LOS ANGELES — Dogs and cats can't brush, spit, gargle or floss on their own. So owners who want to avoid bad pet breath will need to lend a hand.
"Brushing is the gold standard for good oral hygiene at home. It is very effective, but some dogs and more cats don't appreciate having something in their mouth," said Dr. Colin Harvey, a professor of surgery and dentistry in the Department of Clinical Studies for the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.
The bulk of bad breath odor — the trademark rotten egg smell — comes from hydrogen sulfide, which is waste from anaerobic bacteria that thrive without oxygen in places like gaps between teeth and gums. Plaque buildup also invites the bacteria, and as the accumulation grows, so does the smell.
Animal shelters and rescues know bad breath and filthy teeth can be a deal breaker. Some shelters, such as the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County in Florida, shuffle their charges through a dental health program before the animals are adopted out. "We usually do dental cleanings and extractions when animals are spayed or neutered so the animal doesn't have to be put under anesthesia again after adoption and the adopter has one less thing to worry about," said Janet Winikoff, the shelter's director of education.
The animals that need a cleaning get chew toys or ropes, hard treats or cookies and a prescription diet if the vet orders it, she said.
Harvey said such products are good substitutes for a teeth-brushing. Pet owners can try a combination or use other products such as water additives, chew toys, plaque and tartar cleaners, and dental diets, Harvey said.
Puppies and kittens are born toothless. They get their baby teeth before they're a month old, lose them three to five months later and get their permanent teeth by age 1. Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30.
Christie Keith, a communications consultant to animal welfare and veterinarian groups, said she spends about two minutes each night brushing the teeth of her three dogs. She believes most dog owners needlessly fear brushing their dogs' teeth. "But cats are another story," she added.
Harvey said that's because cats' mouths are smaller, their teeth sharper and they could care less about bonding during designated tooth time.
Animal oral care products are generally not regulated by any federal agency, although the Food and Drug Administration monitors all products that claim to prevent or slow disease. The agency does not test products that claim cleaner teeth, fresher breath or the reduction of plaque and tartar, Harvey said.