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Why Dental Care for Pets Is Important: The Best Products for Pet Dental Care

Cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and other animals enter our lives and become our faithful companions. Although caring for your four-legged friend is a priority — with food, grooming, exercise and more — you may not think about their dental care. But a pet's dental health affects their overall well-being.

Domestic dogs and cats are both prone to dental disease. It is so widespread that 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs have dental disease by the time they reach age 3. Other animal species also experience unique teeth problems due to poor care.

Pet dental care starts at the root of the problem, targeting the causes of gum disease or weakened teeth and how you can prevent these problems. While dental health applies to virtually any pet with teeth, our primary focus for this article will be cats and dogs. Continue reading to learn more about the importance of pet dental care, as well as some tips for pet dental care pet owners and groomers can use. 

Why Does Your Pet Need Dental Care?

Wild animals typically don't have dental health issues, aside from rare instances — such as if an animal got injured in a fight. Domestication, however, has changed animals' diets, which, in turn, also affects their oral health. Being in captivity also usually means animals live longer, so their teeth are more prone to wear and tear. Here's how domestication contributes to the need for human intervention in animal tooth care. 

1. Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats are both carnivores. In the wild, they would only eat the prey they caught and consume water — neither of which contain refined sugars and other processed ingredients that would be conducive to tooth damage. 

The foods we feed our domesticated cats and dogs, however, do often have those ingredients. Additionally, the dry kibble and wet food varieties don't effectively clean the resulting plaque and tartar from the teeth, especially along the gumline. 

2. Horses and Other Large Livestock

Large livestock animals, like horses and cows, are herbivores. Horses, for instance, have a set of six incisors for tearing and grasping the plants they eat. They also have a set of molars that work to mash grasses and other foliage enough to be digested. Similar to cats and dogs in the wild, undomesticated horses do not typically have dental problems, since they spend somewhere around 14 hours a day grazing and foraging.

In domesticated horses, however, that grazing time is often substantially more limited, and the foods are often more processed. Also, many wear bits that allow them to respond to various cues from their human riders. All these factors affect a horse's dental health.

3. Small Animals and Rodents

Small herbivores also need specialized dental care. Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas have open-rooted teeth, meaning their teeth will keep growing during their life. They must continuously wear their teeth down to prevent them from getting too long. In the wild, this is not a problem, since these animals have enough foliage, wood and other elements to chew. 

A problem these animals encounter in captivity, though, is malocclusion or misaligned teeth. They may not be able to chew enough to keep their teeth worn to the correct point, and then the teeth become overgrown, resulting in other health issues. 

Reasons Why Dental Health Is Important for Pets

The importance of dental care for pets extends beyond keeping their teeth intact for eating. Poor dental hygiene can affect other parts of your pet's health. The four following reasons for maintaining your pet's teeth can help your pet stay pain-free, live longer and avoid serious health conditions:

1. Protects From Dental Disease

Periodontal disease is when the tissue around dogs' or cats' teeth erodes due to infection. Plaque and tartar buildup on a pet's teeth begins when soft substances remain on their surfaces. As we saw earlier, the processed foods cats and dogs consume today result in more residue getting left behind on the teeth. Eventually, these unremoved substances harden into tartar.

Layers of tartar accumulate when the process of plaque buildup repeats. Eventually, the gum, tooth root and tooth socket become infected and weak. Your pet's tooth tissue and bone sockets — which hold teeth securely in their mouth — wear away, allowing teeth to hang loosely or fall out.

Periodontal disease is painful for your pet, but it also makes eating difficult. Home care for pets, professional teeth cleaning and observation of their behavior can help you catch dental disease before it becomes serious.

2. Keeps Harmful Bacteria From Creating Other Serious Health Concerns

As bacteria collect under the gums, they can affect more than an animal's mouth. The bacteria can travel to the heart, kidneys and liver through the bloodstream. The same bacteria that start dental disease also harm major organs. For example, kidneys act as a filter for regulating substances in pets' systems, but dental bacteria can cause them to become inefficient.

One of the most prevalent causes of kidney disease in dogs is when dental disease becomes advanced. Liver and heart disease can be the result of severe dental disease as well. Poor dental health can negatively affect cats' kidneys, too. 

3. Helps Prevent Painful Tooth Loss, Breakage or Wear

Tooth loss can happen for other reasons aside from periodontal disease. From gnawing on bones to regular wear and tear, an animal's teeth can deteriorate. They might become intensely worn down after many years, too. However, maintaining your pets' dental health can help their teeth stay strong and keep tooth decay and damage at bay. 

Dental Care Products for Pets You Can Use at Home

To keep your pet's teeth in the best condition possible, you need the right tools. Here is a look at some of the dental care products for pets you can find right here at Frank Rowe & Son Inc.: 

1. Pet Toothpaste

Pet toothpaste is a crucial product that can cleanse your pet's teeth from debris and lodged food. There are also pet toothpaste options that do not require a toothbrush to apply.

2. Finger Toothbrush

If you have warmed an animal up to brushing, finger toothbrushes can make the process less of a hassle. The surface area of finger brushes is larger than ordinary toothbrushes as well, making it easier to effectively clean your pet's teeth near the gumline.

3. Double-Ended Pet Toothbrush

Pet toothbrushes are essential to pet dental hygiene, but you can pick a creative option to do the job best. Double-ended toothbrushes make cleaning easier by extending your possible reach. Each brush head is a different size, so you can get tighter, smaller spots as well as the flatter surfaces.

4. Antiseptic Oral Gel

Upon veterinarian recommendation, an antiseptic oral gel can treat gum conditions with a potent enzyme formula. If inflamed gums or gingivitis are bothering a pet, apply this gel to the animal's gums regularly. The non-bitter flavor of the gel means many animals will accept it.

5. Water Additive

Tend to your pet's dental health by adding a water treatment to their bowl. Water additives include antibacterial and plaque-fighting ingredients and can be a convenient option for maintaining your pet's dental health. 

6. Dental Spray

If your pet is having a hard time letting you brush their teeth, a dental spray can be an effective and brushless alternative. There are also breath fresheners that boost overall gum and oral health and work without a toothbrush. 

How to Take Care of Your Pets' Teeth at Home

Once you have the products you need, caring for pets' teeth begins with regular brushing. To start the practice of dental care, pet owners should gradually introduce their dogs, cats and other animals to brushing with pet toothpaste — do not use human toothpaste. 

Start by getting your pet used to having your hands near their mouth, as this is not often a common practice. Then, try adding a small dab of the pet toothpaste on your finger and see if they'll lick it off. Pet toothpaste comes in pet-friendly flavors, such as chicken. Be sure to reward your pet as well with a treat or a favorite toy when they do lick off the toothpaste.

Once you've established that step, try applying a tiny bit of toothpaste on one of your pet's teeth here as well. Again, be sure to provide a reward, so your pet associates this with a positive experience. 

Next, you'll want to get your pet used to the actual toothbrush, which might take a little more time and patience. Start by putting a little bit of toothpaste on the brush and having them lick it off. Provide rewards if they do. After they are used to the brush itself, gently move your pet's lips and put the toothbrush in their mouth to carefully brush. The timeframe for tooth-brushing acceptance varies depending on the pet, so be sure to be patient! 

You can also find other products, like gels, water additives and sprays, that can help protect your pet's teeth, especially if they do not like brushing. Additionally, groomers, veterinarians and other professionals can help you maintain the health of your pet's teeth and provide deeper and more thorough cleanings as needed, so be sure to make regular visits part of your pet's health routine. 

Tools for Animal Care Professionals

Similar to how people should go to the dentist for regular cleaning, so too should pets receive regular examinations and cleanings from veterinarians. While an effective at-home tooth care routine can extend the length of time necessary between professional cleanings, your veterinarian will still need to remove tartar and plaque buildup from the teeth and under the gumline. Animal care professionals can also use the above tools for homeowners, but for veterinarians, we provide the following:

1. Tooth Scaler

Tartar buildup on a pet's teeth can be challenging to remove with a toothbrush and home dental care alone. That's why vets remove tartar with professional scalers and scrapers. Stainless steel, single-ended scalers hold up to several treatments. Be sure to leave this tool in the hands of professionals — incorrect use can create microscopic abrasions on the tooth, making it easier for bacteria to accumulate. 

2. Tooth Scraper

Similar to the scaler, be sure to leave the tooth scraper for vet use. Before tartar or calculus forms on teeth, plaque sits on teeth. A tooth scraper can remove this plaque buildup and help prevent gum disease.

What Does a Typical Professional Cleaning Entail for Pets?

Because of how in-depth a tooth cleaning at the vet is for your dog or cat, they will need to be under general anesthesia to ensure your veterinarian can complete a thorough exam and cleaning without injury to your pet. Here's what a typical professional cleaning entails.

  • X-rays: After placing your pet under general anesthesia, your veterinarian will likely take X-rays of your pet's mouth. This portion of the exam helps pinpoint any problems occurring below the gumline, such as infected teeth, abscesses and periodontal disease. 
  • Cleaning: To help prevent periodontal disease and eliminate the bacteria that cause it, it's necessary for your veterinarian to thoroughly clean under the gumline. This area is where periodontal disease starts, and cleaning this portion of your pet's mouth would be impossible to accomplish without anesthetizing your pet. During this phase, your vet will pull any infected, abscessed or other problem teeth as well. 
  • Scaling and polishing: To finish, your veterinarian will scale and polish the crown — or the visible portion — of your pet's teeth. Scaling and scraping remove the tartar buildup, then polishing creates a smooth surface that makes it harder for bacteria and food residue to adhere to. 

In most cases, unless your cat or dog has undergone another procedure in addition to the teeth cleaning, your pet will be able to go home once they wake up from the anesthesia and eat and drink as usual. 

How to Tell If Your Pet Needs Professional Teeth Cleaning

If you're wondering how to tell if your pet needs to have their teeth cleaned beyond what you can do at home, there are usually several signs. Look for:

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty eating and chewing
  • Missing or loose teeth
  • Excessive pawing at or rubbing the mouth

What You Can Do for Pet Tooth Care as a Groomer

As a groomer, you can provide simple tooth cleaning services, such as brushing, if you choose. That is a helpful way to spot any dental concerns early, which the pet's owner can then have a veterinarian examine more closely. However, groomers shouldn't try to scale or scrape the teeth, since doing it correctly requires specific training.

Another way you can help your clients keep their pet's dental health in top shape is to recommend at-home methods and products they can use between visits. The toothpaste varieties, toothbrushes, breath fresheners and water additives we have available here at Frank Rowe & Son Inc. can do just that.

Trust Frank Rowe & Son Inc. for Your Pet Dental Care Needs

When you're looking for quality pet dental care products, trust Frank Rowe & Son Inc. We have been providing groomers and owners with the highest-quality pet supplies and customer service for more than 30 years.

Shop our online selection of pet dental products today, or get in touch with our knowledgeable staff with any questions or for help finding the right products for your pet's or clients' dental health.

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