You know how every six months, you feel that pang of guilt and adulting responsibility that tells you it's time to make a dentist appointment, even though making that appointment is kind of the last thing you want to do? Well, prepare to add a little more oral hygiene guilt to your plate. Your pet's dental health is vitally important too.
Unlike humans, however, dogs and cats don't have a tooth-specific doctor to turn to for help maintaining their dental health. That responsibility falls, for the most part, to their surrogate human parents (aka you). Prioritizing your pet's dental health is vital though. Taking care of your pet's teeth at home can play a huge role in preventing (or at very least controlling) periodontal disease by minimizing the amount of plaque that builds up on their teeth and stopping that plaque from hardening into tooth-decaying tartar.
Here are 12 products and practices that can help take care of your pet's oral hygiene, from professional services you should be adding to your pet care budget, to at-home care you can be doing on your own.
1. Take them for professional cleanings
Professional cleanings at your vet's office is the most thorough way to clean your dog's teeth. Talk to your vet about the oral hygiene services they offer and their recommendations for your pet's care.
2. Use pet-friendly toothbrushes
If you decide to brush your cats or dog's teeth at home (which you totally can!), make sure that you get a pet-friendly toothbrush. Amazon and Chewy both sell several options and you can talk to your vet if you'd like advice specific to your pet.
3. Try finger toothbrushes
Some animals respond better to a finger toothbrush—a softer plastic brush with ribbed edges that slips over a human's finger for brushing. Many of these will work for both dogs and cats are super affordable.
4. Only use pet-friendly toothpaste
One thing to keep in mind if you decide to brush your pet's teeth at home is to use pet-specific toothpastes, since human toothpaste can be toxic for animals. The American Veterinary Dental College officially recommends pet-friendly toothpastes and notes that they come in flavors that pets enjoy, like poultry and seafood.
5. You can also use teeth gel for pets
Another option is teeth gel, typically made with chlorhexidine, an effective anti-plaque antiseptic that binds to tooth surfaces and is gradually released into the oral cavity. The American Veterinary Dental College endorses chlorhexidine gels and says they're safe for pets. The gel, they explain, is applied by smearing it onto the teeth. Your pet will then lick the gel and spread it around the mouth.
6. Or try tooth wipes
Pet-friendly dental wipes are single-use and intended to be used daily to clean your pet's teeth. Unlike toothbrushes and finger brushes, tooth wipes won't be able to get into the nooks and crannies of your pet's teeth.
7. Buy dental cleaning water additives
A simple, non-invasive way to promote dental hygiene for your pet is by using a water additive that will help eliminate bacteria in the pet's mouth that can build up and lead to oral hygiene issues. These additives (which, like they sound, are added to your pet's water bowl) can also help fight plaque and tartar and even help freshen your pet's breath (a major benefit if your dog or cat has particularly rancid halitosis).
8. Try pet breath sprays
Speaking of bad breath, another tool in the pet oral hygiene arsenal is breath sprays. Just like humans, pets' bad breath can be battled by simply breath-freshening sprays. As always, make sure that you get a pet-friendly product. You shouldn't just use human breath-freshener products on pets since they can be dangerous to their health.
9. Buy dental chews
Dental chews are another great way to help maintain your pet's oral hygiene in a way that they won't only be open to but will actively enjoy. Make these tasty, hygiene-helping treats a part of your regular rotation of goodies and your pet won't just love you for the treat, his or her smile will beam even longer as a result.
As the American Kennel Club explains: "These treats are made specifically to remove plaque buildup and often contain ingredients that freshen breath and clean your dog's mouth. They are generally much more appreciated by our dogs than a toothbrush or tooth wipes, and they do a great job of keeping our dog's mouth clean. These treats come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, and you are sure to find something your dog loves."
10. Buy tartar-controlling rawhides
Rawhides are special treats that are beloved by a lot of pups, but they can be choking hazards and you should watch your dog actively while he's chewing them. Still, they're generally considered safe in moderation and when monitored and they can be powerful tools in helping to keep a pup's teeth clean. And, according to the AVDC, they can be a daily part of dental hygiene.
"Rawhide products and chew treats can be helpful if chewed daily, and some rawhide chews and biscuits contain an anti-tartar ingredient. Palatability is important – chewing every day is the ideal," the group writes on its website.
11. Keep lots of chew toys around
If you don't want to give your pet rawhide, they can get some of the same benefits from any kind of regular chewing. That means that keeping the house stocked in exciting chew toys doesn't just make you a Cool Mom, it also makes you a health-conscious mom. It's vital that the toy be something that your pet chews on regularly and pretty vigorously.
"Chew toys are only of benefit if they are played with frequently and over the long haul – you can increase the dog's willingness to chew by smearing palatable peanut butter or soft cheese on the product," the AVDC writes.
12. Put them on a dental diet
Finally, if you want to go the extra mile in promoting your dog or cat's oral hygiene, you can put them on a specific dental diet. These diets "employ a specific kibble design and others include a chemical anti-tartar polyphosphate ingredient," according to the ADVC.