February is Pet Dental Health Month, and that means it’s time to focus on your pet’s chompers (and the rest of her mouth). And while this is actually important all year long, sometimes a little reminder is all we need to get back on track.

It’s estimated that, by age 3, over 80% of dogs have some type of dental disease. For cats, it’s between 50 and 90% of cats older than four. It could be mild, or serious dental disease, but that stat alone should make it clear that paying attention to those pearly whites is essential!

So, what does it mean if your pet has dental disease, and what are some of the best ways to prevent it?

The Importance of Pet Dental Health

Common sings of dental disease in pets include:

  • Broken, chipped, or loose teeth
  • Red, swollen, painful gums
  • Bad breath
  • Painful and/or bleeding mouth
  • Refusal or inability to eat and/or drink
  • Excessive drooling

None of these are good, so of course you want to avoid them. If you do notice them, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your vet to get things checked out, just in case.

But that’s not all. Taking care of your animal’s teeth is about more than just the teeth. Oral health actually impacts overall health! For example, if the bacteria in plaque enters the bloodstream, it can spread to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver. This can damage organs and make your pet quite sick.

How to Care for Your Pet’s Teeth

Thankfully, most dental disease can be prevented with proper oral care. There are several ways to reduce plaque buildup and keep pet dental health in check.

Brush, Brush, Brush

Brushing your cat or dog’s teeth promotes good oral health and can prevent potentially expensive surgeries down the road. It’s easier than you think:

  1. Find a calm, quiet place. If you’re new to this, it can be stressful, so try to keep it relaxed – and your pet too.
  2. Use a pet toothbrush. These are easy to find online or at most pet supply stores. One that fits on the tip of your finger is probably the easiest to use. You can even wrap some gauze around your finger and use that.
  3. Start off slow. Don’t just show the toothbrush in your pet’s mouth and go to town. Start by showing your dog the brush. Let them sniff it and see that it’s not a big deal. Touch the teeth and gums gently, without brushing. Once your dog or cat seems comfortable, then start brushing. Don’t use too much pressure, but some is good to get the plaque off.
  4. Use a pet-friendly toothpaste. We like to make our own:
  • 1/4 cup of finely ground eggshells (save your eggshells, rinse them, then bake them for about 15 minutes at 450°)
  • 1 – 3 tbsp of MCT oil – enough to make a thick paste
  • 1 tbsp or less of baking soda 

IMPORTANT: Never use human toothpaste. It’s not made for pets, and often contains ingredients like xylitol, which is toxic, especially for dogs.

Tooth-friendly Treats & Toys

You can find lots of ‘dog dental treats’ out there, but we prefer ones you can probably find in your fridge right now! Part of that is because most dental chews/treats are carbohydrate-based, and carbohydrates make more plaque.

A carrot stick or apple slices are good snacks that most dogs enjoy, and although they won’t get rid of established plaque, they will scrape food off as your dog chews. Of course, these aren’t always ideal for cats – they’re usually far more picky when it comes to treats.

As for toys, nibbling and gnawing on a variety of chews keeps pets entertained and helps their teeth stay clean and healthy. Look for ones with ridges or nubs to get in all the nooks and crannies.

Protective Probiotics

Did you know that probiotics not only play a critical role in gut health, but in oral health as well? It’s true. The microbiome in the mouth is just as impressive as the one in the gut. All those friendly bacteria turn into soldiers in the mouth, fighting germs just like they do in the digestive tract. In fact, when you rub probiotics onto your pet’s gums, they actually form a protective biofilm.

If you add probiotics to your pet’s food on a regular basis, this partially does the trick, but taking some and rubbing it directly in the mouth is even better. You can also make a probiotic paste with some coconut oil and brush the teeth with that! Double duty!

Raw Bones

Raw bones offer friction and natural teeth cleaning. When it comes to pet dental health, they’re pretty powerful. They act like floss in the mouth, polishing and scraping away tartar as your pet crunches and gnaws. Additionally, any raw meat on those bones contributes to an acidic environment in the mouth, which can help stop plaque formation and freshen your animal’s breath!

  • Proceed with caution (or not at all) with weight bearing bones. These are the leg bones of the animals and they can be really, really hard. They can splinter or crack your dog’s teeth. These types of bones include: lamb shank, turkey leg, chicken leg, marrow bone (beef). Some dogs are ok to gently chew these or tear the meat off, but many will also try to eat the bones itself, which can be dangerous.
  • Never feed cooked bones. Raw bones are great, but once you cook them, their whole composition changes. Cooked bones become brittle, and they can break and splinter as your dog chews away. These sharp pieces can not only do damage in the mouth, they can also do damage as they travel along the digestive tract. Tears to the intestines, stomach, or esophagus are painful and life-threatening, and can leave you rushing to the vet for costly and invasive surgery. Cooked bones can also do damage to your dog’s teeth. Just keep the cooked bones for the compost pile rather than your dog’s bowl.

[RELATED] For more tips, and to find the best bone for your pup, read this next.

A little TLC goes a long way. This Pet Dental Health Month (and all year long) get in there and give those pearly whites a good scrub.