My Lady Bonsai knew the importance of healthy teeth & gums!

February is National Pet Dental Month, but it is a cause you should embrace 365 days a year!  According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 98% of dogs & cats with bad breath suffer from gum disease, and 80% of them develop it before they are three-years-old.  Dental problems are painful and can become costly to treat, but left untreated…they can shorten your pet’s life!


“Animals in the wild eat a natural diet of uncooked meat and vegetation.  The food we feed is either canned mush or dry kibble which turns to sugar and creates an environment that bacteria thrive in.” explains Dali Shafer, Co-founder of Houndstooth Non-Anesthetic Pet Dental Care Service.  She and her sister Kathy have been caring for teeth and educating people on the importance of home pet dental care and diet for more than 25 years.  Awhile back, they had a client with a senior Labrador Retriever who was literally wasting away.  The dog wouldn’t eat and when she did, she got sick.  One day, for two hours, Dali go the dog to rest on her lap and have her teeth cleaned.  That night, she ate steak and vegetables without getting sick.  She got stronger and gained weight – 3 lbs in just 3 days and then began life on a healthier diet while her family learned proper dental care techniques.


When ten-year-old Alex of Lakeview Terrace, California was younger, she wondered why her mom didn’t also make her poodle brush her teeth.  “Don’t you care about Boom Boom like you care about me?” she asked.  Alex’s comment made her mom think, and got their doggie on a teeth-brushing routine as well.

Bacteria, combined with saliva and food creates plaque which hardens on the teeth and turning to tartar within 48 hours. Redness or inflammation (gingivitis) soon appears at the gum line followed by pockets of infection that separate the teeth from the gum (periodontitis) and send bacteria into the bloodstream.


YOU can help your dog or cat live a longer, healthier life by brushing his or her teeth at least every other day.

Make it a bonding time for you and your best pal.  Find a comfortable spot, don’t hold the animal too tightly and do it when you are in a patient mood.  The first few times, dip your finger in low-salt chicken broth and just rub your pet’s gums to get him used to your fingers in his mouth, but don’t let him nibble your digits!


After a few days of finger massaging, use a tooth brush and paste specifically for your pet.  A child’s brush is too rough for tender canine gums and human toothpaste contains detergent… That’s why humans spit — animals don’t (well, maybe llamas but not because their brushing!).

Finger brush may be easier to use with some pets but always pet-specific tooth paste!


Place your hand over your pet’s muzzle (his mouth can stay closed), lift his lip on one side and in a circular motion, brush the outsides of the top and bottom teeth – 30 seconds on the top set, 30 seconds on the bottom and then move to the other side; cat parents, 10 seconds and I’ll consider you rock stars!  If you pet is reluctant, clean just a few teeth, praise him and try again the next day.

Annual veterinary visits are imperative and may result in a professional cleaning by your veterinarian or well-qualified Anesthesia-free hygienists – do your research and always get a recommendation for your pet’s sake.


In between brushing, treat your pooch to raw vegetables to clean his teeth naturally.  Large raw bones are okay to gnaw on but never cooked bones which can splinter.  Regardless of the treat or toy, always supervise your pet so that food doesn’t become a choking hazard.




  • bad breath
  • loose teeth
  • brown or yellow stains
  • swelling under the eyes
  • difficulty eating
  • excessive drooling
  • red, irritated, swollen or bleeding gums
  • loss of appetite or weight loss
  • lethargy or loss of energy
  • behavior changes (pain can result in a grouchy pet)



  • Dogs & cats are born toothless but grow deciduous teeth in their first two to three weeks.
  • Adult dogs have 42 teeth.  Cats have 30. Humans have 32.
  • INCISORS and CANINES are sharp front teeth used to grasp, pick-up and tear meat. Cats generally use their incisors (nibble teeth) for grooming.
  • PRE-MOLARS, immediately behind the CANINES, vary in shape and size and are later replaced by an adult set.
  • MOLARS replace the PRE-MOLARS when your dog reaches adulthood.  They are the back flat teeth used for chewing, gnawing and crushing bones.
  • Cavities, abscesses and any dental problems are just as painful and detrimental to our pets as they are to us.


A Few Notes about Toothpaste…

NEVER USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE WHICH CONTAINS DETERGENT (that’s why we spit but dogs and cats don’t)!

Three more reasons not to:

  1. Ingested FLUORIDE is toxic to our pets!  It’s actually in some pet toothpastes too (who knows why?), so read the labels!  Acute toxicity (when your dog or cat ingests a lot at once) displays as drooling, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, fecal and/or urinary incontinence and weakness or seizures while Chronic toxicity (exposure over time, days, months, years) presents as a discoloration or mottling of the teeth and oddly enough, intermittent limping.  Tell you veterinarian if your pet has ingested Fluoride!
  2. SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS) is what makes toothpaste, detergent, shampoos and other items foam.  It can cause GI upset in dogs, so keep paws off!
  3. XYLITOL — also labeled as birch sugar, birch bark extract and sugar alcohols — sometimes found in holistic brands of human toothpaste, is an artificial sweetener that can lower a pet’s blood sugar to serious level and result in irreversible liver damage!

And if you share your life with other species, be sure to check out my classes and books on birds, rabbits and pocket pets at



For more than 20 years Denise Fleck’s Sunny-dog Ink motto has been “Helping people to help their pets,” and she has…personally having taught close to 30,000 pet lovers animal life-saving skills and millions more on “The Doctors,” CNN, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” Animal Planet and other TV shows.  Denise is a frequent conference speaker, developed a line of pet first aid kits, written a dozen books and now offers classes online.  

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