The Importance of Home Dental Care for Dogs & Cats

Most veterinarians and pet owners agree that oral home care is vital for maintaining a healthy oral cavity. Oral home care will minimize the need for extraction therapy and prolonged oral surgery for pets. Breed and genetics play a role in oral health and a predisposition for periodontal disease. However, daily oral home care will help mitigate its progression. 

Goals of Oral Home Care

  • The primary goal is to keep the teeth and surrounding supportive tissues in good health. Prevention is of paramount importance. It is easier to prevent than to treat existing disease. 
  • Eliminate/minimize oral malodor. Bad breath is the most common reason owners may seek dental care for their pets. 

Preventing Periodontal Disease with Home Dental Care

Periodontal disease begins with the formation of the biofilm. Dental plaque is colonized bacteria on the tooth surface formed from the biofilm. Dental calculus (tartar) is mineralized plaque that develops within 72 hours. The buccal (cheek-side) surface of the teeth tends to bear the brunt of tartar accumulation. The minimal time frame for brushing dentition is every three days for pets, but daily brushing is recommended. Standard oral home care products for dogs and cats include dentifrice (toothpaste), oral gels, dental wipes, chews, oral rinses, and water additives. Their benefits and uses are briefly listed below. 

Oral Home Care Product Options for Pets

Toothbrushing Agents

Pet-specific toothpaste and gels are important to consider with dental brushing. Most human toothpaste contains fluoride and foaming agents, which cause G.I. upset in pets. Two good options for tooth brushing agents are C.E.T. enzymatic toothpaste and Healthymouth oral gel.  

  • C.E.T. enzymatic toothpaste is formulated specifically for dogs and cats. It contains no foaming agents and is safe for pets to swallow. Flavors include poultry, malt, beef, seafood, and vanilla mint. The vanilla mint flavor is hypoallergenic and is recommended in pets with food allergies.
  • HealthyMouth oral gel. A 2014 study showed that brushing with HealthyMouth oral gel was more effective than brushing with a placebo gel. HealthyMouth gel comes in 11 flavors to tempt even the most finicky pets. The flavors include dog original (no added flavor), cat original (some salmon oil), peanut butter, cinnamon bun, pumpkin spice, blueberry, cranberry, mixed berry, peach, tuna, and chicken broth.

A toothbrush is a standard vehicle for using a dentifrice to remove plaque from the dentition. A soft-bristled toothbrush is recommended. There are specific dog and cat toothbrushes and a finger brush, but soft-bristled toothbrushes are fine. A smaller size will be more appropriate for a smaller pet. The following includes recommendations for initiating toothbrushing:

  • Allow the pet to lick the toothpaste off your finger. Once well received, offer the toothpaste on the brush, eventually moving it to the oral cavity. 
  • Angle the toothbrush 45 degrees towards the gingival sulcus. The brushing action is side to side for 3-5 seconds per tooth. 
  • The brushing action focus should be on the cheek side portion of the tooth. This region is where the heaviest amount of calculus accumulation occurs. 
  • Brush at a similar time and place each day. Consistency often leads to increased compliance. 
  • Do not force the issue. Any attempt, no matter how short, is better than no attempt.
  • Most animals do not like their mouth to remain open. Allow the mouth to remain closed when brushing the teeth. One hand can create a C-shape around the muzzle to keep it closed, and the other completes the brushing. 
  • Felines may be more receptive to tooth brushing while on a lap. Bring the brush from behind and along the side of the face rather than directly toward them. 

It is ideal to begin oral home care when the pet is young, even with deciduous teeth present. Starting tooth brushing at a young age will be beneficial to facilitate compliance with adult dentition. Periodontal disease is painful and attempts to brush before professional treatment will be met with significant resistance by the pet due to pain and discomfort. This will also make future attempts unrewarding.  

Dental wipes

Dental wipes are a less effective but viable option for pets that will not tolerate tooth brushing—dental wipes work by removing some of the biofilm and plaque that adheres to teeth. However, dental wipes are less effective than a toothbrush for cleaning dentition, particularly in the gingival sulcus where the gum meets the tooth. DentAcetic dental wipes contain a substance called sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP). SHMP aids in breaking down calcium, one of the minerals that form calculus. It mixes with the pet’s saliva to help wash away some of the biofilm. Maxiguard dental wipes contain a neutralized zinc gluconate formulation that decreases bacteria on the tooth surface. Several other pet dental wipes have chlorhexidine gluconate, which like zinc gluconate, reduces the bacterial burden in the mouth. 

Dental Treats/Chews

Dental treats can be a beneficial component of an oral home care regimen. Dental treats aim to slow down periodontal disease progression between consistent professional dental cleanings. They will work on the shearing and chewing teeth, which are the premolars and molars. Dental treats/chews tend to be more effective for dogs than cats. Differing brands of dental chews can work through different mechanisms. Most dental chews reduce plaque via mechanical action. Some dental treats contain natural ingredients that inhibit the formation or adhesion of plaque to the teeth. Other products contain anti-calculus agents that inhibit the mineralization of plaque into calculus.

This author’s favorite dental treats for dogs are Virbac’s Veggident chews. They have a Z shape which increases the tooth surface area of action. Veggident chews are also hypoallergenic.  This author’s favorite dental treats for cats are C.E.T. Oral Hygiene chews. They are made from freeze-dried fish. They have a dual enzyme system and abrasive texture for removing plaque from the surface of the teeth. 

For additional information on a particular dental treat/chew, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website ( They provide a seal of approval for various products that have undergone testing and demonstrated efficacy as plaque-inhibiting products. It is essential to mention that dental treats contain calories, and too many may lead to weight gain. Lastly, bones, bully sticks, non-VOHC-recommended raw hides, and Nyla bones are common dental chew objects that are NOT recommended due to their predisposition for fracturing teeth. 

Oral Rinses

Oral rinses are a valuable component of oral home care for pets. Two commonly used products are chlorhexidine-based and Maxiguard gel. Chlorhexidine-based rinses include Clenz-a-dent and Hexadent rinses. They both contain 0.12% chlorhexidine and are used to reduce oral malodor and minimize the bacterial burden in the mouth. Maxigard gel is composed of zinc ascorbate. Zinc ascorbate has anti-septic and inflammation-modulating properties which can ward off periodontal disease. Maxigard is better received in felines than chlorhexidine-based rinses. 

Water additives

Water additives are subjectively not considered a viable component of oral home care. It is akin to adding a drop of Listerine to a glass of water. This author finds it a waste of money and may cause the pet to drink less water.

Routine, professional cleanings are imperative in addition to home care. For optimal oral health, one cannot exist without the other. There are many options for oral home care; however, tooth brushing has been the gold standard to remove plaque (biofilm) before it turns into mineralized calculus. It is important to remember when periodontal disease (i.e., red gums, mobile teeth, teeth with resorption) is present, a COHAT must be completed to address diseased teeth.

As a reminder, COHAT stands for comprehensive, oral health assessment and treatment. It involves full-mouth dental imaging alongside an oral evaluation and cleaning to determine potential treatment options for diseased teeth. A COHAT is completed under anesthesia to protect the airways during cleaning and to assess and treat the oral cavity thoroughly.

Don’t Forget About Vet Visits

Oral home care for pets is most successful by utilizing a team-oriented approach with the information provided by the veterinary care team to the owner, followed by its integration at home. The mouth is the digestive tract’s first part, and arguably the most important. Dogs and cats use their mouth for more than eating. The oral cavity is used for play, hunting, grooming, and interaction. A healthy oral cavity leads to a healthy and happy companion.

If your pet is due for a dental checkup, contact Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery today to schedule an appointment in Bozeman. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about oral home care and which products are best for your pet.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (6/6/2024). Photo by Piotr Musioł on Unsplash