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,” says 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 – that rotten-egg smell – comes from hydrogen sulfide produced by anaerobic bacteria that thrive in gaps between teeth and gums and on plaque.
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.
Toy dogs tend to have more dental problems because breeding for their smaller size hasn’t caught up with evolution, Harvey says. “Their jaw size was reduced and tooth size was not, so their teeth are too large for their mouths,” says Harvey, director of the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Cats are a bigger brushing challenge than dogs, he says, because their mouths are smaller, their teeth are sharper and they could care less about bonding with a human during tooth time.
Oral care products for animals are generally not federally regulated. Harvey says his council uses American Dental Association guidelines for voluntary oral-care product tests, and awards a seal to those that pass.
The council has approved a human, 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 says: They contain foaming agents, and pets will swallow the foam instead of spitting it out.