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Fri, Dec. 06

All about pets: February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Lisa Ransower gives Lacy’s teeth a brush. (Courtesy)

Lisa Ransower gives Lacy’s teeth a brush. (Courtesy)

I cannot believe it is already February, but this is the month when we need to focus on our pet’s oral health. Some of us brush our pet’s teeth; many of us do not. And for those of us who do, chances are we do not do it often enough.

Providing routine oral health care for your pet will make a difference throughout his life. The time to begin is now! Our dogs and cats should not have bad breath. If they do, it is a sign that there is a problem and a visit to the vet is necessary.

Beginning a tooth brushing routine takes time. Having fingers and brushes in your pet’s mouth is not something they take to willingly. Be patient.

With both dogs and cats, beginning early and gently can make all the difference. Hold the animal in your lap while you are watching the news. Slowly move your fingers gently around his mouth and lips. Tell him how wonderful he is and how important this is for his health. As he gets more accustomed to having your fingers around his mouth, gently open his lips and begin ever so slowly massaging his teeth and gums.

Unless you have an amazingly docile cat, to begin working on his teeth it is suggested that you wrap him in a towel. This is a good suggestion for small, squirmy dogs as well.

Most important rule No. 1: Do not use people toothpaste. It contains ingredients that can cause stomach upset for your pet. Also, do not use baking soda. There are a number of pet toothpastes available at pet stores and through your vet. These toothpastes are flavored to appeal to your pet. Put a little on your finger and allow him to lick it off. Move your fingers around in his mouth while he is enjoying the taste.

Also, there are a number of methods for cleaning your pet’s teeth. There is the little finger brush, which might be good in the beginning. But eventually, you need to introduce a real toothbrush, which can be either a pets or people brush but it should be a soft bristle. There are pet brushes that are a bit longer than ones for people; they have a set of regular bristles at one end and a smaller group at the other end, which is great for dogs with long muzzles. The smaller end is great for reaching the deep recesses of the mouth. Oral cleaning wipes are a great occasional alternative to brushing.

It is of particular importance to concentrate on the gum line where tarter and plaque tend to build up. Healthy gum tissue evenly and tightly circles the teeth. Gingivitis or inflammation of the gums is an early indication of a problem. Regular brushing can generally eliminate this, but the annual visit to the vet can assess this condition.

Even after introducing the brush, move slowly. You need to do this for many years and you do not want a struggling creature at the other end of the brush. Talk gently, move gently and be consistent. Eventually, it will become a part of the nightly routine.

We used to believe that a hard kibble pet food would help keep our pet’s teeth clean and in good shape. But way too often, our pets do not thoroughly chew their food. Also, this chewing action is not reaching the most important area, the gum line.

According to the Maxi/Guard Health Care products brochure, “Helping your dog or cat maintain optimum oral health aids in tooth retention ensures the ability to continue good nutrition throughout life, and contributes greatly to overall health and well-being.”

If you are not already brushing your pet’s teeth, February is the time to begin.

Christy Powers is a freelance writer whose passion is studying and writing about pet health, nutrition and training. She can be reached at

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