Brushing your dog’s or cat’s teeth daily can extend their lives and keep them healthy

February is Pet Dental Health Month and a good month to look inside your dog or cat’s mouth and see what’s going on inside. Does your dog or cat have missing teeth, loose teeth, or “doggy” or “kitten” breath?

While we think these things are normal for an animal to age, they are all signs of periodontal disease (unless the tooth loss is due to chewing on a rock). Not only can periodontitis cause mouth pain, tooth loss, and eating disorders, it can also lead to liver, kidney, and heart problems as the disease progresses (with age) and bacteria enter the bloodstream.

Unfortunately, most dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 or 4 years old. Just like humans, they develop plaque, a sticky substance that builds up on their teeth and gum line from food debris and bacteria left behind after eating. Tartar builds up and hardens on teeth if plaque is not removed.

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to keep your pet’s mouth healthy. First, start a new habit of brushing your pet’s teeth once or twice a day. There are videos online that can show you how to do this.

There are flavored types of toothpaste (poultry, vanilla mint, beef, malt, and seafood) that pets love and that are meant to be swallowed. Never use human toothpaste with your pet.

Finger brushes are great to start with and remain great for cats since their mouths are smaller. While there are toothbrushes specifically designed for your dog or cat, a child’s brush with soft bristles will also work. Always reward your dog or cat with a hard, crunchy treat afterwards.

If you can’t imagine brushing your pet’s teeth, or your pets just can’t get used to having their teeth brushed after weeks of trying, there are other things you can do to prevent tartar buildup . If your pet already has significant tartar in their mouth, start by having their teeth professionally cleaned by a veterinarian. Vets often hold teeth cleaning specials in February.

Second, there are oral products that can help with prevention, such as tooth chews, tooth cleaning wipes and powder, and prescription diets. Water supplements are available to add to your drinking water to reduce bacteria and reduce future tartar build-up. Visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council at vohc.org to find approved products for dogs and cats.

However, brushing your pet’s teeth remains the gold standard for your pet’s oral care. While you can start this brushing habit at any time, you can avoid the future costs of periodontal disease if you start it when your pet is young.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist, and pet expert. Send questions, stories and tips about your pet to cathy@petpundit.com.