4 Easy Ways to keep your dog’s smile healthy and happy
Come winter time, my Chihuahua and I take our snuggle time very seriously. I am to stay put until he is satisfied giving me a thorough facial lick-down. Lately, this act of love is morphing into an endurance test as his super doggy breath has been getting progressively funkier.
Confession… I don’t remember the last time I brushed my dog’s teeth.
This is going to change this February, the National Dental Awareness month. Dental problems are an endemic among pets. Lacking the dexterity to brush their own teeth or the autonomy of choosing a dental-friendly lifestyle for themselves, it is up to us, pet parents/owners/guardians, to safeguard the health of our beloved paws. Left untreated, dental diseases can invade the rest of the body causing problem in dog’s heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, potentially shortening the lifespan as well. Let’s brush up on the four S’s help your dog to better oral health:
Daily brushing IS the magic bullet to combat the bacteria lurking inside your dog’s mouth. Make it into a game of progression. Your first mission is to allow your dog to become comfortable with you manipulating his mouth. Beginning stepwise with lifting the lip, briefly touching a tooth or the gum, and handling the muzzle to see all teeth, eventually touching all teeth and massaging the gum. Take as long as necessary until your dog thinks teeth time is as calming and comfortable as a belly rub session.
Next, introduce the gauze (or a soft-bristled toothbrush if your dog is ready). Let your dog sample the dog-safe toothpaste and start to familiarize him to having the toothbrush (or gauze wrapped around your finger) touching his teeth. The actual brushing technique is similar to what you would do for yourself (gentle, circular motion angling 45 degree to the gum line); have a systematic way to approach all teeth and work up to 1-2 minutes of brushing time. If your dog tends to gag and resist, focus on the side of the teeth facing the cheek as plaque and tartar tends to build up on the buccal surface of the teeth.
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Never force the progress and always shower your dog with praises and affection throughout, leaving him a chew toy or reward (dental friendly kibbles) in the end. Even if you haven’t gotten to the teeth in several months, you have still built a very intimate bond with your dog. Now he will trust you to look into its oral cavity and muzzle area.
Spot the Problems
Offensive doggy breath should be a wake up call to action.
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It is the first sign outlined by the AVDC (American Veterinary Dental College) indicating problems.
The list goes on:
- Loose teeth or teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
- Shying away from you when you touch the mouth area.
- Drooling or dropping food from the mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth or ropy, bloody drool
- Unexplained loss of appetite or loss of weight
Dogs are notoriously stoic when it comes to showing signs of pain, but if you noticed any behavioral changes (especially in terms of eating habit) counsel your vet right away.
Small breeds are more prone to dental problems due to teeth crowding and genetics. Large breeds and overzealous chompers tend to suffer more from tooth fractures that can progress to dental abscess.
Shop for a Smile
It is as easy as heading to your dog’s favorite shop to stock up on the right food, toys, and treats to augment the home care routine.
A diet that encourage chewing provide mechanical cleansing that can slow the accumulation of dental plaque. Check the fiber content of your dog’s kibbles. If your dog is on a strict soft-food diet, or eating small kibble (can easily be “inhaled” without chewing) with low fiber content, consider switching to dental-formula. Many dental formula features larger kibble size with increased fiber content so as your dog chews, the kibbles provide a scrubbing action on the teeth. Furthermore, some are coated with a study-proven anti-tartar agent called sodium hexametaphosphate.
Giving your dog dental treats and chew toys after each brush session will encourage your dog to like the dental routine. If brushing remains a struggle, dental chews by themselves can help tremendously by controlling the bacterial growth as much as 70%. Dogs that chew actively have less plaque build-up. Some safety tips for choosing the best chow:
- Rawhides have been proven effective in tartar control but very dangerous if swallowed so hard & thick rawhides are also to be avoided
- Cooked bones can splinter; sterilized raw bones and antlers can be too hard and cause tooth fracture
- Cow hooves and pig ears are also frowned upon by expert
- While a tennis ball are great fetch toys, the surface nylon fuzz can wear down tooth enamel so it’s not ideal leaving it as chew toy. An aggressive chewer can also easily chew through the ball ad swallow the chunks
- Choose a toy that has some “give” to it: you can indent the surface with your fingernail, and can be flexed with bare hands. Don’t trust your dog to be alone with the toys for hours. Always examine the toy for damage and monitor those chewing sessions
Chew toys are most helpful in maintaining oral health, but insufficient if periodontal disease is already rampant in the mouth. Only professional deep cleaning and daily brushing can prevent further progression of the disease. Consider purchasing an oral hygiene kit. Walmart sells such kits for under $10. The brand C.E.T. is often recommended by vets, as well as Nylabone (maker of your dog’s favorite chewy) and Arm & Hammer. Dog tooth and finger brushes are designed to make cleaning easier so your dog can master this step in no time.
Dogs absolutely cannot have human toothpaste; swallowing the fluoride and other abrasives in the formula can irritate the stomach and in the long term cause toxicity. Commercial dog toothpastes are flavored to entice your dog.
You can also make your own homemade toothpaste very easily by mixing baking soda and water. Another way to entice your dog is to add a bit of bouillon cube and coconut oil. Click here for more natural alternatives.
Besides dog-safe toothpaste, many preventive products are available to help control plaque and tartar. For example, water additives are available so your dog literally sip his way to a cleaner mouth. You can find a list of VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) approved products here. Approved foods, treats, and chews must reduce plaque or tartar by at least 10% to achieve the VOHC seal of approval.
Seek Professional help
Start booking annual dental check-up with your vet. Have periodic dental cleaning done either by vet or associated hygiene professionals. K9 Gentle Dental does anesthesia-free dental cleaning (they offer clinics around lower mainland and even in-home services). Take full advantage of the appointment and ask for advice on tips and tricks on brushing techniques. Ask about oral sprays and antiseptics appropriate for your dog as adjunct to home care.
Check in with your vet during the month of February. Some, like Cypress St. Animal Hospital, is celebrating the dental month by offering $50 off dental cleaning with a complimentary bag of dental formula. Granville Island Vet Hospital offers $50 dollars off dental cleaning in November, February, and March, tossing in a free dental kit to boot.
Written By: Grace Hung