March 24, 2012

Reisa Stone: Clean Your Pet's Teeth

Whoops, got sidetracked. A couple of blog posts inbetween my starting to discuss home pet grooming.

Dogs and cats need their teeth cleaned regularly. Once a week is good, three times a week is ideal. Further down, I'll teach you how.

I'm always seeking the pet's point of view. In communications, animals tell me that having their mouths touched is an intimate act, and can be quite threatening. Because most pets cannot use their paws/hooves as fingers, their mouth is a tool and a weapon

 Imagine if your hands were tied behind your back, and you had to do everything with your mouth. How would you react if someone pried open your mouth, and began fiddling? 

Now imagine that people acted as if they didn't hear you when you spoke, and did things to you without your consent. If you were not fed, you couldn't obtain food with your hands. You had to grab with your mouth. You use your mouth to clean your babies. If someone took your babies away from you and you growled or snapped, you were reprimanded. 

Dogs take great pride in biting, as do horses. They use their mouths as mutual grooming tools, and as boundary signals. When they consent to play with us while keeping their teeth "masked," they're doing so consciously, and with great consideration for our fragile skin! 

I form explicit agreements with animals regarding this. I love when a horse grooms me by swirling her lips in my hair. But first, I get her agreement she will keep her teeth closed.

Respect your pet's absolute right to be sensitive about his or her mouth

Always explain what you're doing, and why.

Horses' teeth are supposed to look green, brown and huge. I know, it's a shock. They're gorgeous and graceful in every respect, then they open their mouths... 

Horses do need a dental "float" annually. That means a qualified person (usually your vet) uses a file to rasp down any sharp edges. Their teeth can wear unevenly and cause pain. Bits wear down teeth to the point that this was a major identifier to archaeologists that horses were domesticated in my home country of Ukraine. 

Sore, cracked or uneven teeth can cause lameness, as a horse will carry their head awkwardly trying to soothe the pain. This affects stance and gait. 

Make sure the person you hire to do this is fully qualified. Dental work on horses is not simple, and may require sedation. If you decide to hire a non-vet, get references.

Rabbits' and guinea pigs' teeth are "open rooted." They grow continuously, and do not need cleaning. They need things to chew. Rabbits do best with pine cones and apple wood branches---make sure no pesticide has been applied. Guinea pigs', hamsters' and rats' teeth are usually fine with hard food and veggies. Check anyway, especially if you obtained your pet from someone else. People feed all kinds of strange things. Your pet may also have had trauma from being dropped, hit, or being in a fight. This can certainly affect their teeth.

If a rabbit's or guinea pig's teeth overgrow, you need a vet to clip them. They can overgrow to the point they pierce your pet's cheeks, and/or cause them to stop eating.

Birds, of course, do not have teeth. But an overgrown beak can cause them to starve. Keep them trimmed with a cuttle bone in the cage. If you rescue a bird with an overgrown beak, it is imperative they see a vet ASAP. Bird metabolism is so high, they can drop dead within 48 hours if they don't eat. Some people believe putting gravel in a cup or the bottom of the cage trims their beaks. Nope. This is for a different purpose.

To clean a dog's teeth: If fed from puppyhood, raw meaty beef bones can keep their teeth clean. If teeth are already plaque-ridden, you'll have to manually clean. 

Dog biscuits and dry food do not do the job, despite the advertising. Letting a pet's teeth accumulate tartar can cause:

-bad breath
-gum disease
-heart disease from bacteria migrating through the system
-significant vet bills and stress on their bodies from cleaning under anesthesia

As always, tell them what's going to happen. Dip a piece of clean gauze in dog toothpaste, and rub in a circular motion. You can even start with just beef broth and your fingers, to get them loving the idea. Make it fun and pleasurable, like a gum massage. 

Do not use human toothpaste, as pets will not rinse and spit. You can also use baking soda mixed with beef broth to form a paste.

Over time as your dog relaxes with teeth cleaning, introduce a very soft toothbrush. Some pet stores have specialty ones, but I use a child's brush. 

Once your dog has accepted the above, buy a plaque dental tool. This is a metal device that scrapes the plaque very well. Make sure to get the back teeth, as these are usually the dirtiest. Brush teeth after scraping.

Cats love tuna water or broth, and will usually cooperate with you offering your fingers dipped in "fish sauce." Move on to a tuna broth gum massage, then gauze. Be patient. This may take several sessions, even weeks of time. 

There's fish flavour kitty toothpaste, too. Or make a paste with fish broth and baking soda.

For any pet: never force. Count every little step forward as big progress.

Foster pride in clean teeth, the same way you would in a child. Again remembering how vital a tool they consider their mouths, tell them their sparkling white teeth look nice, and are very sharp and intimidating. Thank them for allowing you to touch their mouths. 

A little understanding and respect goes a long way.

Kind regards,
Raisa Stone
Animal Communicator

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  1. Thank you for a great post. I need to get my Corgi, Dakota, used to having her teeth cleaned. My old dogs ran up huge vet bills for cleanings and extractions because I didn't take care of their teeth.