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?
Such an important topic! We start ours out young with having their mouths handled and this makes it much easier for them to accept as adults. Raw meat and bones help SO much as well. Thanks for a great post! We will be sharing!
I agree, it really is important. I’ve seen all my dogs come to me with such bad teeth, and being older surgery is risky but there’s no choice. I’ve heard that raw meat is really helpful. You’re right about starting to care for their teeth when they’re young, this way you won’t have a battle on your hands when they’re older like I do with Red. For a dog that weighs around 9lbs, not much is opening her mouth!!
I like the idea of using gauze! I will give this a try. I hope Red is recovering nicely.
Thanks Joely, Red is doing well. I find gauze so much easier than a toothbrush, and although it lacks the bristles it’s better than not doing anything.
Right! Exactly I totally agree. If it is less stress for your pup it is best. I am going to try it Lyla is not fond of the brush either. She loves the toothpaste though 🙂
Let me know how you get on.
Rebecca at MattieDog
Super informative – and a really good read! I’m interested in learning more about your use of arnica – if you have any other blog posts referencing use please share!
Thank you Rebecca. My vet is not holistic nor does he prescribe remedies, so I was pleasantly surprised when he recommended arnica after her surgery. Maybe it’s because I’ve always talked to him about wanting more natural care for Red. I will definitely share any more info.
From day one that I rescued Layla her teeth were black and today they are pearly white as I have worked really hard on this, one thing I do is use Tropiclean in her water plus the gell every night in her mouth plus I give her beef neck bones to chew on which keep them clean. The vet at our last visit told me for her age of nearly 10 and a rescue her teeth are amazing and keeping it that way
Amazing! Dental care doesn’t seem to be taken seriously enough, so it’s wonderful for others to read how much it has helped Layla. So much better to take the steps you’re taking, than having to put them through dental surgery. I use that gel as well, but I can’t get Jack interested in any of these bones. I’m seeing my new holistic vet this coming week so I’m going to find out his thoughts on things like beef bones for Red. He has a different attitude towards the foods she’s allowed so it may be put on the “okay” list.
Dental care for our pets is vital. We include a dental product in the cat’s water, given them chicken wings to chew and try to brush their teeth a couple of times a week – it’s not easy with some of them.
I should take a video of me trying to brush Red’s teeth. You wouldn’t believe a 4kg dog could be that strong, but she clamps those jaws shut and it’s game over. I could never get near any of my cats to brush their teeth.
This past summer, shortly after Emmett turned 13, I noticed a gap along his top gum line. Well, I had a heart attack and called the vet. I was so worried that there might be serious damage. She did a thorough check and said that if a tooth falls out on its own, it’s because it needed to! The rest of his teeth were fairly healthy, but it did really “scare me straight” to get back into brushing, something I’d really neglected. That said, my dogs have always gotten a chew, like a bone or an antler, every night after dinner. We call it “flossing,” and I think that really helps. Plus, our vet said if he keeps up that routine, it indicates that his teeth aren’t causing him pain. We do still have his teeth checked at every vet appointment, just to be thorough! This is such a useful, detailed post. Thanks for taking the time to put this resource together!
Thanks Maggie, so glad you enjoyed it. Glad to hear Emmett’s doing so well, and the bones and antlers must be making a huge difference. I have yet to find something my other dog Jack likes to chew on that would help. It’s a work in progress!!
Dental health is so important. I try and clean teeth occasionally.
It would be great to do it everyday like we do, but some of them are so uncooperative we have to settle for sometimes over never!!
Lola The Rescued Cat
Good dental health is so important for kitties, too. So far we’ve been ok in that department. It’s a good thing because we don’t let our mom brush our teeth.
Don’t worry kitties, I’d never forget about you. I had cats for many years before I even had a dog!! My cats never let me get near their teeth either.
Kona doesn’t like her teeth brushed at all. I need to be more determined to get it done. I think we just found a tooth paste she will use. Here’s hoping!
My little dog Red is a real fighter so I discovered if I wrap gauze around my finger, then add a little toothpaste it’s a lot easier to get my finger into her mouth than a brush.
Kelsie | It's Dog or Nothing
Dental health is so important for dogs and something I really need to improve on this year. Mauja and Atka love bully sticks which definitely make a difference in their oral health!
It is so important, but when the dog is making it virtually impossible to help, it can be tough to stay on top of it. Having bones and the like are a big help, and I have discovered wrapping my finger in gauze with some tooth gel is just about doable for Red.
Dental health for pets is so important! I always support Pet dental health every February & throughout the year. Brushing my dogs’ teeth has not worked well for me so I’m trying other things.
Love & biscuits,
Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
Hi Cathy, have you tried gauze wrapped around your finger with some tooth gel? Red is so small yet she can fight like the big boys, and having a toothbrush near her mouth makes her very unhappy…to say the least. She doesn’t love the gauze either but I’m actually able to get in her mouth and at least wipe her teeth. Better than nothing!! If you try this method let me know how you get on.
We have four dogs, but one, Albie, has no teeth so we don’t have to worry about brushing them. The other three, Sophie, Ani and Jasper, all don’t like it, but I found someone who worked with a vet and a lab to create an all natural toothpaste called Pup Phaste which Jasper loves and will lick off of my fingers or the brush. Sophie and Ani tolerate it more than the others I’ve tried.
I try to brush their teeth with a toothbrush at least 1-2x/week and then use a sponge on a stick the other days. Sometimes we skip a day. But Sophie had to have her teeth professionally cleaned when she was only one year old (she’s now turning 7) and had a hard time recuperating from the anesthesia, so I never wanted to go through that again. Last August I had all three of them professionally cleaned and it went well. It’s so important; thanks for sharing this. I like the way you make it very clear and covered different ways to help keep their teeth tartar free.
Hi Jody, thanks for sharing what you do. It helps when people read about others’ experiences, One is so young but I know what you mean. When you see them having a hard time, you want to do your best to prevent them from being in that position again (whenever possible.)
My dogs hate having their teeth brushed. Thankfully, the vet is always surprised at how healthy Nelly and Theo’s teeth are. Sophie had to have a cracked tooth pulled and she also had two teeth that were loose, so the vet pulled those as well.
Hi Beth, I know what you mean. I can’t get near Jack’s teeth no matter what I try. Having come from an abusive background he has made tremendous strides, but that’s not one of them. I’m still on the lookout for alternatives. It’s great to hear Nelly and Theo are doing well even without having their teeth brushed.
Dental care is so important. We are semi-regular brushers with a dental product daily in food. I just said today I was going to get better at daily brushing. Thanks for this article.
Hi Tonya, couldn’t agree more. Dental care is so important so why do our dogs make it such a nightmare!!!
Dental Health care is important for both dogs and cats.
It certainly is.
Dental health is so important to remember. I use toothbrushes and finger brushes here with my Sibes periodically. They love mint doggy toothpaste! I’ve also had dental cleanings done on two, and use an oral supplement to keep their gums healthy.
Sounds like a great plan, if only Red would love some toothpaste!
It is easy to overlook the importance of dental care – even in humans! I think we tend to forget that for our pets and for ourselves, the mouth serves as a gateway to the rest of the body. There are a lot of problems that can be stopped right there at the mouth!
So right Robin. I don’t think people realise how much a healthy, clean, disease free mouth affects overall health.
Dental care is one of the greatest gifts a dog parent can give to his or her dog(s). I do my dog’s teeth nightly with teeth brushing. It is utmost to care for a dog’s teeth as you would your own.
You’re absolutely right Carol. We take our dental health seriously (at least we should be), so why won’t we do the same for our pets? Even with difficult dogs there are still things we can do that will make a difference. It’s so much better to make an effort, than deal with the consequences of not wanting to bother.
I like how you suggested to use dental chews and chew toys. I am taking my dog to a specialist for his dental care. I appreciate the tips for caring for your dog’s dental care.
A multi pronged approach to dental care stands the best chance of success. Plus it’s important to have options if your dog won’t let you near him with a toothbrush of any kind!