Clean Teeth, Healthy Pet

By Cara McDonald

Professional teeth cleanings for dogs and cats may seem like overkill, right up there with pet-specific strollers and spa treatments. But 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats develop oral disease by age 3, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.

The trouble starts when bacteria build up in the mouth, creating plaque and tartar, and work their way into the gums and bloodstream. “Liver and kidney enzymes become elevated because the organs are working overtime to fight the bacteria,” explains Paul Camilo, a certified veterinary dental-care consultant. “The resulting health issues—widespread infection, organ deterioration—get chalked up to old age, but they’re not normal or necessary.”

Once plaque and tartar set in—bad breath is usually a clue—a professional cleaning is in order. But this procedure requires general anesthesia, which carries risk of health complications for roughly 10 percent of cats and dogs. To limit trips to the pet dentist, try these natural oral-care strategies at home.

1. Clean teeth daily with a cat- or dog-specific toothbrush or pet dental wipe.

2. Add antibacterial oral solutions such as healthymouth ($50; healthymouth.com) to his water bowl.

3. Consider a raw diet, or add chewy chunks of raw meat to his dish once or twice weekly—meat-tearing and -chewing cleans teeth naturally.

4. With your finger, coat his teeth with an oral gel—we like PetzLife Oral Care Gel Peppermint ($30; petzlife.com)—twice a day; the gel mixes with saliva to break down plaque and tartar and kill bacteria.

5. Offer not-too-hard treats like Greenies Dental Chews ($20–$40; greenies.com) and bendable, nontoxic toys, such as the Classic KONG ($7–$18; kongcompany.com), that allow for vigorous chewing.