August 18, 2016 – is Pet Dental Month in Australia and New Zealand. On one of my many visits to my cats’ vet, I asked what he would consider important for pet owners to learn more about and his response was dental care.

Around that time I had to take one of my diva brat cats Minnie for her annual check-up and vaccination. I was horrified to discover even with my best effects, she had started have build-up of plaque on her back teeth. I had been thinking I had been doing everything to prevent any kind of dental health problems with her, as she is my youngest cat at four and a half years.

Over a year ago, my other cat Trix had to have a tooth extracted. Not only was it costly, but it was a risky procedure given she is an older cat and unlike most human dental procedures, animals have to have a general anaesthetic to have teeth extracted.

As I told my vet Minnie mainly eats dry food and is given special dental care treats, and  as I got Minnie as a six month old kitten, trying to brush her teeth ended up with me having lots of scratches and bite marks (like most cats is not particularly keen on me going anywhere near her mouth).

Research shows 70% of cats aged two or older have some sign of dental problems and in dogs 80% of animals of two have problems. Dental prevention in animals is important because left untreated it can lead to gingivitis, a disease that affects the gums which become red, swollen and sore. Untreated, pets may lose teeth and become prone to infections that can cause other health issues.

Does your pet have dental or oral health problems? Look out for:

– Bad breath
– Sore mouth
– Difficulty eating
– Loose teeth or tooth loss
– Pawing or rubbing the mouth
– Bleeding gums
– Yellow or brown tartar on teeth
– Dribbling

My vet gave me some tips for dental care in older pets: 

– Make sure dry biscuits and treats are big enough for cats to crunch on in order help keep plaque away
– Give pets (raw or frozen – not cooked as the cooked bones can splinter!) chicken necks to eat as the bones in the neck help keep the teeth clean and again reduce plaque and tartar build-up

If you have a puppy or kittens start a dental hygiene plan as early as possible. Generally most pet’s teeth can be brushed from eight weeks old.

Brushing your pet’s teeth:

– Start slowly; give your pet lots of affection and praise
– Create a routine with brushing their teeth – if your pet is food-motivated brush their teeth before giving them food, so they see their food as a reward
– Get your pet used to the sensation of touch on their lips, teeth and gums using your finger
– Try putting a few drops of either chicken or beef stock or tuna juice for cats on your finger and your pet will look forward to the ‘reward’ associated with this touch. Small pets may be more comfortable and relaxed siting on your knee while you do this.
– The next stage is to repeat the touch not with your finger but with a flavoured (stock or tuna juice) cloth or cotton wool bud. Start first by going along the gum line, then gently massaging the their teeth and gums
– When they are comfortable with the above, introduce the toothbrush (again dipped in stock or tuna juice). Hold the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth, gently brushing back and forth in a circular motion, from the gum to the top of the tooth. Slowly begin with one or two strokes at the front strokes at the front of their mouth before continuing to their back teeth and tongue
– The final stage is to introduce toothpaste (only use toothpaste for pets – human toothpaste can harm them if ingested). Do this by rubbing a small amount of toothpaste on their rubber chew toys so they get used to the taste
– Start using the brush and toothpaste together. Start slowly – building up to 30-60 seconds.
–  Stop brushing teeth while your pet is losing its baby teeth, as this can be painful for your pets. Resume brushing teeth once their permanent teeth have grown in

It is also recommended that you use pet specific toothbrush, if you can’t find one use a human soft toothbrush (one for young children). Feed your pet notionally dry food that is also produced to help clean their teeth. Rubber chew toys and give them dental-friendly treats such as carrots or apples, pig’s ears, noses or trotters.

Pet dental hygiene tips from vet Kether Gati at the  Wellington Vet Group.

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