It’s interesting to me that dog dental care is not taken as seriously as it should be.
There is a whole month (February) dedicated to spreading the word about the importance of pet dental health, yet I wonder if the message is getting through. I guess it’s time for me to do my part then!
Why is it so important?
I guess I want to re-word that question and ask “how can it not be important?” A lack of oral hygiene over the years will catch up with our dogs and can cause serious organ damage (heart, kidney, liver) as infection enters the bloodstream, significantly shortening their life.
Not every case will be that extreme, but that doesn’t mean your dog is not experiencing pain from a toothache or infection, right now! Dogs are good at hiding pain so just because you aren’t noticing an obvious change in his behaviour, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem festering and getting worse.
Think back to how much pain you’ve been in from a cavity or abscess. You were able to reach for some pain relief and visit the dentist, your dog has to wait for you to figure it out.
There is good news though because it’s never too late to start caring for your dog’s teeth, and right now is the best time to start.
Signs that may indicate periodontal disease in dogs
- Bad breath is a very obvious indicator of a problem, and no it is not natural for dogs to have bad breath
- Loss of interest in eating
- Not chewing on a favourite toy
- Pawing at the mouth
- Won’t let you near his mouth
- Swallows without chewing
- Favours one side when eating
- Less interested in playing
Yikes these signs look familiar. What do I do?
The best thing to do is make an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible. I’m not suggesting it’s a bad idea to buy doggie toothpaste and a toothbrush, but it won’t fix any current problems.
What will my vet do?
Tell your vet your concerns and any symptoms you may have noticed. Even if your dog is symptom free, now is as good a time as any to have a dental checkup.
He will check your dog’s mouth and determine, to the best of his ability, what he believes is going on. Bear in mind some dogs are extremely uncooperative, like my dog Red for example, so he may not get as good a look as he would like. Your vet will then make a determination as to a treatment plan, which can include pain medication, antibiotics or surgery.
Red having her recent dental checkup
If surgery is recommended the next part of that conversation will be about risk and expense. Money is an issue for many of us, but we’ve taken on the responsibility of sharing our lives with pets, it is our responsibility to care for them as best as we can.
Have an honest conversation about the cost, because in my experience it’s always more than you expect. When dealing with the vets I have loved it was not because they were trying to scam me (as too often happens), but rather because it’s impossible to know what they will find once they start the dental work. Every extraction and x ray will add to the cost, so ask for the price of each separately, so there are no huge shocks when you get the bill. Having said that, no matter how prepared, it’s always a shock.
Ultimately the decision is yours, but if it’s recommended and you put it off, the problems can only get worse, your dog will get older adding to the risk, surgery will be longer, more invasive and the cost higher.
There are lots of things you can do to, hopefully, avoid another surgery
Yearly or twice yearly checks
Make sure during your yearly, or twice yearly checkups for senior dogs, the vet takes a good look at your dog’s mouth.
We brush our teeth regularly to keep our teeth, gums and mouth as healthy as we can, is it so farfetched to believe we should be doing the same for our dogs?
The more often you brush the better, so if you can do it daily, fantastic. If not, do it as many times a week as you can. A quick brush is better than nothing.
There are a number of styles of toothbrush, so it might be a case of trial and error. Here are some of the options…
- Long handled with a brush on one end
- Long handled with a large brush on one end, small one on the other
- A finger brush that, you got it, fits over your finger and has bristles at the top
- 3 sided brush
- Electric toothbrush
- A simple piece of gauze wrapped around your finger
Only use a toothpaste specifically designed for dogs. There are a variety of flavours to entice, or make your own using one of the many homemade recipes you can find online.
How to brush your dog’s teeth
Your dog won’t let you near his mouth
You’ve tried the different toothbrushes, bought every flavour toothpaste, and your dog won’t let you near his mouth. Don’t worry you can buy tooth gel that you just rub on your dog’s teeth to help prevent plaque, and even a powder to sprinkle on his food.
Will these, or the other options I’m going to talk about in a minute take the place of regular brushing? Not according to my vet, but they are all still worth implementing into your dog’s new dental routine, because everything you do will make a difference.
The act of “gnawing” helps scrape the teeth, remove plaque and stimulate the gums. If you are unable to brush your dog’s teeth, then I highly recommend dental chews. Even if you do brush they will still help, and relieve boredom.
When deciding which chews to buy, walk away from any with an ingredient list as long as the packaging that is impossible to identify. If your dog has diet restrictions, check the ingredients with your vet first.
Never leave your dog unattended when he has a bone or a chew.
Chew toys, textured chew bones, rubber bones and rope toys are great additions to your dog’s oral hygiene routine. The benefit of a toy over an actual food product is the lack of calories, and no ingredients that might be forbidden in your dog’s diet. Keep things interesting by switching between toys and chews.
A mouthwash added to your dog’s water bowl is another worthwhile product, but not to be relied on to be effective on its’ own. They may alter the taste of the water, but my dogs have never had a problem. If you notice your dog drinking less or not at all, stop using it right away. Keeping your dog well hydrated is crucial.
Raw food diet
Gnawing on raw meat acts as a teeth cleaner, a natural toothbrush, and chewing on raw bones can help remove tartar. It seems there is a lower incidence of dental disease in animals on a raw food diet, although that does not mean dental disease never happens.
Please don’t run out and buy raw meat or bones without consulting a holistic vet, or your regular vet to determine if it’s right for your dog.
What I do for my senior dog Red
Red weighs 10lbs, but if you go anywhere near her mouth she’ll clamp that jaw shut and nothing is getting in. I assume a lot of that has to do with the fact she’s blind and doesn’t know what’s happening, although you’d think after all these years she’d get used to it…but no.
I do have a long handled toothbrush and I start off with great intentions but she’s so stressed and gets herself so worked up, over time it becomes too much and I stop.
I have found that wrapping gauze around my finger is tolerated a bit more, and I was using a tooth gel directly on her teeth, so no brush is needed. Unfortunately they were never going to fix the problems she already had and those needed to be addressed.
She’s 15ish and had dental surgery 2 days ago. Not an ideal scenario at her age, but I went ahead with it because:
I trust my vet with her life and I knew if something were to happen during the surgery, it would not have been his fault.
I was worried she may be feeling pain and that is not something I can accept.
If I waited and in a few months’ time we checked again, all that would mean is she would be a few months older and more at risk.
I made the right decision because things were worse than he expected. Once she was sedated and he was able to have a good look, he could see things were bad and needed x rays to see the true picture. Long story short she had 6 teeth removed.
The first night was a bit tough as I knew it would be. She’s blind so being groggy is scary for her. She’s on pain medication and I gave her Arnica to help her body recover from the surgery and she’s doing well.
I was feeling quite responsible because nothing is more important than her care, but the vet felt in her case age did play a large part in what was going on.
In a few days when her mouth has healed I will start with the gauze and some gel. Even a few seconds is better than nothing, because I never want her going through that experience again.
Dog dental care – conclusion
I hope you see how important dog dental care is for the overall health of your dog, and how easy it can be to include in your daily routine.
Do you brush your dog’s teeth? How often? What type of toothbrush and toothpaste do you use?