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Pet Dental Health | Do You Really Need to Brush Your Dog's Teeth?

by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

February is Pet Dental Health Month. To many people, the thought of brushing your dog or cat’s teeth would be as ludicrous as giving them a cucumber-based facial, but this is actually an integral part of keeping your dog or cat healthy. Here’s our ultimate guide to taking care of your pet’s dental health. 

Do I Really Need to Brush My Dog’s teeth?

In short, yes. Taking care of your dog’s teeth is an important part of preventative healthcare that is often overlooked. Your oral health can have a significant impact on your general health and wellbeing and the same goes for our furry friends; dental issues can be linked to diabetes, heart disease, kidney and liver disease and even behaviour problems in some animals (I bet you’re grumpy when you have a sore tooth, too!)

As many as 80% of dogs suffer from some kind of gum disease, so this is definitely something that more people need to be thinking about.

Should I Brush my Cat’s Teeth?

Just like humans and dogs, cats also need their teeth brushed regularly to reduce dental plaque and maintain good oral health. Daily brushing, or brushing a minimum of 3 times per week, using a moistened cat toothbrush with soft bristles, will help avoid the dreaded periodontal disease.

What are the Signs of Gum Disease in Dogs and Cats?

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, can cause bad breath, inflammation, bleeding and erosion of the gums, which can eventually lead to loss of teeth. Here are some of the most recognisable signs of gum disease in our pets:

• Bad Breath
• Eating Less
• Difficulty Eating and Chewing
• Mouth Pain
• Tartar Build Up
• Sore Gums
• Wobbly Teeth
• Drooling and Saliva

What Causes Periodontal Disease in Pets?

In a healthy animal, saliva lubricates and protects the mouth, but if conditions are not ideal, saliva forms dental plaque which provides the perfect environment for bacteria to build up. Production of waste (toxins) is a normal part of bodily function but if this is excessive due to reasons such as poor quality diet, the waste can accumulate in the saliva, for example.

Why is Pet Dental Care so Expensive in the UK?

Unfortunately, unlike humans, pets do not sit still long enough for a vet to scale and polish their teeth, therefore dental procedures in cats and dogs require a full anaesthetic. A professional dog teeth cleaning, for example, can cost up to £500. If your dog is older, overweight or in poor health, a dental cleaning will more than likely cost more than the average.

An Important Message about Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth

It is always best to consult with your vet as to the best way to clean your pet’s teeth, as this could differ depending on their age, breed and temperament. Getting your dog or cat to tolerate their teeth being brushed from a young age is considered the most beneficial way to reduce plaque build-up, but older pets can also be introduced to it as well.

How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Teeth brushing should be introduced gently and gradually and should always be a positive experience for your pet. Use a calm, happy voice, reward if necessary and don’t push them too far. It may be that you start with holding the toothbrush near their mouth without brushing, then brush a few teeth per session using gentle circular motions before gradually building up as your pet gets used to it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to brushing your pet’s teeth:

1. Buy a specially designed pet toothbrush with pet safe toothpaste
2. Give your dog or cat a small amount of toothpaste to get them used to the taste
3. Select a good spot for teeth brushing where your pet feels comfortable
4. Touch your pet’s teeth and gums without the brush
5. Touch your pet’s teeth once with the toothbrush
6. Begin brushing with gentle motions to clean the teeth and gums
7. Reward your dog with play or a favourite activity for positive reinforcement.

Should I Brush my Dog’s Teeth with a Human Toothbrush and Toothpaste?

You should only use toothpaste formulated for pets, as human toothpaste contains a high level of fluoride which can be toxic to your cat or dog. If you are unsure it is always best to check with your vet. Pet toothbrushes are also widely available, and you can also get small finger brushes which some pets actually like better. A soft/medium texture human toothbrush can also be used.

How Often Should I Brush my Dog’s Teeth?

The thought of brushing your dog’s teeth twice a day might bring chills down your spine, especially if you’ve got a wriggler, but they will get used to it. Ideally you should brush your dog’s teeth a minimum of 3 times a week if your dog feels comfortable with this. Remember, we are making this a positive experience for them, so we should hopefully get them to a point where they love having their teeth brushed.

Alongside dog teeth brushing, regular vet check-ups should include an examination of your pet’s mouth; professional scaling and plaque removal may be required especially in our older companions.

Should I Use Dental Sticks for my Dog?

Our expert nutritionists would advise against using dental chews because they are often very calorie dense, and are a common culprit for overweight dogs as well as excess weight build up. Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli stems and parsnips do exactly the same job as dental chews and are a lot healthier for your pet! This is not a replacement for brushing your dog’s teeth though, which is the only proven way to maintain your pet’s oral health.

Is There Any Other Way to Naturally Look After my Pet’s Dental Health?

Overall health is reflected inside and out, so keeping your dog’s insides healthy can go a long way to promoting a healthy mouth too. A diet using, simple, wholesome natural foods can minimise the amount of pollution in the system and reduce the build-up of bacteria in the mouth. You should avoid additives other than the necessary vitamins and minerals and look for a diet low in fat and protein, both of which can produce a lot of waste for the body to deal with if fed in excessive amounts.

Looking for the perfect, natural and healthy diet to keep your dog’s teeth healthy? Try our low fat, low protein Original Chicken and Brown Rice recipe.

by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

I studied Applied Medical Sciences at Swansea University and have a keen interest in veterinary science and hope to be able to do more research in the future. No two days are the same at Burns and not only does this job allow me to continuously learn about animal nutrition but also means I get to talk about dogs all day!

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