Have you had a look at your pet’s smile lately?  

In the past several years, dental care has been recognized as a key aspect of our pets’ health—and for good reason.  

Over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show indications of oral disease by the time they turn three years old, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society. 

Why is this a big deal? 

Oral disease can cause all kinds of unpleasant problems for your dog or cat. Symptoms include red and swollen gums, bad breath, increased salivating, and bleeding in the mouth. Your pet may start losing teeth and have difficulty eating.  

Those aren’t the only risks.  

When plaque develops on the teeth, it can eventually harden into tarter. When this substance builds up below your pet’s gumline, it can lead to pain, damaged tissue, and infection. Even more concerning is that these oral infections can enter the bloodstream. The heart, kidneys, and/or liver may be impacted if this occurs. 

How can you help prevent these kinds of issues? 

The methods for keeping your own smile in good shape are pretty similar to the kind of tactics needed for cats and dogs.  

Regular veterinary checkups, including an annual dental exam, are important. You should also talk with your veterinarian about yearly teeth cleanings. These procedures do require pets to be put under anesthesia, so you’ll need to consult with your vet about any health concerns you have. 

Home care is also vital. You should brush your pet’s teeth several days a week, although daily cleanings are ideal. There are several tools available, and it may take trial and error to see what works both for you and your pet. Options include a pet-specific toothbrush, finger brushes, and a child-size toothbrush with soft bristles. 

It’s essential that you choose a toothpaste specifically made for pets. A particular concern about human toothpaste is the commonly used sweetener called xylitol. According to the ASPCA, this substance can cause liver damage and low blood sugar. Consuming the fluoride found in human toothpaste is also dangerous. 

A walk through a local pet care store shows there are lots of other dental products out there, including dental wipes, dental chews or cookies, and water additives. These items have different active ingredients that may or may not be effective. It’s always best to talk with a professional before introducing these products to your dog or cat. 

Getting your pet used to home dental care practices can be a challenge. You may need to take things slow for the first few days or weeks and get them used to having a brush in their mouth. Lots of positive reinforcement, and perhaps a few healthy treats, can help.

Just be patient with your pets—their health is worth the work!