You put a lot of thought into keeping your dog healthy: quality food, routine checkups, plenty of fitness. But what about his teeth?
Oral hygiene is an often-overlooked but important factor in your dog’s overall health. If he has a toothache or sore gums, he’s dealing with pain and stress that you may not even know about. Left untreated, bacteria introduced by the problem can enter the bloodstream and affect his heart, kidneys or liver. Veterinarians report that an estimated 85 percent of dogs over age 4 are suffering from some form of periodontal disease, a painful oral condition that can lead to tooth loss and infection. The good news? All of these problems are preventable with regular dental cleanings and professional checkups.
How can you tell if your dog has teeth problems?
Bad breath is often the first sign. This can stem from food. If the dog still has bad breath after a change in diet, then gum inflammation is often the cause. Check your dog’s teeth regularly by gently lifting the lips. Plaque and tartar accumulates more in the back molars and the canines. If the gum line is red and bleeds on touch alone, then inflammation is advanced and it is highly recommended that you go to see a vet.
For adult cats and dogs with existing dental disease, a dental treatment with a scale and polish under general anaesthetic is often necessary to get their mouth back into top condition. This will allow you to start prevention with a clean mouth which needs to be continued at home to hopefully prevent, or slow down dental disease developing again in the future.
How can you protect your dog against dental problems?
- Appropriate Food
Dogs love to eat, and crunchy food and chew treats can help with your overall efforts. While these items won’t replace the need to brush, they can help reduce unwanted build-up.
- Bones and Chews
A good long chew can help scrape away plaque and dirt, and most dogs are happy to comply. Natural choices include rawhide or a knucklebone. Knucklebones are a softer bone that’s gentler on the teeth. Never give harder items, such as hooves or bones from steak, rib or ham shank as these can fracture teeth.
Some dogs won’t bite on these natural choices, but many do enjoy chewing artificial bones or chew toys. Try a variety to see what your dog likes. Always choose rubber or nylon toys with a rough or bumpy surface, large enough so that it won’t present a choking hazard. A chew toy should be somewhat flexible, not rock hard.
- Brushing your pet’s teeth
Like regular grooming or the daily jaunt outside, dental care should be something your dog comes to expect each day. But it won’t happen overnight; most dogs take some time getting used to someone poking around in their mouth. Most owners need to warm up to the idea, too! Ideally, introduce dental care when your pooch is still a puppy. But don’t stress if you just realized that your adult dog’s teeth need some attention. Just take a slow, patient approach, and remember that lots of love and treats go a long way in winning him over.
Aim for three to four times per week. And don’t be an overachiever: If your pup’s patience only lasts for you to brush half his teeth today and the other half tomorrow, that’s fine. Just remember which half you did each day!
Supplies for your doggie’s dental care
There are many dental tooth brush varieties on the market, along with different designs and dental pastes. Many pet dental kits come with a microfibre finger cloth with which to start, toothpaste and a double headed toothbrush, specifically designed for your pets mouth. Finger brushes can also be used. It is important to note that cats and dogs cannot use fluoride (human) toothpastes and a specific pet dental paste needs to be selected.
Introduce your pet to teeth brushing
Cats and small dogs may feel more comfortable if they can sit on their owners lap while having their teeth brushed.
- Begin slowly, initial sessions should be brief, a minute or two and well rewarded.
- Get your pet used to the toothbrush by dipping it in tuna juice, chicken or beef stock or just use water.
- Next try offering the toothbrush with the paste, without brushing. Allow your pet to taste the paste.
- When your pet is comfortable with the brush try brushing one or two strokes on a few teeth. Slowly increase the amount of brushing as your pet becomes more comfortable.
- Start at the front of the mouth. Pets are often more accepting of this.
For a guideline on how to brush your pet’s teeth, go to ABOUT DENTAL CARE AND BRUSHING YOUR PET’S TEETH (by Vetwest Animal Hospitals)