Why does my pet have bad breath?! 3 Steps to prevent pet dental problems
Have you ever been loving up your pet – giving them hugs and they come in for a wet, sloppy kiss? Before they can even get to you, you are knocked over with the odor emanating from their mouth. Or your pet yawns in your face and the garbage-can smell hits your nostrils like a ton of bricks?!
If you have experienced this with your pet and don’t want to have to hold your nose when your pet wants attention – I’ve got the dental downlow for you! Read more to learn about your pet’s teeth and how you can help prevent dental disease and bad breath in your pet.
Puppies and kittens are born without teeth just like human babies. Their baby teeth, also known as deciduous teeth, come in around 2-4 weeks of age. Kittens tend to have their baby teeth come in a little sooner than puppies, but both species have all their baby teeth in completely by 8 weeks of age.
By 14-16 weeks of age, adult teeth begin to come in. If you have a puppy or kitten, you may even find a few teeth around the house as pets lose their baby teeth just like humans do!
Cats have 30 adult teeth and dogs have 42, but not all pets have each and every tooth. It is possible to have a dog or cat that was not born with all its adult teeth. This happens more commonly in “squish-faced” breeds like bulldogs, Pugs and Shih Tzus.
Did you know 91% of dogs and 85% of cats have some amount of dental disease?! Those numbers are staggering! This means there is a good chance your furry friend at home needs some dental prevention and care.
I frequently get asked by pet owners why their pet’s breath smells bad. I always ask the follow-up question, “when is the last time they were brushed?”. The pet owner usually has a lightbulb moment when people realize their pet’s mouth and teeth require as much preventative care as human teeth. Can you imagine what our teeth would be like if we brushed them only once or twice a year?
In fact, the best way to prevent the start of dental disease is to begin by brushing your pet’s teeth. It is best to use veterinarian-approved toothpaste that is specifically formulated for pets. Using human toothpaste contains fluoride, which if swallowed, could be toxic. The pet kinds of toothpaste do not have fluoride, but work with the help of enzymes and are safe if your pet swallows the paste. You can find pet toothbrushes and toothpaste at any pet store.
Because pets don’t understand the importance of oral health, don’t be surprised if they aren’t immediately comfortable with you brushing their teeth. It will take some time, practice, and patience to get them comfortable with you brushing their teeth.
Follow these few steps to get started:
Allow your pet to sniff and examine the toothbrush and toothpaste. You can then put a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and let them lick it off. We want to get pets used to the taste and sight of toothpaste and brush. Continue to repeat this step for a few minutes each day or so until your pet is comfortable with the taste and sight of the brush and paste.
For a few weeks, try using some of the toothpaste on the brush and putting the brush on the teeth or gums, but don’t move it back and forth just yet.
Once your pet is comfortable with steps 1 and 2, try brushing one or two teeth at a time. Over time, as your pet is more comfortable, try brushing one or two more teeth until you can brush them all.
Know that even the best pets won’t just open wide and let us brush every nook and cranny. It is a new sensation for pets to get used to, so make sure you take your time and don’t skip steps until your pet is completely comfortable. It is common for it to take weeks or even months to get pets comfortable.
To help reinforce a positive experience when brushing the teeth, you can even give a small treat when the toothbrush and toothpaste come out. A treat that is only given when you brush their teeth so it is a special treat that gets their attention.
It goes without saying, but please be very careful! Dogs and cats obviously have teeth – and we are sticking our fingers into their mouths, so getting bit, even if they didn’t mean to do it is always a concern. This is why it is important to start slow, and progress to each step only when your pet is comfortable.
Please stop attempting to brush their teeth and seek veterinary care if you are having difficulty with step one or if your pet seems painful or uncomfortable.
Brushing the teeth won’t take off hard tartar (discoloration of the teeth, usually at the gum line), but it will help to slow the process and/or remove the plaque (soft, white creamy-like debris at the gum line).
If your pet has heavy tartar, reddened, or bleeding gums and/or has loose teeth, please seek veterinary care first to fully assess the mouth and teeth. The last thing we want is to start brushing teeth that could be painful. Some pets can associate brushing the teeth with pain, which will make it harder, in the long run, to get your pet used to having their teeth brushed.
Despite the best brushing of your pet’s teeth, a dental cleaning and assessment under anesthesia are needed for many pets. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on bad breath, dental disease, and professional dental cleanings under anesthesia. We will even talk about non-anesthetic dental cleanings! Make sure to enter your email below and sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss anything! Happy Brushing!