Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Tooth Tales

What to know about caring for your pet’s teeth: myths and reality

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Healthy teeth are important to your dog. They help him to enjoy meals and treats, chew on toys and retrieve sticks and balls. While those fangs may gleam in a new puppy, it doesn’t take long for oral health to go south and start causing problems.

One of the biggest complaints people have about their pets is stinky breath. “That smell!” they say. “It could knock over a water buffalo.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. I’m here to bust some bad-breath myths and share with you the secrets to getting rid of it -- and better, preventing it altogether.

Myth 1: All pets have bad breath. Not true! Pet bad breath happens when teeth aren’t clean. (Think how your breath would smell if you never brushed your teeth.) That bad breath is a sign that your pet’s teeth and gums are on the road to infection and disease. By the time they’re 3 years old, most dogs and cats have periodontitis, so early prevention is key. Hound halitosis and feline foul breath can also be caused by problems of the upper digestive tract, so getting a checkup from your veterinarian is important.

Myth 2: Feeding dry food or giving chew toys or dental treats keep teeth clean. It’s true that dry food and chewing on rope bones or toys with ridges can have an abrasive effect, but not enough to keep your pet’s teeth free of the plaque and tartar that cause bad breath and lead to periodontal disease.

Myth 3: It’s safer and just as effective to schedule your pet for a non-anesthesia cleaning than one done under anesthesia. That nasty brown tartar can be scraped off with dental tools, but your pet isn’t going to sit still for having her gums probed with sharp instruments. And below the gumline is where dental disease lurks, invisible without the help of dental X-rays and a thorough exam done on a non-squirming pet. Schedule a professional veterinary cleaning performed under anesthesia at least annually to keep dental disease at bay.

Myth 4: It’s impossible to prevent pet dental disease. Not true! You can take a number of steps to keep your dog or cat’s pearly whites clean and healthy.

I promised to tell you the secret to preventing or getting rid of pet bad breath. Whether you start with a puppy or kitten or commit to it for an adult animal, brushing teeth daily is the No. 1 thing you can do to remove soft, sticky plaque and prevent buildup of ugly brown tartar. Brushing daily is the gold standard for prevention of periodontal disease, but even brushing once or twice a week helps.

It’s a money-saver, too. The more frequently you brush your pet’s teeth, the more likely you are to prevent plaque, tartar and periodontal disease. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for dogs. A brush with a triangular head helps you to get at back teeth, but you can also use a finger brush, which may be best for small dogs or for cats.

Although you might like him to have minty-fresh breath, your pet will prefer chicken- or beef-flavored toothpaste. Sharing your toothpaste with him can give him an upset stomach.

Providing pets with dental chews is helpful as well. Some chews are infused with enzymes that help fight plaque or contain nutrients that may help to reduce inflammation. A new combo of a triple-enzyme toothpaste with dental chews called Bark Bright takes a lot of chewing to finish, which increases plaque-busting enzyme activity -- as much as 60% to 80% efficacy. It’s available Feb. 26 online and at Target and CVS.

Medicated dental rinses from your veterinarian can add an extra punch to your pet’s oral care plan by making it more difficult for plaque to glom onto teeth.

Q&A

Do female cats

urine mark?

Q: Why does my cat spray? I thought females didn’t do that!

A: Surprise, surprise! Spraying is a normal feline behavior, for females as well as males. Spraying is all about marking territory. It’s the way cats express the warning, “Don’t invade my territory!” It’s also a way of marking territory as their own as well as comforting themselves in a stressful situation by making their surroundings smell like, well, themselves.

You can tell the difference between spraying and normal urination by observing the cat’s posture. Squatting to pee is normal urination. A cat who is spraying stands with tail up and vibrating, raises and lowers his back paws as if he’s on tippy-toes, and shoots a stream of urine straight back.

Urine sprayed onto a vertical surface such as a wall or door is a sign of scent marking, or territorial marking. Most cats who mark vertically don’t have a medical problem. You can almost always chalk up the behavior to a cat’s desire to communicate something, either to you or to other cats in the house. Cat pee is designed to stick on trees in all weather for as long as three weeks, so it’s powerful stuff. Cats can direct their urine very accurately, so the pee is exactly where they want it to be and smells exactly how they want it to smell. Someday, we will be able to identify the particular pheromone that the cat leaves with the urine and that will tell us if he is scared, frustrated, terrorized by another cat or in pain.

Unneutered males are the worst offenders, but it’s not unusual for neutered males and some females to scent mark. Neutering before 6 months of age -- which is a good time to surgically alter a cat -- sometimes helps to prevent scent marking, but not always. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Helping human and

pet abuse victims

-- Texas A&M veterinary students and faculty are collaborating to foster pets who are victims of domestic violence and spread the word to veterinary professionals and the public about the connection between domestic violence and animal abuse. “Eighty-five percent of women entering shelters reported their partner had threatened, injured or killed a family pet,” says Alyssa Felton, a third-year veterinary student and outreach chair of Aggies Fostering Hope. Animals are fostered at the veterinary school while owners are aided in finding pet-friendly shelter. Donors cover the cost of pet medical care. For more information, or to donate, visit facebook.com/AggiesFosteringHope or email aggiesfosteringhope@cvm.tamu.edu.

-- A lime-green puppy was the surprise delivery by Gypsy, a white shepherd in North Carolina. She gave birth earlier this month to eight puppies, and the fourth one, named Hulk, came out green, likely the result of meconium-stained liquid from inside the birth sac that occurred during Gypsy’s pregnancy. The startling color won’t remain; Hulk’s fur has already started to fade to a more pastel shade, and he should eventually be a normal light-colored dog. Gypsy’s owner, Shana Stamey, says Hulk is growing quickly, like his namesake, and has the superpower of an “aggressive appetite.”

-- Does your pet like to chill to some music while you’re away (or even while you’re home)? Spotify can help. The music-streaming business has playlists and a podcast aimed especially at pets. Playlists are curated for different species, including hamsters and iguanas. Music can help to mask sounds such as trash trucks or sirens that may disturb pets. Podcasts contain human voices and environmental sounds such as rain in addition to music. Our imaginary hamster Baxter’s playlist included “Jump to the Beat” by Stacy Lattisaw, Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop,” and Bryan Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together.” -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.