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We go above and beyond to make sure our pets are fed, hydrated, vaccinated, safe and happy. But one area in which pet parents often fall short is dental hygiene. According to a 2016 study by Banfield Pet Hospital, 76% of dogs and 68% of cats suffer from periodontal disease. So, what gives? If you’re worried you haven’t been doing enough to maintain a healthy smile for your fur baby, keep reading for some super-simple ways to stay on top of your pet’s dental hygiene.

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1. Schedule Cleanings 

Just like people, animals should see a dentist annually. Even young dogs and cats can develop periodontal disease (a bacterial infection that often results in tooth loss), so the earlier you start visiting the vet for dental checkups, the better. Before your pet’s next annual physical exam, give the vet a heads-up that you’d like someone to take a look at your pet’s teeth. It’s as quick as making a phone call or writing an email, and catching a problem early can save you big bucks in dental surgery or extractions down the road.   

2. Smell Their Breath

Bad breath is a big clue that something is up with your pet’s mouth. Unfortunately, if her breath reeks to high heaven, chances are some bacteria is already brewing in there. Still, being aware of any changes in breath means you’re staying on top of your pet’s well-being and could help prevent a disease from getting worse.  

3. Lift Their Lips 

While it’s not always possible to see signs of periodontal disease, it’s good to check if the gums are inflamed or bleeding at the tooth root. Plus, repeating this simple action familiarizes your pet over time with the feeling of your hands on his mouth, which makes actual brushing less of a struggle. 

4. Give Them Treats

Brands like Greenies (a brand approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council) and SmartBones make treats designed and formulated to reduce tartar and clean teeth as animals chew. Raw veggies like carrots are also great snacks for dogs because they gently scrape buildup from teeth. You can even mix a capful of Arm & Hammer’s dog dental rinse into your pup’s water bowl. Water additives like this can help kill bad bacteria in your dog’s mouth. 

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5. Let Them Play with Toys

Toys are terrific supplemental teeth cleaners, especially for dogs who love to chew. Bones made from durable rubber with ridges or bumps are best because they scrape away plaque as your dog plays. Beware of super-hard toys with no give, weak plastic toys and bones that splinter. These can all break or chip teeth. By the way, cats love chewing too, so set up a cat grass kit for similar results.  

6. Brush Early and Often 

Start brushing your pet’s teeth when she is young. It’s helpful to pair teeth cleaning with other grooming musts like nail clipping or coat brushing. For canines, use a toothbrush designed for dogs and a toothpaste in a dog-friendly flavor like chicken that they’ll actually enjoy tasting. If your dog hates having something shoved into her mouth, try a finger brush. For cats, who are notoriously difficult when it comes to anything invading their personal space, try a dental pretzel they can gnaw on and a seafood-flavored toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste. 

7. Know Their Unique Risks

Smaller dog breeds like Yorkshire terriers and dachshunds often experience overcrowding in their mouths because they don’t shed their baby teeth as effectively as larger breeds do. This means plaque and tartar build up faster and thicker.  

Cats are especially susceptible to dental resorption and stomatitis. Dental resorption is the process by which the cat’s gums begin to grow over a tooth or the tooth develops holes right near the gum line. Stomatitis is characterized by inflammation or ulcers in the gums. All of this is super painful (and expensive to fix).   

All pets can develop severe, chronic kidney disease and liver issues if dental problems aren’t caught and dealt with. If your pet seems to be in pain as he eats or you notice a drastic change in  his behavior, head to your vet’s office to see if something is going on internally. The more you know, the better you can protect your pet from dental disease. A few extra steps here and there can ensure a happy, healthy mouth.

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