Porky & Buddy’s Pet Health: Brushing the Dog’s Teeth?

Dear Porky & Buddy,

I thought I had heard everything, but yesterday, my next door neighbor told me that he brushes his dog’s teeth. When I started to laugh, he got all huffy and tried to make me feel guilty because I don’t. I have lots of things to feel guilty about already. Should I add this to the list? And how do you go about brushing your pet’s teeth anyway?


Dear John,

Yup, add it to the list. By some estimates, dental disease affects up to 80% of pets over the age of three, and just like with humans, there can be serious consequences of poor dental health. Infected gums and teeth aren’t just a problem in the mouth — the heart, kidneys, intestinal tract, and joints may also be infected. The tartar and any infected areas of the mouth contain bazillions of bacteria than can spread to other parts of the body. With regular dental care, you can prevent some of these more serious side effects.

But rather than wallowing in your guilt, talk to your vet about this issue at your pet’s next checkup.

If your vet finds possible dental problems at the checkup she may recommend a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia. The dental cleaning is similar to a human dental cleaning – tartar removal, checking for cavities, gingival (gum) pockets, loose teeth, any growths on the gums or palate, removal of diseased teeth, and finally, polishing. Anesthesia is necessary because, frankly, no pet, no matter how smart and well-trained, is going to sit there with his mouth open and let strangers do strange and uncomfortable things.

Even if a professional cleaning is not necessary, ask your vet how to initiate a good dental care program at home. Most veterinarians are happy to provide brushing lessons, and many carry brushes and toothpaste specifically for dogs and cats. Starting a home dental program while your pet is young is the best bet for good dental health.

Most pet supply stores will likely carry a selection of toothpaste choices. Do not use human toothpaste! Besides being disgusting to pets, human toothpaste is meant to be rinsed out, not swallowed. Many pet toothpastes are enzymatic, and offer greater cleansing action on food debris and plaque and can be swallowed. Most pets prefer meat-flavored toothpastes, such as beef and chicken. Start with a small sample first, if possible to find a flavor your pet likes

There are several pet-specific toothbrushes available at your vet’s or pet supply store. Be sure to select a brush size that is appropriate for your pet’s mouth with soft bristles. If this will not work for your pet, consider a finger-tip “brush”, a tissue or cloth or, as a last resort, a mouth spray (for animals who cannot tolerate anything in their mouth).

The most important things to be aware of when starting a home dental care program is to: 1) not get bitten and 2) not harm your pet’s mouth in the process of brushing. If you are unsure of your pet’s reaction, go slowly. Start with a small amount of toothpaste — let your pet smell and taste it, praising and encouraging your pet.

Add the brush once you feel comfortable and your pet knows what to expect. Brush gently, stroking from the gums downward. Do not worry about brushing the inside of the teeth, as they are kept clean by saliva. Ideally, you should brush your pet’s teeth once a day, but realistically though, once or twice a week is a lot better than nothing. Setting up a routine and getting into the habit will help.

There are a variety of biscuits on the market labeled as “tartar control.” Ask your vet if this is an option for your pet for daily oral care, and what brands she would recommend.

Now you have one more way to bond with your pet and you can go back to feeling guilty about more important things. It’s a win win!

And speaking of a win win, the Humane Society’s first adoption day of the year will be on Saturday, February 4th from 11 to 2 at the YMCA/Armory. To celebrate the New Year, adoption fees for all cats over the age of six months will be only $20.12. Warm-Up Oswego events will also be going on that day, so you can have fun, save money, and take home your own personal warming device!
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter assistance, information and referral, adoption assistance to pet owners, humane education programs, foster care and adoption for pets in urgent need, assistance with lost and found pets. Our administrative offices and spay/neuter clinic are located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Check our web site at www.oswegohumane.org or call (315) 207-1070 for more information or to be placed on our mailing list for our newsletter.