If you have a BFF – a “best furry friend,” that is – then you’ve probably noticed the trend in insurance policies for pets. Well, there’s another trend many pet care professionals would love you to adopt: daily preventive dental care for dogs and cats.
The American Pet Products Association estimated that U.S. spending on pet-related expenses topped $55.53 billion in 2013, and nearly a quarter of that amount ($14.21 billion) went toward veterinary care. Both numbers represent spending increases over 2012.
If you have pets, then you’ve probably seen a few pet store and vet bills as well. And like many pet owners, you may be responding to rising costs with a focus on prevention.
Pet dental emergencies are on the rise. Preventing pets from landing in the veterinary ER is a major focal point of National Pet Dental Health Month, which takes place in February. So there’s no better time to draw attention to proper oral care for pets.
However, as the American Veterinary Medical Association (one of the sponsors of the month-long event) reminds pet owners, “While February is National Pet Dental Health Month, dental health should be a daily habit for pet owners all year long.”
Making pet dental care a daily habit
A daily habit? When you think about it, it makes good sense. Like dental care for people, taking care of your pets’ teeth is very important, both for their dental health and for their overall health. Numerous pet health issues have been associated with poor oral health.
But how do you make dog dental care or cat dental care a daily habit? When it comes to establishing a new habit, preparation is key. With that simple but powerful principle in mind, here are some ways you can get prepared to make pet dental care part of your daily routine.
Set a regular time
To get into the habit of taking care of your pet’s teeth every day, choose a time that meets your needs. Plan your pet’s oral care at the time that will be most convenient for you.
If you have to rush off to work in the morning, set aside time in the evening. If mornings are better for you, do it then. Whatever you decide, be sure you set yourself up to succeed.
Plan to devote at least 5 minutes to your pet’s dental routine. It may also help to pick a time when your pet is normally in a more restful frame of mind, such as after a long walk or play session.
Choose a comfortable place
To help you succeed in making dental care a part of your daily routine, choose a comfortable place where you can have your pet’s full attention. If you’ve chosen a regular time, you may already have a specific place in mind. If not, think about a place where you and your pet already spend quiet time together.
If the two of you enjoy snuggling on the couch in front of the TV, that may be the ideal place for daily dental care. In the habit of spending time together on the back porch before coming in from a run? Make that the spot for your dental date each day.
The point is: tap into the good vibe you and your pet already associate with a favorite time and place to make daily dental care an enjoyable part of the time you get to spend together.
Keep it together
Finally, to keep your new habit on track, get organized. You don’t want to spend any extra time getting your supplies together or searching for something that’s missing. Avoid distractions by making a kit of everything you’ll need for your pet’s dental care regimen. Then, keep the kit in the location where it will be used.
Your pet’s daily dental care kit doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy specialty products designed for pets, or you may use simple household items like a bit of gauze instead of a toothbrush or a paste of baking soda and water instead of toothpaste.
Just be aware that there is one thing no pet dental kit should ever contain: human toothpaste. Some ingredients can make cats and dogs sick. To stay on the safe side, never use human dental products for your pet.
Learn more about pet dental care
Just as a daily dental care routine helps to keep you and your family healthy, daily dental care can be a great first step toward protecting your pet’s health. But like oral care for humans, it’s really only a start. To learn more, talk with your veterinarian.
Ask your vet about the specific items your pet dental care kit should contain. And while you’re at it, ask about regular dental checkups, any dental warning signs you should be on the lookout for, and what oral conditions or symptoms should prompt you to call for an appointment right away.
Do you brush your pet’s teeth regularly? What tips can you share?
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Learn about human oral care and dental insurance basics in the Dental Resources section.
It all started with a call to a Transylvania outreach program for reformed vampires…
A little over two years ago, my then nine year old son, Theo, had to get two teeth pulled, his “canines”, or fangs as they say in the underworld. These were baby teeth that needed to be removed because his adult teeth coming in were looking impacted.
Our dentist wanted to “clear the decks” by pulling these teeth so the permanent teeth had more room to come in properly. This simple extraction would hopefully avoid a more complicated set of procedures later.
My son, having first-hand knowledge of my wife’s many dental phobias, was very skeptical of anything the dentist had to say. I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, and I didn’t want Theo’s negative vibes to potentially derail his recovery. So, how could I get a nine year old to be interested in having two teeth pulled?
Tell him his sacrifice will save the life of a vampire.
What? You heard me. SAVE THE LIFE OF A VAMPIRE. Enter Hector, an undead blood sucker looking to take his life in a new direction. (In truth, it was my buddy Tim from upstate New York, but he did a great vampire impersonation and that was all I needed.)
Which brings us back to where we started, a call to a Transylvania outreach program for reformed vampires. We made the call and we were immediately connected to Hector, a vampire from Brussels (turned in the early 1800s) who had relocated to Transylvania. Tired of being chased by angry crowds with pitchforks, Hector had recently gone through the de-fanging process and was trying to blend in with the human world.
Theo had an instant bond his new undead buddy. Turns out, Hector was not a big fan of dentists either. Having your blood sucking fangs yanked is a frightening proposition, and — unlike my son’s baby teeth — vampire teeth don’t come back.
Hector’s recent shift from denizen of the night to dishwasher at an all-night diner had gone very smoothly. He was now hoping to move up the corporate ladder and become a waiter. Unfortunately, he was too shy to work the tables with huge gaps in his smile. Hector thought it was a dead (no pun intended) give-away to be missing his canines in this part of the world. He was sure the locals would figure out his real back story and start chasing him around with pitchforks yet again.
“I don’t vant to bite your necks anymore…”
Enter my son’s teeth. Over the next two weeks, Hector and Theo swapped stories, a friendship bloomed, and promises of shiny new teeth were made.
On a crisp Monday morning, Theo and I went to the dentist carrying three things: The hopes and dreams of a reformed vampire, a sterilized specimen jar from the biology lab, and a well-padded shipping envelope. The extractions were done in an easy half hour and within another twenty minutes the teeth were packed in the jar, sealed in the envelope, and en route to Transylvania via our local post office.
We heard back from Hector a week later. The transplant had been a success and, new smile intact, he was starting his first shift as a waiter that very evening. He couldn’t send us a selfie for obvious “vampires don’t show up on film” reasons, but he assured Theo that the teeth looked awesome and sent a little sketch he did of himself.
It’s two years later and my son’s adult canines have worked their way into proper positions in his ever-so-sweet smile. We will always be thankful to Hector for helping Theo find the strength to “sacrifice” his own smile to save another’s.
We’re hoping to one day make the journey to Transylvania to see Hector, but for now, the three-by-five self-portrait of our undead friend will have to do.
The Dental Dad is written by Shawn Patrick, General Manager of DentalInsurance.com. Shawn lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife, 2 sons, Mac the dog, and three fish who shall remain nameless.