We all know February is the month of love and devotion, but did you know it’s also National Pet Dental Health Month? That’s right – a whole month dedicated to our pets’ oral health! Personally, we can’t think of a better way to show our four-legged friends the love than caring for their well-being.

Dr. Erin Hickey, Lead Veterinarian at the Dumb Friends League, recently shared why our pets’ dental health is so important and what we can do to keep them happy and thriving for years to come!

More teeth, more problems?

No matter their size, most dogs have 42 permanent teeth (and most cats have 30). That means that the tiniest chihuahua has the same dental layout as a great Dane! Because smaller breed dogs have less room in their mouths to house their pearly whites, they have a greater likelihood of overcrowding. This can lead to tartar and germ buildup between the teeth and under the gums. “[Smaller dogs] are typically going to need dental [procedures] more frequently. They typically are going to need more extractions,” explained Dr.  Hickey.

Breed differences aside, genetics and species may also have a hand in dental health and development. While our feline friends may not vary as much in size, they’re still susceptible to serious conditions, including resorptive lesions (or painful tooth erosion).

The solution to these conditions, Dr. Hickey said, lies in daily preventative care.

To brush or not to brush?

“The best thing you can do [for your pet’s oral health] is to start young and brush every day,” said Dr. Hickey. “Make it a habit!”

We get it. Brushing your pet’s teeth may not always be such an easy feat, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it! “Give [your dog or cat] a little squeeze of toothpaste like a treat to start with,” recommends Dr. Hickey. (Remember, this isn’t just any old toothpaste. Your pet will love the poultry or meaty flavors of special canine or feline toothpaste, which can be found at many pet stores and veterinary clinics.) Brush with a special all-natural pet toothbrush or carefully with a finger brush for about 20-30 seconds on each side, and then treat your sweet friend with another squeeze of the tasty toothpaste as a reward.

Additionally, all pets should receive annual veterinary exams, including a dental evaluation. At this time, the veterinarian will assess the health of your pet’s mouth, including their teeth, tongue, gums, and lips. Professional dental procedures often require your pet to be sedated to fully clean plaque and calculus buildup that cannot be removed at home. Tooth extractions may be necessary if your pet’s teeth are broken or rotten, or if they are experiencing gum disease.

From the horse’s mouth

When it comes to our equine friends, dental care may look quite different, but it’s equally important. Horses have hypsodont teeth, meaning they are constantly growing throughout their lifetime. Because of this, their teeth may wear unevenly, causing “hooks” or sharp edges that can cause painful ulcers on their tongue or the inside of their cheeks. In addition to a general oral examination, most horses should have their teeth “floated” (or gently filed) at least once per year.

Potential signs of dental (and other) disease

Many of us have made a good-natured joke or two about our pet’s breath, but halitosis (or terrible breath) is often no laughing matter for the animals in our lives. In fact, it may be a key indicator that our pet’s oral health is in decline. According to Dr. Hickey, plaque and tartar buildup can cause bacteria that may lead to foul odors and, worse yet, severe dental disease and illnesses elsewhere in the body.

Furthermore, it is essential to pay careful attention to changes in our pets’ habits. Is your pup disinterested in her dinner or chewing on only one side of her mouth? Is your cat suddenly sensitive to the chin scratches or cheek pets he normally loves? While these changes in behavior might seem insignificant at first, they could indicate underlying dental disease or other health conditions. If you notice a difference in your pet’s behavior or any signs of discomfort, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

You can handle the tooth!

Right now is the perfect time to begin a dental health regimen for your animal friends. By lovingly caring for their teeth and gums, you can significantly improve their long-term health and quality of life! Just a few minutes of brushing a day can make such a difference.

For additional information on helping your pets feel their best, visit our resource page.