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Does your dog or cat’s breath make you wish Tic-Tacs were available for pets? Instead of accepting stinky breath as normal, take a peek inside their mouth.

Chances are, according to veterinarian Abbie Krause of Family Pet Hospital, instead of pearly whites, you’ll likely see brown build-up, or tarter, covering their teeth. Even though they might not show it, that tarter can cause the pet significant pain. 

“There can be tarter below the gum line that eats away at connective tissue,” Krause said. “Bacteria then can make pockets inside the jaw, loosening the teeth and making it very painful.”

Pets can be in pain even if they don’t show symptoms, said Krause.

“They’ll still eat,” she added. “Often animals will hide the signs of pain until it’s pretty severe.”

Once teeth get to the point where they are covered in brown tarter, it can’t be brushed away at home. It’s time to schedule a teeth cleaning at a veterinarian’s office. During the procedure, the pet will be put under anesthesia and a veterinary technician will perform the cleaning and the veterinarian will examine the teeth and gums and implement any necessary extractions.

Leaving that tarter on the teeth isn’t a safe choice, not only for the comfort of their mouth, but for their overall health.

“Maintaining proper dental health is important because the bacteria from the mouth can get into the blood stream and travel elsewhere in the body if left untreated,” Krause said.

One of the best things that pet parents can do for their animals is regularly brush their teeth, or if that’s impossible, use dental treats and water additives to keep teeth clean.

Krause recommends looking for dental treats and products that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC.

“Some people think that brushing their pet’s teeth is unnecessary or even weird, but it’s so important for them just like it is for us,” said Krause.

Krause noted that toothpaste made for dogs or cats should be used, never toothpaste for human use. Animal toothpaste is flavored to taste good and is safe for them to swallow, unlike human toothpaste. It’s also enzymatic, which means it is formulated to break down the sticky plaque that becomes tarter on the teeth.

Any soft bristled toothbrush will work, even if it’s made for a human.

With proper home care, pets will still need to see a veterinarian for regular dental check-ups, much like humans still regularly have to visit a dentist.

“They’ll still need dental procedures, but they won’t need them as often,” said Krause. “At-home cleanings can help lengthen the interval between vet visits.”

She also recommended getting a pet’s teeth X-rayed once every year or year-and-a-half, or more often if a problem is suspected.

“There’s only so much of the tooth that you can see,” said Krause. “It’s important to get dental X-rays done so you can see below the surface of the gums.”

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