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Caring for Your Dog or Cat’s Teeth

Posted by at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)


catteethmomse2600 / CC

A few weeks ago, Ingrid E. Newkirk came to me with a rescued cat named Ginger who had been temporarily living at PETA’s headquarters. I took her home, where she seemed to have a great time playing with my dogs. When she started to lose weight, I thought it was because of her increased exercise. But when we took her in for an annual physical, the vet noted a badly infected tooth and a build up of tartar that was probably making her not want to eat and drink, thus causing her to lose weight and become slightly dehydrated.

When the doctors sedated Ginger in order to pull her tooth, they noticed on closer examination that she had two more infected teeth, so they pulled those also. She was put on a diet of wet food only for 10 days and is recovering really well. Thankfully, we took her in for her annual physical. If we hadn’t, we may not have noticed her bad teeth, which could have led to more serious weight loss, dehydration, and a host of secondary diseases, especially if bacteria from infected gums enter the bloodstream.

Ginger’s story illustrates the number one rule of animal dental hygiene: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to alleviate painful dental problems in your beloved companions is to do your best to make sure that they never arise in the first place.

The first step is to make sure that you take your animal in every year for a physical and that this visit includes a dental exam. And don’t laugh, but it is critical that you brush your cat or dog’s teeth on a regular basis. If you are unsure of how to do this, your vet will be able to give you some tips to make the task easier. For most animals, all you need is a small toothbrush and either cat or dog toothpaste, which is available at most pet stores and veterinary hospitals.

If your dog or cat won’t tolerate the tooth-brushing, begin training him or her by massaging the gums with the toothpaste. Most cats and dogs love the taste of the flavored animal toothpastes, so this first step is actually pleasurable. Plus, what animal companion doesn’t love to be held and cuddled? Use this training time as a chance to give your friend a little extra love, and it will also help teach him or her that tooth-brushing is a fun activity. Once your animal is comfortable with this, you can slowly introduce the toothbrush and establish your dental hygiene routine.

You can also help prevent dental disease by providing a healthy diet and plenty of dental chews and toys for your animals. Try vegan “pig ears” or a Nylabone for your dog. While there aren’t a lot of chew toys for cats available because most cats aren’t into chew toys the way dogs are, don’t overlook the numerous dental diets and treats available. These foods, made for both dogs and cats, help prevent tartar buildup for animal companions who aren’t the best chewers. Any quality pet store clerk can point a shopper to the right aisle. Just ask for dental care products.

Finally, if your animal companion already shows signs of real dental disease, including extreme bad breath, tartar buildup, fractured teeth, change in eating habits, or swollen and receding or bleeding gums, it is most likely time for a professional cleaning. Talk to your veterinarian and make sure that your dog or cat gets the care that he or she needs.

Any toothbrushing tips or experiences to share?

Debbie Chissell is the director of PETA’s Mobile Clinics Division and can be reached at DebbieC@peta.org.

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8 Comments

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    Barry Kipperman,DVM says...

    December 23rd, 2008, 12:02 am

    Excellent advice…I concur!

    Gary says...

    December 26th, 2008, 3:08 pm

    Thank You Debbie…!
    I shall try this, as it has always been a “struggle” to brush their teeth. I once had a Chow who hated it sooo much that she took the toothbrush out of her “Care Container” and put it in the trash on one occasion, and later it just “disappeared”… I think she buried it.
    Thank You for reading,
    Gary
    Tampa

    Alicia says...

    December 26th, 2008, 3:52 pm

    A similar thing happened to one of our cats. She was losing weight (which we knew was obviously due to the fact that she’d stopped eating as much as usual), but because she was also losing hair (she’s always experienced more miserable reactions each flea season than any other cat we’ve owned – the vet said she had a flea allergy early on), we thought she was just having another bad flea season episode and just made sure she had proper flea medicine.

    However, I was lucky enough to get a whiff of her breath one day, and it was atrocious. Immediately I thought, “This isn’t a flea problem or some other feline medical mystery – this cat has a bad tooth.” It was kind of a “new” thing for us, because in the nearly 30 years of cat ownership, we’ve never had a cat develop a tooth problem. Still, it was obvious. So, I took her to the vet, told him my suspicions, and lo and behold it was a bad tooth. In a matter of seconds he had both located it and pulled it out. After about a week of antibiotics and special pureed food, she started gaining weight, regrowing hair, and loving life.

    I think a mistake many pet owners make is neglecting the day-to-day stuff, like dental care. We take care of our own teeth each day, but when it comes to our pets sometimes we focus more on proper feeding, exercise, sleep, etc. (i.e. the in-your-face survival needs) than we do on the things that aren’t always so in our faces. It’s important to remember these things, too!

    Daisy says...

    December 30th, 2008, 5:08 pm

    Can you use like the eatable kids tooth paste on animals?? because ive look for dog tooth paste in all the stores and vets and i cant seem to find any cause its a small town

    heather bruce says...

    January 5th, 2009, 1:11 pm

    I brush my dogs teeth with an electric toothbrush – use one with the smaller brush. One can be used for all – people and animals- they come usually with several brushes or they can be bought separately. Use special toothpaste for cats or dogs. The dogs like the small vibration and are busy licking the flavored paste! Cats do not seem to fall for the taste as easily!

    kerry says...

    January 6th, 2009, 6:12 pm

    I have 2 old cats that now have to eat canned food because they didnt have dental care when they were young. In the long run, the dental care would have been cheaper than buying canned food , and life is so much simpler and cleaner in multi-cat households if you can feed all your kitties dry food. Otherwise, you end out like me, chauffering kitties into a bunch of separate rooms at feeding times to keep the dry food eaters from discovering canned food.

    lysa says...

    January 21st, 2009, 12:41 pm

    I’m vegetarian and my dog also a vegetarian so is there a vegetarian chewy from Nylabone? Please guide me. very much appreciated.

    Cats Teeth, Care for your Cat | Cat Illnesses - Cat Rehoming - Cats Symptoms says...

    February 11th, 2009, 8:45 pm

    [...] PETA Prime: Celebrating Kind Choices [...]

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