Unfortunately senior dog dental care, and dog dental care in general, is not taken as seriously as it should be.
The importance of senior dog dental care cannot be overstated. While it’s not uncommon to see dental disease in young dogs, serious problems often present themselves when a dog is older. The main reason is, lack of oral hygiene over the years finally catches up with them.
It’s never too late to start caring for your dog’s teeth, and right now is the best time to start.
Oral hygiene in dogs – why is it so important?
Serious organ damage (heart, kidney, liver) can occur when infection enters the bloodstream, which can significantly shorten your dog’s life. Let’s not forget the pain dental problems cause. Think about how painful a toothache or infection is to you!
Signs that may indicate dental problems
- Bad breath – contrary to popular belief, bad breath is not a given
- Pawing at his mouth
- Doesn’t let you near his mouth
- Lethargic – can be caused by bacteria in the body
- Lost interest in eating
- Seems to swallow without chewing
- Favours one side when eating
- Less interested in playing
- Isn’t chewing his favourite toys
Is my dog in pain?
Have you ever had a toothache? Infection? You know how painful that can be. The difference is, we can pop a painkiller at the first sign of trouble, then take ourselves to the dentist for relief. Dogs rely on us to keep them pain free, and because they are so good at hiding it, it’s extremely important for us to be vigilant in their care, and that means regular vet checks, which should include a dental exam.
If I see any of these signs, what should I do?
The first thing you must do is schedule a visit to your vet to determine the current state of your dog’s teeth and mouth. Only then can a plan be mapped out, and a course of action started. Request the earliest appointment your vet has available. Your dog is obviously experiencing some level of discomfort, if not outright pain, so the sooner his problems are diagnosed, the quicker your dog will be feeling better.
What can I expect to happen during the appointment?
Your vet will have as good a look at your dog’s mouth as possible. Many dogs make that very difficult, so vets sometimes are only allowed a quick glimpse. Depending on the state of his teeth, that glimpse might be sufficient for a starting point.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to tackle the immediate infection, and eliminate the associated pain.
It’s very likely (I say this solely based on experience) surgery will be required. No one likes to hear that word (risks, expense), but you pretty much don’t have a choice.
Of course given the fact your dog is a senior, there is always a concern putting them under anaesthesia.
I had the same concerns a year ago, when Red needed dental surgery. First of all, I have complete trust in my vet, so I knew if something went wrong, it would not be because he panicked, or didn’t know what he was doing. She was given as light an anaesthetic as possible, something they would give newborns. Other then having a bad first night while the anaesthetic wore off, which is to be expected, she was fine.
Your vet won’t be able to tell you exactly what work will need to be done, until he’s had a chance to properly examine your dog’s mouth when he’s sedated. Barring any problems, he’ll be home with you the same day.
Ask about pain medication, or what to expect that first night.
What measures can I take to avoid a repeat of this?
I can’t guarantee your dog won’t require veterinary intervention again, but I can make recommendations that will reduce the chances.
Use doggie toothpaste and toothbrush. Ideally you’d like to give his teeth a quick brush daily, but if it’s not happening, do your best. Long handled dog toothbrushes come in a couple of different sizes, or try a rubber one that fits over your finger. A gauze pad wrapped around your finger can be effective as well. Dental sprays and powders are also available if it’s impossible to brush your dog’s teeth.
Dog dental chews
Dental chews can help remove plaque and stimulate the gums, and if your dog doesn’t allow you near his mouth, this will at least do some good. When choosing, look at the ingredient list and find ones with ingredients you can identify. If your dog has diet restrictions, check the ingredients with your vet first.
As always, when giving your dog bones or chews, never leave him unattended. Small pieces are a choking hazard.
Chew toys for dogs
Chew toys, textured chew bones, rubber bones and rope toys are a few examples of toys to help keep on top of your dog’s oral hygiene.
Look at it like mouthwash for dogs, it’s added to the water and, apparently, has been clinically proven to reduce plaque. Relying on this method alone will not be effective, but if you want to add it to your overall plan…
It may alter the taste of the drinking water, so if your dog isn’t liking the taste, you may want to try another flavour or brand.
Raw food diet
Gnawing on raw meat acts as a teeth cleaner, a natural toothbrush, and chewing on raw bones can help remove tartar. From what I understand, there seems to be a lower incidence of dental disease in animals on a raw food diet, although it can still happen.
A word of caution – don’t just go out and buy raw meat or raw bones for your dog. You must consult a holistic vet first (or your regular vet if they’re familiar with raw food diets) to determine if it’s right for your dog.
Regular dental checks
Senior health checks are typically carried out twice a year, so make sure a dental check is included.
Senior dog dental care – conclusion
I know senior dog dental care is often an overlooked part of caring for our pets, but let’s hope it won’t be from now on.