By: Hannah Woit
Dog breath is more than just pet-joke fodder. It can be a sign of serious dental-health issues in dogs and cats. A pet's abnormally bad breath may indicate a possible infection, broken tooth, or tumor, says Kris Bannon, DVM, president-elect of the American Veterinary Dental Society.
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It can also signal the onset of medical issues such as periodontal disease, which starts in the mouth but can be associated with heart, liver, and kidney disease. It's also far too common: Periodontal For disease affects 85% of dogs over 5 years old and 70% of cats by age 3. Here's how to keep your pet's mouth in tip-top shape.
Your Tooth Tool Kit
A toothbrush specially made for pets or a children's soft-bristle toothbrush will do the job. Pet toothpaste is optional, but never use a product intended for humans. Pet toothpaste's sole function is to taste good so your cat or dog opens her mouth, Dr. Bannon says. Alternatively, you can use water or chicken-or beef-flavored low-sodium broth for dogs. Excess water from a can of tuna entices cats.
Take a Good Look
Check your pet's teeth at least weekly. They should be white, shiny, sharp, and pointy. Yellow or brown teeth may indicate plaque or tartar buildup.
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Purple on a tooth may be pulpitis, an inflammation of the tooth's center caused by a blow to the mouth or chewing too hard.
Gums should be light pink and smooth along the tooth edge. If they're red, swollen, or bleeding, she may have gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease.
Brush your pet's teeth daily. Plaque can build up within a few hours and harden into tartar in a little over a day, just as it does for people, says Stephen C. Riback, DVM, veterinary dentist at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Whether you're introducing a puppy or an older dog to a tooth-cleaning routine, Dr. Bannon advises owners to start slowly. Follow the sequence of steps below, working up to a full brushing over 2 weeks:
1. Have your pet lick the toothpaste off the brush.
2. Work the brush into her mouth and touch just the front teeth (the incisors and canines).
3. As she becomes accustomed to the toothbrush touching her teeth and gums, move it farther into her mouth to clean more of the back teeth.
4. Point bristles at the gums or angle them underneath gums so that a third of the toothbrush massages the gum line as you work around your pet's mouth, brushing the outside surface of each tooth. You don't need to actually see the back teeth-just slide the brush between the teeth and cheek, and your cat or dog will produce a brushing action as she chews.
Chew On This
When it comes to dogs' chew toys, choose carefully. "Hard items like hooves, nylon bones, and antlers are among the most common causes of broken teeth," says Kris Bannon, DVM. "If you can bend a toy with the strength of your hands, it should be OK."
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A rawhide chew toy may or may not be safe, depending on how quickly it becomes pliable from your dog's saliva.
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When To Call A Professional
"Your pet should have an annual anesthetized dental treatment starting at 1 1/2 to 2 years of age to fully evaluate the mouth, obtain dental x-rays, and clean above and below her gum line," Dr. Riback says.
Smaller breeds tend to require cleaning more often because their teeth are crowded closer together. Also, compared with larger dogs, smaller dogs usually aren't as fond of chew toys, which may clean teeth as they work on them.
Every pet is different, but an x-ray every 2 to 3 years should be sufficient if she does not have a history of dental problems. If she does, get x-rays yearly.