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How to Clean Your Dog or Cat’s Teeth

Molly's beautiful smile

February is Pet Dental Health Month. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three!

What if you had to go without brushing your teeth for a week? What if you had to stop for a year? Unthinkable, right?  Yet many pet owners neglect the dental health of their cats and dogs.

Not only does this make their breath bad and their smile yellow, it can lead to periodontal disease or gingivitis. Pets can get swollen and bleeding gums and painful cavities. I know about this personally.  Once our cat, Brownie, stated losing weight.  I noticed she was not eating as much as usual and wondered if she was sick.  When I took her in, the veterinarian showed me that the problem was her teeth: they had gotten so bad that it hurt to eat!

Your your dog or cat may be suffering, too, but it has no way to tell you!

Poor dental care can even lead to kidney, liver, or heart disease.

Yes, it is hard to get a cat or dog to sit still and endure teeth brushing, but it can be done.

Here are some tips:

Buy pet toothpaste. Look for a pet toothpaste with enzymes. It comes in different flavors, try poultry.  Pet tooth paste is safe for pets to swallow and they like the taste. Never use toothpaste made for humans, which can make a pet sick.

You can buy the toothpaste online or at a retail pet store. It should run you $5 to $6. If you buy online, look for a coupon code at check out. Open another window and do a search for the name of the online store along with the words “coupon code.”  You can also try a search with the name of the store and”free shipping.” You may find a code to save you some money.

Buy a pet toothbrush. Some are specially shaped and have two sides so you can brush front and back at once. All have soft bristles. Pet toothbrushes run from $3 to $10. You can even get electric ones. You can also use just a child’s soft toothbrush. You can get those at the dollar store to save money.

If you are just starting, you may want to consider buying a kit that has both the toothpaste and the toothbrush. I have some links below to buy through Amazon.

Let your dog or cat try the taste. Massage the gums with your finger.  Once the animal starts accepting or even looking forward to this new ritual, introduce a toothbrush.

Periodontal disease usually affects the upper, back teeth first and worst so make sure you cover those areas. Try to clean near the gum, just like you do when you do your own teeth.

For a cat or a small dog, hold it in your lap. For a larger dog, have a leash on.

Accept that a bit of chewing or mouthing in inevitable. Do not get frustrated and give up. It may take several weeks for the two of you to get the process down.

Do the best you can.  Even if you cannot brush every tooth completely, the enzymes in the toothpaste will help clean the teeth, and some brushing is better than none. You may be able to do a btter job as you get both get used to it.

Establish a ritual, a time of day when you always do it so you do not forget. Follow up with praise and maybe even a treat. Give yourself a treat, too, so you look forward to the ritual. Do it every day.

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Dental chews, rawhide, dental bones and other healthy products can help, but do not think they can replace brushing.

If your pet already has signs of periodontal disease, you will need a professional cleaning by your veterinarian. This is expensive because it requires anesthesia. Your pet may require a professional cleaning less frequently if you maintain a routine of brushing, so you save money.

Pat yourself on the back for taking good care of your pet despite your busy schedule. And enjoy a beautiful smile on your pet.

If you love pets, please pass the word on about brushing teeth. Let me know if you have other tips.

A condensed version of this article can be found on eHow.

I found a couple good pet toothbrush / toothpaste kits on Amazon and the links are below.

Molly’s Legacy

Molly’s Legacy . . .
Our Experience with the Willed Body Program for Veterinary Education

When Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona decided to add a school of veterinary medicine, I was thrilled.  Not because I wanted to become a veterinarian.  But because as WesternU’s director of publications, I could use my own very photogenic dog as a model for promotional materials.

I had long used children of employees in photo shoots for PR materials about the WesternU’s other programs (osteopathy, physician assistant, physical therapy, and pharmacy).  But at that time I had no children, at least not human ones.  This would allow me to feature my beautiful Dalmatian, Molly Marie.

Sure enough, we did a photo shoot featuring Molly and a few other employees’ dogs with the new dean,  Shirley Johnston.  My spotted sweetheart appeared in magazine articles and brochures about the school.  I was so proud.

Our puppy in the WesternU View magazine
Our puppy in the WesternU View magazine

Molly also enjoyed a taste of fame when she because the first dog featured on the “Friends of the Claremont POOCH Park”  t-shirt and stationery.  Molly’s dad and I were among those who first lobbied the city and helped raised money for a dog park.  I did the graphic design for the group’s stationery and t-shirts.  John served as first POOCH Park “president.”  We still have the “golden” poop scooper presented to the group by then-mayor Al Liega when the park was dedicated.  Many shirts with Molly’s image were sold to raise money for the park’s fencing.

T-shirt design for the new Claremont POOCH Park group
T-shirt design for Claremont POOCH Park group

(I’ve been asked if these shirts are still available. None of vintage screenprinted are left. But I put the design up on Zazzle, so you can still get the original design. Below is a link.)

Molly even appeared in the LA Times. When the film  “101 Dalmatians” came out, I wrote an article  about Disney’s unwillingness to do public service about the responsibilities of owning this particular breed.  It ran with a photo of us in the Calendar section.

So Molly has had a bit of fame.  She is 13 and half now, and no longer the beauty she once was. The ridges of her spine stand out on her back. Her hind legs collapse. Her ears, once so soft and perfectly spotted, now feel crinkled and stiff, the result of hematomas that did not heal despite surgery. Her brown eyes are still outlined with gorgeous black “eyeliner” spots, but they have lost their brightness. Her fur is thinning.  At least her nose is still wonderfully heart-shaped, the result of serendipitously placed spots.

There are hundreds of miles on Molly’s paws. We took her everywhere: Pomona’s College’s quad; the big field at Scripps; Vista Elementary school; the Claremont and Upland dog parks; Thompson Creek Trail; the Claremont Wilderness Park; June Vail Park (at night, of course, because technically dogs are not allowed); the trails in Mt. Baldy; and dog beach in Huntington Beach (her favorite spot).

Molly at Huntington Beach's "dog beach."
Molly at Huntington Beach

Our dear Molly suffers from a number of geriatric problems. We have made the tough decision to have her put down so she will suffer the ravages of old age no longer.  We have also decided to will her body to  WesternU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the school she helped promote a few years ago.

Because the college emphasizes a humanistic approach, it does not accept cadavers from shelters.  Instead it has a willed body program similar to that of medical schools.  Now Molly’s legacy will live on in a new way: in knowledge gained by a veterinary student who will read her chart and dissect her body to learn how to mend other dogs. Eventually, her remains will be cremated and spread at sea.

Of course, Molly’s most important legacy of all will be to our family.   We loved her.  And she gave love and loyalty back the way I think only canines can.

Written by Kim Peasley.  This article was published in our local newspaper, the Claremont Courier.

Click here for more information on WesternU’s Willed Deceased Animals for Veterinary Education (WAVE) program. Other veterinary schools may have programs as well.

Related posts:

How to Cope with the Loss of a Pet

How to Donate a Pet’s Body to a Veterinary School

How to Help Kids Say Goodbye to a Pet

When you donate a body you are asked to give the pet’s medical charts as well.  I included this article and a photo collage (below) so that the veterinary student who learned from her body could gain an understanding of her life as well. Click on any image to see a larger version.

This photo collage was included with her charts
This collage was included with her charts

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