This is a special month for pets. February is when humane
organizations and veterinarians join together to offer low-cost
spay and neuter surgeries.
This is a special month for pets. February is when humane organizations and veterinarians join together to offer low-cost spay and neuter surgeries.

But February is also the time when vets get out the word about your pet’s dental health. Dogs and cats develop tartar and plaque on their teeth just the same as people. Tartar leads to gingivitis, a word you hear in television and radio ads all the time.

Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) can cause bad breath, but it can also lead to loose teeth, infection and potentially dangerous abscesses of the jaw.

Gingivitis is usually easy to avoid. There are even some special kibbles that can help to clean your dog’s or cat’s teeth.

Talk to your pet’s veterinarian about what you can do to make you furry friend’s mouth healthier and fresher. You’ll both be glad you did.

Q: My dog has horrible breath and is in desperate need of a good teeth-cleaning. The problem is, I’m finding this whole tooth-brushing thing easier said than done. My poor pooch hates it when I try to clean her teeth. Can you help?

A: If there is significant tartar on your dog’s teeth, she will first need to have them scaled (cleaned) and polished by a veterinarian. Brushing alone can not remove a heavy tartar buildup.

Once the teeth are cleaned, you’ll have better success brushing your dog’s teeth if you make it an enjoyable event. Brushing has to be fun and it has to have its rewards if she is going to accept it.

To start out, put something tasty on the brush and let her lick it. Special toothpaste for dogs works best because it tastes good. Don’t use your own toothpaste. She probably won’t like the taste and if she swallows any, she will get an upset stomach.

Repeat this introduction several times for the first few days, playing with the flavored brush. Don’t try to get into her mouth at first. Make a game out of it, so that when she cooperates, she gets a reward. After a few days, you can try to put your finger with some paste in her mouth. If this is successful, gently try the toothbrush. But go slowly. It make take up to 2 weeks to really gain her confidence. Be sure to reward her every time with a treat when she is a good girl.

Once she accepts the idea of brushing, make it part of your daily routine, at least five times a week. You’ll need to stick to this kind of schedule to be effective. And always remember, it has to be fun, or your sweet little girl with the sour breath won’t go for it.

Q: I have a question about dental hygiene. Is it necessary for owners to brush their cat’s teeth? I know there are products on the market to help do this. But what about special foods? Do foods that claim to clean teeth really work?

A: Daily brushing is the best hygiene for maintaining cleaning teeth. But for many pets and their owners, this is almost impossible.

Some newer pet foods are made in such a way that when your pet chews, the kibble acts as a mild abrasive. This cleans plaque or tartar from the surface of the teeth. As you would expect, some of these products are more effective than others. And since no controlled studies show which ones work best, you may be left to try one out and see how it works.

A prescription diet available through your pet’s veterinarian is as good, if not better that any other store product. But if your cat doesn’t chew his or her food, none of these products will work. I have this problem with my cat, Rumpy. He rarely chews his food much at all and instead, swallows it whole. So Rumpy tends to develop plaque very easily and I have to clean his teeth regularly. If only he would learn to eat properly.

Pete Keesling is a veterinarian at San Martin Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts Petpourri, a weekly show about pet health on KTEH in San Jose and a bi-weekly column for The Times. If you have any questions about pet care, please mail them to The Times, Attn: Vets, 30 E. Third St., Morgan Hill, CA 95037.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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