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Open Wide! It’s Time to Check Your Pet’s Dental Health

Feb 20, 2017


February is Pet Dental Health Month! Did you know that by age 3 about 70% of cats and 80% of dogs show signs of periodontal disease? And that can lead to a host of additional problems.

Last year, Dr. Colleen Fox, our veterinary dental practitioner, wrote an article answering common questions about advanced dental procedures (you can read it here). For Pet Dental Health Month this year, we would like to talk about maintaining your pet’s oral health. Not only does good oral hygiene keep your pet’s teeth and mouth healthy, it also contributes to your pet’s overall health. 

Pet Dental Care at Home

Daily teeth brushing

If your dog or cat is not used to getting their teeth brushed, it will take patience. Be consistent as it may take some time to familiarize them with the sensation. Start slowly by getting your pet used to the feel of the toothbrush. You can also experiment with different pet-friendly toothpastes to find which flavor he or she likes best. Do not use adult toothbrushes made for humans, as these can be too rough, pediatric toothbrushes are acceptable. Also, choose toothpaste made for pets, as human toothpaste contains ingredients that are toxic to pets.

In this video by the American Kennel Club, Dr. Andrea Tu shows how to keep your pet’s teeth clean.

Dental chews and antiseptic rinse

Not all dental treats are created equal. Treats and chews that contain enzymes and anti-tartar ingredients can be a helpful supplement. There are also oral rinses and gels that are antiplaque antiseptics. These contain ingredients like chlorhexidine. We recommend that you ask your veterinarian what dental chews, rinses, and diets would be appropriate for your pet.

You can see a list of Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Accepted Products for Dogs and Cats here

Safe chew toys and bones

Dogs have a natural instinct to chew on bones. However, many chew toys and bones sold in pet stores can be too hard for your dog’s teeth—especially if they are aggressive chewers. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), in a statement on its website, says: 

“The AVDC does not recommend cow hooves, dried natural bones or hard nylon products because they are too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass. These hard products are associated with broken teeth or damaged gums. Chew toys are only of benefit if they are played with frequently and over the long haul—you can increase the dog’s willingness to chew by smearing palatable peanut butter or soft cheese on the product. Pet dogs should be monitored while chewing a chew treat or toy, as they may swallow large pieces, leading to a variety of digestive system disorders.”

Professional Dental Cleaning by Your Veterinarian 

For humans, we know brushing our teeth daily is not a substitute for going to the dentist. We need to have our teeth professionally scaled and cleaned by a dentist  every 6 months to keep them healthy. The same goes for our pets. 

Unlike humans, dogs and cats cannot open their mouths and sit patiently in a chair during a cleaning. Veterinarians will administer anesthesia in order to properly clean the animal’s teeth. Having the pet under anesthesia will allow the veterinarian take dental radiographs (x-rays) of the pet’s mouth. It also enables the veterinarian to clean below the gumline, which can be too painful if the animal is not under anesthesia. Furthermore, non-anesthetic dental scalings cannot properly clean your pet’s teeth as well as puts your pet at risk of aspiration pneumonia, etc. due to the airway being unprotected. Veterinarians use ultrasonic and sonic power scalers as well as hand instruments that have sharp edges to remove tartar. Slight movement by the animal can result in an injury. The animal must stay immobile to ensure a thorough cleaning, their safety, and the safety of the veterinarian.

Here is the AVDC’s position statement on anesthesia for dental patients: 

“A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.

Safe use of an anesthetic or sedative in a dog or cat requires evaluation of the general health and size of the patient to determine the appropriate drug and dose, and continual monitoring of the patient. Veterinarians are trained in all of these procedures. Prescribing or administering anesthetic or sedative drugs by a non-veterinarian can be very dangerous, and is illegal. Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk-free, modern anesthetic and patient evaluation techniques used in veterinary hospitals minimize the risks, and millions of dental scaling procedures are safely performed each year in veterinary hospitals.

Advanced Pet Dental Care

You may find that your pet needs advanced dental care. During your pet’s dental cleaning, your veterinarian may see a fractured tooth, signs of severe periodontal disease, oral tumors, etc. Your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist or a veterinarian with extensive training in pet dentistry to treat your pet. At The COVE, Dr. Colleen Fox has dedicated her practice to working exclusively in dentistry. If your pet requires advanced dental care or oral surgery, ask for a referral from your primary care veterinarians. Call 757-935-911 or email to schedule an appointment.  


Additional Resources

ADVC: Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian About Pet Dental Cleanings
ADVC: 4 Stages of Periodontal Disease
ADVC: Feline Dental Disease
AVMA: Pet Dental Care
AVMA: February is National Pet Dental Health Month
PetMD: 5 Signs of Gum Disease in Dogs


Category: Pet Health Tips