Pets Need Dentists, Too

Trish Consunji: 916-649-0599 (California Veterinary Medical Association)


Pets Need Dentists, Too!
Regular Dental Care Can Increase Pets’ Life Spans

Sacramento – Brush your teeth every day. See your dentist regularly. We’ve all heard those basic admonishments since an early age. In order to keep our teeth healthy throughout our lives, we need to adhere to that solid advice.

Humans aren’t the only ones, however, who should be brushing frequently and having their teeth checked. California veterinarians urge pet owners to remember regular dental care for their furry family members. February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Use the opportunity to have a veterinarian check your pet’s teeth.

“By the age of three, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have developed gum disease,” said Jon Klingborg, DVM, past-president of the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). “It’s been proven that unchecked dental disease can not only result in a loss of teeth, but may damage your pet’s heart, kidneys, liver, and other organs.”

“In other words,” Dr. Klingborg added, “not taking care of your pet’s teeth can affect its overall health.”

A pet’s bad breath, long a standard running complaint in many households, is often a first indicator of dental problems. When left untreated, plaque and tartar form naturally in your pet’s mouth when food remains in the crevices of the teeth, especially in the gum line. This ultimately leads to periodontal disease that can cause bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream with potentially harmful effects on internal organs.

“Oral disease is the No. 1 health problem diagnosed in dogs and cats,” said Dr. Klingborg. “It’s vitally important to have your pet undergo a dental exam by a veterinarian every six to 12 months and establish a home dental care routine that includes a healthy diet and regular brushing.”

Make sure that it is a veterinarian who conducts the dental exam. California law is designed to protect our animal companions, and it clearly states that only a veterinarian or a layperson under the supervision of a veterinarian can perform dental procedures. This includes using any type of metal or hard plastic scaler. Pet owners should be concerned if they have their pets’ teeth cleaned in a grooming facility or pet shop. Only a soft item like a toothbrush or gauze can be used in these facilities to brush an animal’s teeth. Asking about the method used can save your pet from harm.

Veterinarians are trained in animal dentistry and have the equipment and knowledge to expertly care for your pet’s teeth. Discuss your pet’s specific diet your veterinarian. Canned foods, which tend to stick to teeth easily, and soft foods should be avoided, while hard food and certain chewing toys are beneficial because they can dislodge plaque while it is still soft. Your veterinarian may recommend a special dental diet if it is indicated.

Ideally, your pet’s teeth should be brushed daily. Here are some easy steps to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy:

1) If you have never brushed your pet’s teeth, start by rubbing your pet’s gums, beginning at the front and working to the back, with your index finger. You may want to wrap some gauze around your finger, and then dip your finger into beef bouillon for dogs or tuna water for cats. This gets them familiar with the general idea.

2) Next, get a toothbrush designed for pets or a very soft human toothbrush, as well as specially formulated toothpaste – both can be obtained from your veterinarian. Never use human toothpaste because it can upset your pet’s stomach. Repeat the process you began with your finger by substituting the toothbrush. Avoid forceful restraint of your pet; rather, try to make it a fun bonding experience, and always praise and reward your pet for its cooperation.

3) Keep the sessions short. Even brushing for just one minute can make a difference! Generally, pets get used to the procedure and enjoy the taste of the toothpaste. They think it’s a treat!

Regular dental check-up visits to your veterinarian are strongly recommended, and the interval between check-ups varies from pet to pet. Only your veterinarian should remove hardened tartar.

To access past CVMA press releases, visit the CVMA Media Center in the News Room at

The California Veterinary Medical Association is the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States, with more than 7,000 members. Founded in 1888, its mission is to serve its membership and community through innovative leadership and to improve animal and human health in an ethically and socially responsible manner.

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