify if we have ever had a toothache, or sore gums. Routine oral care, along with keeping your pet’s mouth healthy, will not only decrease the bad breath, and sore mouths, but will also help to make sure your beloved companion can be around for additional years to come.

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