Dental Hygiene In Dogs And Cats

Most of us know oral hygiene can play a critical role in a person’s overall health, but did you know the same applies for your furry friends? Humans schedule regular dental cleanings to keep their gums and teeth healthy, but dental health in dogs and cats may be overlooked by pet owners.

Dr. J.R. “Bert” Dodd, clinical professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained some common dental hygiene issues in dogs and cats. “Poor oral hygiene in dogs and cats can lead to excess tartar, swellings in the mouth and severe wear of the teeth (or broken teeth) from chewing on inappropriate objects,” he said. “In addition, periodontal — or gum — disease can arise from neglected oral health. If preventative dental health is not practiced and periodontal therapy — which includes the scaling, root planning, curettage, and extraction of teeth — is ignored, your pet may become more susceptible to other health complications.”

In fact, an animal’s teeth may be more important to its overall health than most pet owners realize. For example, bacteria in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body and cause infections, so keeping the mouth healthy can help keep your pet’s body healthier. Dodd also explained that good dental hygiene can lead to a longer, healthier life for your pet. “Taking care of your pet’s mouth and keeping it nice and healthy can help the animal live longer,” Dodd explained. “Good oral hygiene can help prevent diseases or secondary infections, such as liver, heart, kidney and joint disease from bacteria originating in the mouth and spreading through the body via the bloodstream. A dog or cat’s teeth need to be well taken care of and treated with respect.”

Although your veterinarian can help in routine dental check-ups and treatments, dog and cat owners can reduce the risk of dental hygiene issues at home. “It is best to begin home care when your puppy or kitten is between eight and 12 weeks old; however, it is never too late to start,” Dodd noted. “The first step is to train your pet to accept the brushing of their teeth. The best approach is to establish a routine of brushing your pet’s teeth with gauze around your finger. It may be helpful to use beef or chicken broth with dogs or tuna water with cats to get them accustomed to the routine instead of using cleaning agents. Once your pet is familiar with the daily routine, you can switch out the gauze for a finger brush or a very soft toothbrush. Then you can incorporate using veterinarian-approved pet toothpaste.”

In addition to homecare, pet owners can arrange for their pet to have an annual teeth cleaning under anesthesia at their local veterinary clinic. Veterinarian prescribed dental diets, proper dental chew toys and drinking water additives — products that can be mixed into pet drinking water to help control bacteria level and plaque in the mouth — may also assist in preventing dental hygiene issues. However, if your pet has persistent bad breath, experiences bleeding from the mouth or tooth, a change in eating behaviour and sensitivity to touch around the mouth, it may be a sign of a more serious dental health condition.

Dental therapy for more serious health conditions include many of the same procedures that help humans maintain healthy teeth, gums and mouths. Available treatments include oral surgery, periodontics, endodontics, restorations and even orthodontics. Some of these procedures may be offered by your family veterinarian or you may be referred to a board-certified veterinary dentist.

It is important for pet owners to recognize the connection between healthy teeth and their animal’s overall health. When you make a dental appointment for yourself, it might be a good idea to make a veterinary appointment to have your pet’s teeth cleaned as well. Proper dental hygiene helps promote a longer, healthier life for your pet.

From the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University:

Young Dogs Can Get Growing Pains

Panosteitis is an inflammatory disease of the bones of young dogs. It causes a sudden onset of lameness, resulting in recurrent limping. It occurs in many breeds of dogs, but German Shepherds, especially males, seem more prone to getting it. Dogs between five to 12 months of age are most often affected, although it can strike as early as two months and as late as five years of age. Panosteitis usually affects the long bones only and seldom involves more than one leg at a time. Once it has affected a bone, it is not likely to reappear in that same bone again. As a result, a dog may limp on one leg for a short while, stop limping and then limp on another leg.

The cause of panosteitis remains unknown. Some experts believe that hereditary factors are involved, especially since this disease seems to occur along familial lines. Nutrition does not appear to be implicated, but allergies, metabolic disturbances, infections, immune system dysfunction, parasitism and hormonal problems have been suggested as possible causes.

Most affected dogs recover without treatment by two years of age. Until then, episodes of lameness may occur with varying degrees of severity and for varying lengths of time. These episodes may occur at irregular intervals two to three weeks apart and may last from several days to several weeks. Each episode can range from mild lameness to complete disuse of the leg.

As the dog gets older, the severity of the lameness episodes should gradually lessen and the periods of remission in between the attacks should last longer. Eventually, the disease runs its course and the patient is free of pain and clinical signs.

To diagnose this disorder, your veterinarian takes an x-ray of the affected leg. Once a diagnosis of panosteitis has been made, your veterinarian may suggest medication to relieve inflammation and pain. Treating with prednisone is effective in relieving pain and resolving lameness but does not alter the course of the disease. Restricting exercise or enforced rest also does not appear to make any difference. Too much exercise, on the other hand, should be discouraged.

More great pet content is available at


As a professional trainer, I often hear the same questions from concerned puppy owners wanting to train their dog to avoid aggression and be the best dog that he or she can be. One thing to remember is that all puppies are completely different in terms of their personality, and the impact of nature versus nurture. Remember that 50% of a dog’s personality and behaviour traits are based on genetics, and the other 50% is determined by what we do right and wrong with them when they are a puppy.


A: A positive interrupter is a noise that cues a dog to expect something it likes. Once you have conditioned the dog to reacts to the noise in anticipation for the good thing to follow, you can use it to call your puppy away from potentially dangerous situations or to stop them from chewing on items, such as furniture. Always reward the puppy for leaving these situations, and then focus their mind on something more safe and suitable.


A: Management is the key to success here. Puppies are used to relieving themselves whenever they require, which could be when they wake up, or even in the middle of play. Get your puppy on a good schedule starting with going outside every 20 to 30 minutes for the first week of training (for most eight-week-old pups). If no accidents happen inside the home, increase the intervals between bathroom breaks to 45 minutes for a week. If the success is maintained, bump the indoor time to one hour between outside visits, and so on. If at any time your dog has an accident, go back a step for another week and increase the intervals again based on success.

What if you bring your pup outside and they do nothing? Come back inside with the pup on leash (no freedom) and then try again every 15 minutes until they relieve themselves, at which time they can come inside and experience freedom again!


A: When your puppy puts teeth to your skin, you can say “ouch” in a flat tone while raising your hands in the air (as if you’re surrendering). If the puppy stops the unwanted behaviour, offer your hand back to them and say “kisses” (offering your palms to the pup). If the pup licks your hand, praise them calmly and provide a suitable toy for the pup to play with. If the puppy does not stop and lunges for your hands (or any other body part), get up and leave them behind for two minutes, isolated. When you come back, do not acknowledge the pup in an excited way — just act normally and calmly. Repeat when necessary.

You also need to practice proactive training by smearing honey or peanut butter on your fingers and hands, allowing puppy to lick them on a regular basis. This this will teach them what to do with people’s hands — lick and be gentle. If this doesn’t work, it could be that your puppy is not getting sufficient sleep time throughout the day (pups should be up for a total of five hours each day), or that they do not have proper chew toys.


A: A leash can be fun for puppies because it’s a long, skinny cloth that they can really sink their teeth into. The best way is to train your puppy with the leash on so they can habituate themselves to it while enjoying some treats, too. Ignore it when the puppy is mouthing the leash; if you move the leash, you make it more interactive and fun. Keep it boring and keep walking, engaging your puppy with its environment while practicing other training items.


A: Creating a small area for your pup to sleep in can be one of the easiest ways to get them to settle in for the night. It has to be a big enough space that allows them to move around, but small enough so they can’t have a party by themselves in the middle of the night. Puppies always need access to fresh water and a soft bed, and you can give your puppy a safe bone to gnaw on if he wakes up and is bored; this should pacify him back to sleep.

Set the puppy up to succeed by tiring them out one hour before bed (physically and mentally) and then give them a drink. Allow a one-hour rest period for the water to go through their system and one last bathroom break before heading off to bed.

Kristin Crestejo, CDBC, is head trainer and behaviour consultant at Modern Canine Training in Kamloops, BC.