The Tooth Fairy and Teething
February is Dental Month and we're kicking off this month with some fun facts about teeth in puppies and kittens! Believe it or not, puppies and kittens have baby teeth, also called deciduous teeth, just like children! These smaller, more fragile teeth fall out over time, making room for larger and stronger, permanent adult teeth. Below are some interesting similarities and differences between baby teeth in our pets and baby teeth in people:
The Tooth Fairy: Unlike people, puppies and kittens are often unaware or unable to control when a baby tooth falls out. This means that rather than going to the tooth fairy, most of our pet’s baby teeth are swallowed! Don’t worry though, this is very normal, and isn’t harmful to your pet. Once a baby tooth has fallen out, a small amount of bleeding is normal, however, if you feel the bleeding is excessive, please contact your veterinarian.
Teething: Just like babies, puppies and kittens can feel uncomfortable as their baby teeth become loose and their permanent teeth begin to shift into place. This discomfort is what leads to teething, or chewing on anything and everything they can! Teething and mouthing is a very common complaint from owners with young puppies and kittens for this very reason. Below are some tips to redirect the teething behavior and help your pet overcome the discomfort, while also saving your shoes, furniture, and hands!
Redirect: Whenever your pet goes to chew on you, or an object, it’s important to acknowledge that they need to chew for comfort and redirect these needs toward an appropriate chew toy. Redirection and encouragement of chewing on the toy create positive reinforcement for the teething behavior that is not destructive or potentially harmful.
Hint: It is important to choose to chew toys carefully to ensure they are durable but not too hard for fragile baby teeth. Even though these baby teeth will be replaced later on in life, breaking a tooth on a chew toy is still quite painful!
React: When puppies and kittens play, they will often nip or mouth each other as part of the game. If another puppy or kitten nips too hard, their sibling will yip or cry out to let them know the play has gone too far. In a similar manner, if your pet nips you, you can yip or yell “Ow” to indicate to them that this behavior is not approved.
Remove: If redirecting and reacting have not put a stop to mouthing and teething, the next step is to remove your pet from the situation. By separating your pet from you, or the object they were chewing, and ignoring them for a couple of minutes you are signaling that this behavior is inappropriate. On the flip side - if your pet is chewing on appropriate toys only, you are encouraged to shower them with attention and treats to reinforce this positive behavior. The key to remove is to not yell, hit, or scold as this can be misinterpreted as a game to your pet. By simply separating them to an area apart from you and their favorite toys, you are making the message loud and clear.
Hint: Ideally the separation would occur behind a baby gate or in a smaller room and not in their crate. Ideally, a pet’s crate should be reserved as a safe space and not a location used for punishment.
Refrain: If you do not want your pet to mouth or chew, it is important not to encourage this behavior. This means you must avoid encouraging rough play, which sends a mixed signal about when mouthing and nipping is appropriate or not. It is also important to refrain from punishment - this is the second time this is mentioned for a reason. Negative interactions with your pet damage the human-animal bond you are creating with your puppy or kitten. For this reason, it is important to focus on positive reinforcement of good behaviors or removal of positive rewards during negative behaviors, rather than direct punishment with yelling, hitting, or other aggressive behavior.
Retained Baby Teeth: Sometimes a baby tooth doesn’t fall out like it’s supposed to. When this happens, the baby tooth can get in the way of the developing adult tooth and can create tight crowded mouths that lead to more dental disease long term. For this reason, when a baby tooth doesn’t fall out it is called a retained deciduous tooth, and ideally should be removed to avoid complications. But how do you know when a baby tooth should fall out?
In puppies and kittens, teeth will begin to fall out at about 3-4 months old and should all be gone by about 6 months old. The tooth replacement process begins with the incisors at the front of the mouth, then progresses to the premolars, and the last teeth to fall out are the canines.
Encourage Brushing Early: Even with baby teeth that will eventually fall out, it is important to use this puppy training period to begin teaching your pet about daily dental care! Start slowly with introductions to the toothbrush, touching the mouth, and toothpaste. With time and positive reinforcement, you can begin introducing motion and brushing with the toothpaste, so your pet enjoys their daily dental care! tarting early will ensure your pet is set up for a long life of healthy, comfortable, and strong teeth.
We love puppies and kittens at Heart + Paw! But even more than adorable new pets, we love watching the strong bonds that grow between owners and pets over time. Training your pet to stop mouthing and teething is among one of the first opportunities for you to learn how to best communicate with them. By mastering these recommendations and communication tools early, you are forming the building blocks of a strong relationship with your pet.