Your dog can’t brush his own teeth, and most dogs aren’t in favor of you brushing them, either. But oral hygiene is a critical factor in your dog’s overall health; bacteria introduced by tooth or gum disease can travel though the bloodstream and cause problems to more serious organs, such as his heart, kidneys or liver.
Even if you think your dog’s oral health is in fine shape, consider the dog’s naturally stoic behavior. Although they’ve long been domesticated, instinct still reminds your pooch not to reveal signs of pain or illness, to avoid appearing vulnerable. So if he has a toothache or sore, inflamed gums, he’s not saying. The resulting pain and stress can also wear on his overall health.
Difficult though it may be, tooth brushing is the your dog’s best defense against tooth and gum problems. In addition, there are some other tricks to help maintain good oral hygiene:
Dry kibble can help scrape dirt off the surface of teeth during the process of eating. In general, dry can leave the mouth cleaner than wet food, which is stickier and more easily trapped in between teeth. Even if your dog prefers wet, include a portion of dry kibble in his daily diet.
Tossing over a treat to an eager recipient can seem like the best solution. But not all treats are created equal when it comes to dental benefits.
“Look for (treats with) the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance. Similar to the American Dental Association, the VOHC recognizes products that meet preset standards of plaque and calculus retardation in dogs and cats,” says Linda Pappalardo of Henry Schein Animal Health.
Also consider the size of the prize: If your 80-pound dog swallows that one-inch dental treat in a fraction of a second, it barely touched his teeth. Consider the size of your dog, and look for a treat that will require some chewing.
A nice long gnaw on a raw, natural bone can remove surface dirt and bacteria on exposed teeth. Knuckle or marrow bones are a top choice because they are softer and gentler on the teeth. Avoid excessively hard items — such as hooves — as well as cooked bones, which can easily break. Be sure to monitor your dog as he chews, and remove the product when it become small enough to pose a choking hazard.
Kimberly Gauthier, of Keep the Tail Wagging, keeps her dog’s teeth white and healthy by giving them raw, meaty bones.
“We only give our dogs knuckle bones, because they’re softer than the weight bearing bones (legs). In the summer they get them in the yard under supervision. When they start tiring of them, they go in the trash to avoid attracting coyotes,” says Gauthier.
As far as the dogs are concerned, the tooth-cleaning benefits of the bones are far from their minds.
“They get so excited. They go outside and sit impatiently waiting for their bone, and then they go to four spots in our side yard — always the same place,” says Gauthier.
Some dogs, especially younger ones, are happy to chomp on synthetic alternatives such as rubber or nylon chew toys. These can provide dental benefits without the extra calories. Look for items that are somewhat flexible, never rock hard, and have a rough or bumpy surface. Try a variety of styles to see what your dog prefers.
While your dog might like to hide his favorite chew toy under the couch, round them up regularly for inspection. If a toy has developed holes or has been worn down too much, it’s probably time to toss it. Also, maintain the toy’s cleanliness; a vigorous rub with warm, soapy water, followed by a thorough rinse, should keep the germs away.
You’d find it strange to brush a few of your teeth on Monday, a few more on Wednesday, and finish the job on Saturday morning. But your dog doesn’t care; it’s better to get part of his mouth done and then stop the process before he gets too distressed, rather than insisting upon a complete job. Just try to keep track of where you’ve brushed so that you’re sure to cover the entire mouth over time.
And setting the stage for a calm, positive encounter will help. Birgitta Lauren, a breeder of Cavalier King Charles puppies, says although the dogs aren’t in favor of brushing, she does her best to minimize stress.
“I wrap the dog in a towel first to secure their legs, play some quiet relaxing music, speak nicely and calmly to them, and though they try to wriggle their head, they sort of let me do it. They know I am doing what is good for them,” she says.
Every encounter with your dog’s mouth doesn’t have to be strictly business. You should regularly handle your dog’s muzzle, open his mouth to compliment him on his teeth, and run your fingers along his teeth and gums. Not only will he become used to the handling, making brushing an attainable goal, but your frequent inspection will keep you abreast of changes or problems.
Commercial dental cleansing pads are basically moist pads, which you use to rub the surface of your dog’s teeth and gums, whisking away food and helping to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Many are scented to offer breath-freshening benefits.
You can achieve similar results by twisting a gauze pad round your finger, moistening it slightly, and rubbing his teeth and gum line.
Always be sure your dog is comfortable with mouth handling first, and abandon your efforts if he’s showing signs of stress.
Routine visits with a veterinary dentist can be beneficial, especially if your dog’s teeth are very crowded or difficult to brush. Ask your regular vet for a recommendation and guidelines as to when your dog needs to be seen.
This worked well for Michelle Schenker of Canine Journal, who lives in Winston-Salem, NC. Schenker who brings her two dogs, Bella and Lily, to a doggie dentist.
“Bella has been two times and Lily has been once since we adopted them. Generally, the vet just keeps an eye on them to see when they might need it, and it turns out to be every three years or so,” she says.
Schenker says the dogs are no more stressed by the dental visits than they would be for any vet visit, and they have gotten used to visiting the vet in general over time.
Having a pro look at your dog’s teeth can also offer other benefits, says Dr. Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance.
“Regular professional cleanings allow a complete exam of your pet’s mouth while enabling veterinary staff to thoroughly clean and polish the teeth. It also allows them to assess the areas below the gum line that you can’t see and determine whether there are any teeth that may require additional work or even extraction.”
Petplan reports that claims data for 2013 shows the average reimbursement for periodontal disease was more than $490, with some reimbursements topping $5,500.
It can be difficult to keep up with your dog’s dental health, but just like grooming and exercising, developing a routine that works for you will keep your dog in top health.
Do you brush your dog’s teeth? Are you going to start? Let us know in the comments!
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