According to some studies, dental problems (also called periodontal disease) are the most frequently diagnosed disorder in our pets. (source 1)
Fortunately, there are good references for veterinary teams (source 2) that are intended to guide them in the diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease. You can consult them as well, although they will probably seem rather technical and not very concrete for your reality.
So where to start?
First, by opening your pet’s mouth!
This may seem like a very simple tip, but many pet owners rarely do it.
A study (source 3) showed that veterinarians detect between 9.3% and 18.2% of dental problems when dogs are awake, versus between 44% and 100% when dogs are under anesthesia (because of course dogs cooperate well when they are still and asleep!).
This clearly indicates that even when you have a medical background, you have to look carefully to find certain types of problems.
I don’t want to discourage you by explaining all this. On the contrary!
In this article, I would like to illustrate how common this problem is and then tell you what you can do at home to avoid it or at least reduce it.
Here are 12 home care tips to prevent dental problems in cats, dogs and ferrets.
From a young age, your pet will obviously have some teeth. It’s not necessary to brush them right away, but it may be a good idea to introduce the idea of brushing at this time.
For example: start by using your finger for only a few moments, and make it pleasant and positive. One way is to put a flavor that your pet likes on your finger. If the (short) session goes well, reward him quickly and every time. Rub the finger gently on the teeth and in the mouth in general to get him used to this kind of stimulation.
I insist again: do all this gradually! There is no point in turning this into a battle because no one will win, I promise you.
During the period of tooth loss, it can be interesting to give your pet a chew toy. This can prevent the retention of baby teeth by promoting their loss.
As an aside, if you look in the mouth and see something that doesn’t look right, talk to your veterinarian so that he or she can evaluate it properly. At this age, examinations are usually easier than when they are older.
After some time and if all goes well, you can use a toothbrush designed for animals. There is also a small tool called a fingernail, which you can put on your finger and brush.
As for toothpaste, you should use an enzymatic toothpaste designed for animals. Those designed for humans should not be used because they can cause stomach irritation.
As for the brushing technique itself, I suggest not brushing the gums, as they can bleed more easily.
A little trick for very small teeth that are more difficult to brush: put a strip of gauze on your finger and make small movements in a circle.
Another option that exists if you can’t do it despite your best efforts: some enzymatic liquids can be added to the water bowl. This has the advantage of being the easiest to do; however, it has the disadvantage of having the least direct action.
Finally, there is also the choice of certain mouthwashes for which you only have to put a few drops on your teeth and gums and let them work.
In any case, choose something that you will do regularly!
If you brush your teeth once a week, will you have good dental health? Probably not. So just like exercise, it is better to do it often and for a shorter period of time, than once for a longer period of time.
I hope these tips will help you take care of your cat’s/dog’s/ferret’s or any other toothy critter’s dental health! If in doubt, consult your veterinary team who will be happy to advise you.
Tell me, I’m curious: which of these suggestions worked best for your pet?
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Source 1. Niemiec BA. Periodontal disease. Top Companion Anim Med. 2008 May;23(2):72-80. doi: 10.1053/j.tcam.2008.02.003. PMID: 18482707.
Source 2. 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats – 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats* Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP (Canine/Feline), Mary L. Berg, BS, LATG, RVT, VTS (Dentistry), Sonnya Dennis, DVM, DABVP (Canine/Feline), Ralph Harvey, DVM, MS, DACVAA, Heidi B. Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, Christopher J. Snyder, DVM, DAVDCy , Amy E.S. Stone, DVM, PhD, Andrea G. Van de Wetering, DVM, FAVD
Source 3. Wallis C, Holcombe LJ. A review of the frequency and impact of periodontal disease in dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 2020 Sep;61(9):529-540. doi: 10.1111/jsap.13218. PMID: 32955734.
Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.