LOS ANGELES — Dogs and cats can’t brush, spit, gargle or floss on their own. So owners who want to avoid bad pet breath will need to lend a hand.
“Brushing is the gold standard for good oral hygiene at home. It is very effective, but some dogs and more cats don’t appreciate having something in their mouth,” said Dr. Colin Harvey, a professor of surgery and dentistry in the Department of Clinical Studies for the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
The bulk of bad breath odor comes from hydrogen sulfide, which is waste from anaerobic bacteria that thrive without oxygen in places like gaps between teeth and gums. Plaque buildup also invites the bacteria and as the accumulation grows, so does the smell.
Animal shelters and rescues know bad breath and filthy teeth can be a deal breaker. Some shelters, such as the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County in Florida, shuffle their charges through a dental health program before the animals are adopted out.
“We usually do dental cleanings and extractions when animals are spayed or neutered so the animal doesn’t have to be put under anesthesia again after adoption and the adopter has one less thing to worry about,” said Janet Winikoff, the shelter’s director of education.
If a pet is already spayed or neutered, it will still get dental care before adoption, she said. Harvey added that bad breath could also be a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
Stacy Silva, Santa Barbara County Animal Services’ community outreach coordinator, noted that wear on teeth could give the wrong impression of an animal’s age. “(The animals) may look a lot older than their teeth, and it may just be a matter of cleaning the tartar off that gets them back looking their age and that helps them to be adopted,” said Silva.
The animals that need a cleaning get chew toys or ropes, hard treats or cookies and a prescription diet if the vet orders it, she said.
Harvey, who has been director of the Veterinary Oral Health Council since it was founded in 1970, said such products are good substitutes for a teeth-brushing. Pet owners can try a combination or use other products such as water additives, chew toys, plaque and tartar cleaners, and dental diets, Harvey said.
Puppies and kittens are born toothless. They get their baby teeth before they’re a month old, lose them three to five months later and get their permanent teeth by age 1. Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30.
Use a human, ADA-compliant, flathead toothbrush with soft bristles and rounded tips for pet use. A child’s brush can be used for small pets and an adult size for big dogs, but don’t use human toothpaste on pets, Harvey warned.
Veterinary technician Aubrey Mallory checks the teeth of a six-week-old male pit bull mix named Kobe, in Vero Beach, Fla. Regular exams help spot bad breath, an early warning sign of pet dental disease.×
A cat named Pepper sits near the toothpaste and brush after getting her teeth brushed at home in Phoenix.×
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