3 Tips to Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Healthy

A dog’s dental hygiene is an important and often overlooked part of keeping pets happy and healthy. Beyond just bad breath, unhealthy teeth can lead to a domino effect of tooth and gum decay that can release pathogens into your dog’s bloodstream which can cause serious illness in some cases. Since they have a little difficulty holding a toothbrush, here are a few easy tips to keeping your best friend’s teeth healthy and sparkling for years to come.

Let Them Chew, Chew, Chew.

The first and simplest way to help with your dog’s dental health is to encourage and facilitate their natural urge to gnaw and chew on certain materials. When dogs do this, they are naturally cleaning their teeth to a certain extent as well as exercising their teeth and jaws. The activity helps to reduce plaque and avoid tartar buildup for dogs that regularly have something appropriate to chew on. And of course, keeping chews around is one of the easiest ways to prevent destructive chewing.

It’s important to note, though, that not everything marketed as a “dental chew” is a good idea for your dog. There are certain things you want to avoid in general and some issues that will depend on knowing your dog. Here are a couple things you’ll actually want to avoid in general:

  • Cooked Bones: This is pretty widely agreed upon; if a bone was at the center of something that was cooked through or has been cooked down for any reason, don’t give it to your dog. Parts can splinter as they’re chewing which can cause GI tract problems and they generally aren’t actually good for the teeth.
  • Antlers and Hooves: While some dogs may be just fine with these, there is a risk that these will be too hard for a lot of dogs and they’re not as helpful for actually cleaning the teeth of domesticated canines, despite being the “natural” choice.

For most other available chews, it’s really important to monitor your dog carefully the first couple times. Things like rawhides and pig ears can be great, but you have to make sure your dog is chewing them rather than just swallowing them. As long as your dog is actively chewing and softening them to take off small pieces, they should be fine for them work through slowly. Non-edible chews like those Nylabone makes also help with doggy dental maintenance, though you do have to make sure to pick the right one. Base what you get on your dog’s size and just how hard they chew; that way you’re not giving them something that’s too hard for them or too soft to make a difference. You’ll also have to watch them and replace them when the ends start to get worn.

Whatever you choose for this, just monitor your dog in the first few uses. Just like us, dogs are largely individual and different ones will have different needs.

Brushing at Home.

Even with regular maintenance of natural chewing, it’s a good idea for a lot of dogs to get them on a schedule for brushing their teeth at home with a pet toothbrush or washcloth and canine toothpaste.

Since most dogs still insist on not speaking human languages, it may take a little time because you can’t just tell them “It’s for your health.” Most vets recommend starting with a little taste of the toothpaste to get them prepared, then a light treat reward and plenty of praise for when they’re doing well. You’ll have to be patient as it could take weeks to get them completely accustomed. Just remember how you’d feel if something larger than you grabbed your cheek and stuck something at your teeth. It would take some adjustment, even if you realized you weren’t going to be hurt. There is a good overall guide on techniques to use for this here.

For a schedule on when to brush your dog’s teeth, the ideal would be once a day, every day. Of course, we don’t often live in an ideal world, and it can be difficult to make time with all the other daily activities, especially if you’re in the early stages of getting your dog used to the toothbrush. Even some vets don’t follow this schedule, so if your dog is chewing regularly and getting a good food that promotes dental health, you can probably realistically set up a time to brush once a week and help prevent periodontal disease. And that effort is definitely worth it for your dog’s health.

Professional Cleaning

Just like with our own teeth, a regularly professional cleaning is good for getting rid of buildup that can occur even with all of our best maintenance. Most veterinarians offer some service for veterinary dental cleaning that comes with several steps.

It usually begins with a thorough examination of your dog’s mouth to give the vet an idea of where they’re starting out and give you the opportunity to ask questions and get information about any changes you may need to make to the at-home routine. There will be a blood draw to analyze and make sure your dog can receive anesthesia with no harm. Once your dog is safely anesthetized, x-rays are taken, a more thorough exam is given, and the teeth are cleaned and tended similar to what a dentist would do for you. In most cases, dogs can go home and eat the same day unless some other procedure besides cleaning is needed.

Doing this every 6-12 months as can be afforded not only helps get your dog’s teeth cleaned up, it can also catch any periodontal problems that slip in early on before they become major issues. Early detection generally means less cost in the long run and, most importantly, less discomfort and recovery time for your best friend if they need something.

Just like with humans, a dog’s teeth can be an indicator and a gateway to their overall health. Following these tips and talking with your veterinarian can lead to a longer, healthier, happier life for your pet.

  • February 14, 2016
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