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The most common health problem in dogs and cats is periodontal disease. Nearly 80-percent of all domestic dogs and cats over the age of three are affected by infection in the gums.

Periodontal disease is an infection caused by plaque, the thin, bacteria infested film that forms on teeth. Over time, this disease leads to erosion of gum tissue and gones, causing teeth to loosen or fall out.

Bad breath
Weight loss
Red or swollen gums
Discolored teeth
Broken teeth
Missing teeth
Excessive drooling
Tearing or swelling below eyes
Blood in saliva

It's much easier to train a puppy or kitten to sit through a teeth brushing session, than it is to expect a mature animal to do it. Whenever possible, start young. In order to effectively brush your animal's teeth, you'll need a specially made dog or cat toothbrush and veterinarian approved tooth paste. Brushes are sold as finger coverings and smaller versions of human brushes. Note: never use human pastes, as they can be toxic to animals.

In mature dogs and cats, take it slow and follow these steps:

1. TOOTHPASTE. Introduce your dog or cat to the taste of toothpaste a few days before attempting to brush. Most pastes are flavored with beef or chicken, which will make your job easier. Try rubbing a small amount of paste in the grooves of your pet's favorite toy, and allow him to lick it off and become accustomed to its flavor and texture.

2. HANDLE HIS MOUTH. For a few days prior to brushing, handle your pet's mouth more than usual. Gently talk to your pet while stroking around his mouth area, and then offer him several treats. Teaching your pet to sit comfortably while having his mouth handled is half the battle!

3. TRY GAUZE FIRST. Once your animal is comfortable with having his mouth handled, introduce him to brushing slowly. Rather than lunging at him with a toothbrush in hand, wrap a small amount of gauze around your finger and add a teaspoon of toothpaste to it. Now, lift your pet's lip on one side and rub the outer surfaces of the upper and lower teeth. If your pet is still sitting still, repeat on the other side of his mouth. Try to keep this whole process under 1-minute in length. Do this once a day for a week.

4. Now it's time to add the brush. Holding the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, use gentle, wide, circular motions to brush the outer surfaces of the teeth. Be sure to include the entire tooth, paying extra attention to the base of the tooth and gum area.

DRY FOOD feedings, as opposed to canned foods, help to reduce plaque on teeth due to its abrasive nature. Feeding your dog or cat kibble at least once a day will help to clean stubborn plaque from teeth.

Crunchy pet biscuits work much the same that kibble does. The abrasive nature of biscuits effectively scrub and clean teeth.

Dogs may enjoy getting bones as treats, but in the long run, they can do more harm than good. Dog's teeth can fracture and splinter on hard meat bones. Try rawhide instead.

New rubber toys are specially made to help remove plaque from teeth and gums. As your dog or cat chews, the rubber scrapes under the gum tissue, dislodging material that would otherwise lead to infection.

For pets that don't like toothpaste, try adding a bit of garlic powder to lukewarm water and use that to wet the brush. Both dogs and cats love the taste of garlic.

Fearless dogs and cats can benefit from electric toothbrushes. The quieter the appliance, the more likely your pet is not to be startled.