I used to think pet dental care was a bunch of hooey, a concept made up by veterinarians to extract more money from you. Teeth cleaning? You gotta be kidding, I thought: what a racket!

I saw the error in my thinking after a dental incident with my geezer cat, Rocky. Cats are hard-wired to hide pain, and I don’t know how long Rocky had a toothache before he got to the point where he wouldn’t eat at all, which prompted a trip to the vet. My imagination ran away with me – scared that he had stomach cancer, or had swallowed rubber bands, or ingested something toxic. Turns out he had a rotten tooth, and after minor surgery to extract it, he was as good as new.

Even though Skeezix is only five years old, he needs even more frequent cleanings than our other cats. He refuses to eat dry food which could help remove tartar buildup, and his little mouth is a plaque-making machine. Your vet can help you determine if more frequent cleanings are necessary.

As with people, regular cleanings can keep small dental problems from developing into big problems. Dental cleanings are part of our feline wellness regime, now — in fact, I think the cats have dental work more often then I do.

Yes, it’s costly, especially if you have a number of pets. But I can tell you from experience that a cleaning (especially if your cat doesn’t need to be sedated) is much less expensive than an extraction, and puts your pet at less risk. Some pet insurance policies enable you to get discounts on preventative dental maintenance.

In talking to a vet last week, she told me that often, people stop dental exams and cleaning when the pet becomes a senior. Yet, that’s when they’re usually most vulnerable. A dental problem can result in the cat not eating, and if it’s a while before you detect that there’s a problem, an old cat can lose a significant percentage of her body weight — a loss from which she might find difficult to recover. Dental problems lead to infections that a weakened older cat might not be able to fight off.

Here are three simple tips for maintaining your pets dental health from the Iams Pet Wellness Council, a group of veterinary experts.

Why is dental health for my pet important?
Tartar and gingivitis are two of the most common problems seen by veterinarians and poor dental hygiene can lead to gum disease, loss of teeth and, if untreated, could develop into more serious conditions such as bacterial infections of the heart, liver or kidneys. In fact, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral and dental disease by the age of three.* Here are some helpful hints from the Iams Pet Wellness Council to help maintain pet dental health.

Top 3 tips for pet dental health:

  1. Daily Brushing Bushing your pets teeth helps to remove plaque and slow the development of tartar. When first beginning to brush, be gradual and make it a pleasant experience. It is recommended to use a finger brush and you can eventually add pet toothpaste (do not use human toothpaste). Be sure to reward your pet afterward with play or a nice walk!
  2. Diet – What your pet eats affects his smile. Dry foods and treats can help clean plaque from teeth. Real bones can be dangerous for your pet and should not be used for teeth cleaning purposes. Try Iams Proactive Health with Prebiotics — the kibble can help reduce tartar buildup for better oral health.
  3. Dentistry – Talk to your veterinarian about annual or semiannual teeth cleaning. A teeth cleaning performed by your vet is the only way to remove tartar build up. Just as you would schedule a dental cleaning for yourself, be sure to calendar in your pets cleaning as well.

OK, so since I’m fond of my fingers, I haven’t yet mastered the daily brushing part, and I suspect more than a few of you haven’t either. But even if you do nothing more than get your cats in for regular cleanings, they’ll be in better dental health when Pet Dental Health Month rolls around in 2010.

Visit Healthy Teeth for Pets for more information.