Cleaner Teeth, Healthier Dog

Nearly all dog owners are advised by their veterinarians to brush their pet’s teeth, however just as many don’t take that advice very seriously.

dog having its teeth cleaned

The most common complaint of dog owners is “doggy breath,” the unpleasant odour all dog owners have experienced. Just as with humans when a dog’s teeth are not cleaned plaque build up, tooth decay and loss, and infections occur. It is estimated that 98% of our canine companions have periodontal disease, an astounding number, usually noticed by the pet owner as bad breath, or in later stages difficulty chewing and obvious pain.

Is it really important?

Though bad breath is unpleasant and no one wants to see their pet in pain, there are more serious consequences to neglecting your dog’s teeth. When bacterial infections are not treated they can enter the blood stream and spread to such vital organs as the kidneys, liver, heart and even the brain. When organ tissue is damaged the result is often critical and not reversible. Taking care of your dog’s teeth is no joke; not doing so can take years off of an otherwise healthy pet’s lifespan.

Not just a senior concern

What is perhaps more disturbing to pet owners is to find out how early dental problems begin to arise, as many owners assume it is of concern to middle-aged and senior dogs. To put into context how soon tooth decay can impact a dog’s life the American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 80% of dogs have periodontal disease by age three. That is very early considering that most breeds, aside from giant varieties, live a decade or more past this critical time of onset. In an attempt to both counter disease early, and to train pets to accept dental care easily, it is recommended that a brushing routine be started as early as possible. If you have a puppy you should start when the adult teeth have come in, usually four to six months of age.

Firm but fair

Regardless of your pet’s age you will doubtless have difficulty acclimating them to having their teeth brushed. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone! On average it takes eight to sixteen weeks to train your dog to accept tooth brushing. Patience and praise are key to any training and the mood should always be kept light so that the dog has a less stressful and more pleasant experience to build on.

Dogs mouth with very clean teeth
Persistence and patience is key to regular, stress-free cleaning sessions

The right tools for the job

There are now many products on the market to make brushing your dog’s teeth as easy as possible from the start. Toothpaste made only for dogs should always be used as human products contain hazardous ingredients that cannot be rinsed and spit out by your pet, and there are currently several flavors to entice your pet’s palate. Though some owners find that brushing with a gauze pad and toothpaste is easier, there are a wide variety of toothbrushes designed just for pet care including a brush that fits on your finger and which makes the slow, circular motions necessary for cleaning easier.

Dealing with problem dogs

Unfortunately we cannot explain to our dogs why we are putting a foreign object into their mouths and many times dogs will simply not accept tooth brushing. Some dogs will become so stressed that they may nip or bite their owners, clearly an unpleasant situation for everyone! If your pet refuses to accept at home dental care what else can you do in between veterinary dental cleanings? There are actually a myriad of products to help out with this common issue!

Dental drink

Though there are plenty of excellent dental rinses available from your veterinarian and pet supply stores, your dog may not take to this with any more ease than brushing. For such pets there are food and water additives that may prove useful. The water additive works to repel and stop plaque as well as to destroy bacteria and has the added benefit of being odorless so that your dog is not reluctant to drink the treated water. Most food additives are made of all natural ingredients and work much the same way as the water solutions do to clean the pet’s teeth and eliminate problems before they grow out of hand. Veterinarians and other dog care professionals recommend using these products in addition to at home brushing and dental care provided at the veterinary clinic for optimal cleaning.

Toys for teeth

As another part of a well rounded dental routine you can add some fun with toys made to clean the teeth, freshen breath, and entertain your pet. Several popular companies make toys and treats for dental care, including Nylabone, Kong, Petstages, and Planet Dog. Most dental type toys feature nibs, grooves, floss rope or a combination of these to reduce plaque, remove tartar, and stimulate the gums. They often feature flavors to attract chewing and keep your pet interested. Toys with grooves and spaces to for filling provide an excellent place for your pet's preferred flavor of doggie toothpaste to double the cleaning and fun. There are also products lines for dogs of all ages and dental needs, from young and voracious chewers who need tough toys to older dogs who need softer toys.

Should you use dry foods?

Recently it has been suggested by several commercial pet food companies that feeding hard, dry dog food will alleviate dental problems. Though it is proven that eating a diet where chewing is necessary does help, it is not a complete solution any more than if the pet owner were to rely only on eating a diet of cereal to clean their teeth. Animal health organizations are becoming concerned that most pets are actually dehydrated and cutting out any moist food already in your dog’s diet may only worsen this problem, particularly in pets with special health concerns. Changing your dog’s primary treats to dog safe bones and other hard or chewy treats is a good way to moderately alter your pet’s diet to improve oral health, but this should not be relied on alone.

Cleaning your pet’s teeth is a necessary part of good healthcare, but it doesn’t have to be a battle. Whether your dog is young or old, active or calm, a picky eater or a ravenous one there is a solution for caring for their teeth at home as well as at the vet’s office.

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