Pet Dental Health Month

February is National Pet Dental Health Month and a great time to start regularly brushing your furry friend's teeth.

Many pet stores and veterinarians' offices sell toothpastes and tooth brushes specifically for dogs and cats. Dr. Katherine Kling, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Illinois, said we should think of our pets' teeth similar to how we think of our own.

"Just as we can't expect mouthwashes or healthy, crunchy food to remove all of the plaque from under our own gum lines, similarly there is nothing so successful in removing plaque as consistent brushing and yearly professional cleanings for cats and dogs," Dr. Kling said. "Choose a pet-approved toothpaste in a flavor your pet likes. Never use human toothpastes, because pets swallow toothpaste and we don't want them to ingest fluoride on a regular basis. It is in fact the brushing itself that disrupts the plaque biofilm and slows the progression of dental disease."

Dr. Kling recommends toothbrushes approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council and said it's also safe to use a soft-bristled toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association, such as a toothbrush made for children.

Pet owners should aim to brush their pets' teeth every day.

"Rawhide chews, dog treats, water additives and other products can complement a home dental care program that centers on tooth brushing," Dr. Kling said. "Tooth brushing should be the mainstay of your home dental care plan."

Some pets may not be amiable to having their teeth brushed.

"If you are considering beginning to brush, but have not had a recent cleaning, it may be safest to start by letting your pet lick toothpaste from the toothbrush. This way, your pet develops a positive association with tooth brushing. Then, begin a regular regimen of brushing following a professional dental cleaning," Dr. Kling recommends.

In some cases, consistent tooth brushing is not a workable option for certain pets and owners.

"Yearly professional cleanings are still going to help in these situations. Water additives, gels, and treats may help as well. The products most likely to help slow the progression of gum disease are those with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal," said Dr. Kling.

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