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Beacon Senior News

Create a dental routine with your pet

Jan 25, 2021 03:09PM ● By Anna Stout
Anna Stout and pet dog Gary

Anna Stout holding her dog, Gary.

By Anna Stout, Roice-Hurst Humane Society

In the winter of my freshman year of college, I adopted Gary—a headstrong Jack Russell terrier. Gary quickly became my world. I would sneak him into class under my sweatshirt and take him with me when I met with my professors. He went everywhere.

One professor and I especially bonded over our obsessive love for our dogs. She had a border collie that was equally as brilliant as Gary, but much less mischievous..

One day I bumped into her while I was walking Gary around campus and she teared up when I greeted her. What she told me would stick with me the rest of Gary’s life and with every other dog I would adopt. 

“I didn’t know a dog’s teeth could kill them,” was her sobering confession. Her beloved dog died unexpectedly from a gum infection that had gone undetected and got into his bloodstream, ultimately harming his vital organs. 

“Take care of Gary’s mouth, it could save his life,” she warned me.

That heartbreaking admonition led me to start working with Gary to be comfortable with mouth care. At first, I stuck my finger under his lips and just rub his teeth and gums with dog toothpaste. When he was tolerant of that, I started using a finger brush and finally, an actual dog toothbrush. At first, he was resistant to the invasion of his personal space, but eventually he got used to it.

Many of us don’t realize how critical dental health is for our pets’ overall health. With New Year’s resolutions fresh in our minds and February being Pet Dental Health Month, now is a great time to resolve to focus on your pet’s mouth.

The first step to ensuring better dental health is to schedule an annual dental cleaning for your pet. Some veterinarians even offer discounted cleanings in February. Most dental disease occurs below the gum line, which means you cannot see it without a thorough exam. Your veterinarian can also recommend treats and toys that help remove tartar and keep teeth and gums healthier between cleanings.

Your next step is to create a routine. A daily habit is ideal, but even just a couple times per week can greatly reduce the risk of dental disease. If you need help getting your pet to tolerate something in his mouth, call Roice-Hurst Humane Society’s dog and cat behavior counselors (434-7337). They can walk you through some tricks for desensitizing your pet and bonding in the process!

Finally, take stock of your pet’s dental health. Stinky breath, discolored teeth, tartar, redness along the gum line, mouth swelling, and any changes in how your pet eats (more slowly, less readily, or with more drool) may be signs your pet should be seen by a veterinarian.

Gary passed away last July at almost 16 years old. As devastating as his passing was, I found comfort in knowing that it was nothing that I had not done for him, and that he had simply lived out his life.