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Home Care for Your Pet's Teeth



Control of dental and gum diseases should begin early in life. The following suggestions are recommended both for the pet that has already had problems and has been treated in the hospital, and the younger pet with a healthy mouth.


DIET: Avoid feeding soft, canned, or sticky foods as a large portion of the diet as they will con­tribute to plaque and tartar formation and retention. Dry foods and hard bis­cuits will encourage your pet to chew, but despite the advertis­ing, dry food alone cannot control gum disease.   A specially formulated dry food named t/d from the Hills company helps clean the teeth with its unique structure. This food does not shatter when chewed. In­stead, its layers help “squeegee” plaque off the teeth. The food can be the sole diet or feed as treats. A substance that has been incorporated into some foods is hexametaphosphate or HMP. This compound has been added to all adult dry foods that are available under the Iams and

Eukanuba labels. The HMP binds the calcium that would otherwise contribute to hardening of the plaque into calculus.


CHEW TOYS: Any firm material that your pet chooses as a toy will help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. Rawhide chews work well provided your pet doesn’t try to swallow them whole. Observe your pet’s habits. Large pieces of rawhide have been known to cause obstructions of the airway and intestines. Soft rubber toys can also be chewed into pieces and swallowed, and natural bones should be avoided completely! Either the bones will be small enough to be chewed and swallowed or they will be hard enough to break the teeth. Broken teeth frequently require extraction or root canal therapy. Nylon bones, ice cubes, and cow hooves also cause many broken teeth and are not recommended. The chew toys recommended will have some give to them and are unlikely to break teeth. Rawhide chews, rope toys and hard rubber have stood the test of time in providing plaque control with minimal chances of problems. But even these chews and toys cannot clean all the crevices between the teeth or the spaces between the gum tissues and the teeth (where most of the problems begin!).


BRUSHING: Just as with our own teeth, brushing is the most effec­tive way of controlling plaque, and all the problems that plaque will lead to. Most pets will learn to accept this procedure espe­cially if begun early in life. BRUSHING DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A CHORE!  Start slowly and make it fun for the pet. Begin simply by handling your pet’s mouth daily. Gently insert your finger into the cheek while holding the mouth closed. Make the same motions with your finger that you would make in brush­ing. While getting your pet used to this, offer good tasting “treats” on a small soft toothbrush. A few drops of chicken broth, or milk or even a little garlic powder in water will not upset the stomach or nutritional balance, but will help overcome your pet’s anxiety about the brush. Once your pet is coming eagerly for his “treat” and is accustomed to having his mouth handled, you simply combine the two new games. Simple back and forth motions are practical, but circular motions are more effec­tive. The whole process shouldn’t take more than a minute. Since plaque and tartar begin forming on the outside (cheek) surfaces of the teeth, it is usually not necessary to open the mouth and brush the tongue side. Brushing daily is best, but four to five times weekly will significantly reduce the calculus formation in dogs and cats Plan the brushing procedure so that it is followed by something your pet likes - mealtime, a game, a walk, etc. Baking soda/hydrogen peroxide paste is not recommended as the sodium content can be bad for some pets and the peroxide can cause vomiting if enough is swallowed.

Toothpastes made for humans should not be used since dogs and cats don’t like the soapy bubbles. Also, because pets swallow the toothpaste, some may get an upset stomach from the detergents that are used in human products. Meat and milk flavored “toothpastes” are available to encourage those pets that will not accept brushing initially. In some pets with minimal disease, a dry toothbrush off the shelf will be effective in controlling plaque. For pets that have greater susceptibility to infection, the best product for plaque con­trol is a formulation that contains the germicide, chlor­hexidine. It is very effective in controlling the plaque-forming bacteria when applied with a brush, but will still be of some benefit in those pets that will not allow brushing. The gel or rinse can simply be squeezed into the mouth once daily.

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 Charlottesville, Virginia
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