When was the last time you lifted up your pet’s lip and took a look at those teeth? If you’re like the majority of pet parents, it’s been a long time. Well, today’s the day to take a look – you and your pet will be thankful you did!

Animals instinctively mask pain to hide weakness from predators so the signs of dental pain can be subtle.1 And because most dogs are so eager to please, it’s easy for changes to go unnoticed. Bad breath, drooling (not in all cases), and tooth loss are all signs of serious dental disease. A staggering 80% of dogs show signs of oral disease by the age of 3, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society. At home dental care is one of the easiest ways to protect your dog’s health. And since February is Pet Dental Month, what’s a better time to start taking care of those teeth?

Brush Those Teeth!Just do it. Buy a toothbrush and some doggy tooth paste and get started. I’ve heard from too many pet parents, “I wish I would have started sooner.” The sooner you start, the sooner your dog will get used to it (and the less you’ll be spending on dental cleanings and maintenance). First, have your dog get used to the taste of the toothpaste. Pet toothpastes come in various flavors. To get your dog used to the flavor and consistency of the toothpaste, let your dog lick some off your finger. Praise your dog when he licks the paste and give a reward (a really tasty treat). If your dog does not like the taste of the toothpaste, you may need to try a different kind. Continue this step for a few days or until your dog looks forward to licking the paste. Next, get your dog used to having something put in his mouth. A good starting point is with your index finger. Gently massage your pet’s lip each day for 30 to 60 seconds, gradually adding more pressure. Once you work up to the toothbrush, start with the front teeth. Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle and brush in a circular motion. Then make your way to the back teeth. A good teeth cleaning doesn’t have to take longer than a minute or so to do a good job. Starting with a brief period and not allowing you or your pet to get agitated is key. But the most important thing: praising your pooch when you’re done.

There are some treats and toys available that are designed to help clean your dog’s teeth.  Rawhides are an effective way to control and remove plaque and tartar.  Treats such as nylon bones and real bones are too hard for dogs’ teeth and are often associated with cracked teeth in dogs.

Tennis balls, while your dog may love to play with them, are actually detrimental to the health of your dog’s teeth.  They are notorious for causing mechanical wearing of the tooth surface.  Don’t forget to check your local Three Dog Bakery for a great selection of rawhides and other dental friendly chew toys.

1. Vetstreet.com