Teeth: one of a dog’s most important tools for life. Based on how a dog’s jaw and dental lay out is designed, scientists tell us that dogs were born carnivores. For the ancestors to the snoring creature currently inhabiting my couch, healthy teeth ensured a full diet and ultimately survival; without a full set of healthy functional chompers, wild dogs of old and wolves would not survive. We can assume that dental hygiene was mostly managed through a diet that required the chewing of bones and other tough substances that helped keep fangs and molars relatively clean. As evidenced by my snoozing pup on the custom memory foam bed beside me on the floor, our dogs depend on us for their dental health today.
Dental disease will strike all dogs, regardless of diet or breed, in varying degrees. While some pups are more prone to disease, signs of disease will start surfacing within a couple years without intervention. This process begins as plaque build up and the plaque hardens to become a rock-hard coating called tartar. The worst of the damage can occur beneath the gumline and out of sight. One of the first symptoms of periodontal disease is bad breath. If your pup has some nasty morning breath, it is time to whip out the toothbrush.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs should have their teeth and gums examined for periodontal disease at least once yearly. Dental x-rays, general anesthesia, and a full cleaning are required sometimes if the build up is advanced enough. This can be quite costly, so when it comes to dental care and your pup, an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure! Here are a few tips to help you keep your pup’s smile bright, clean, and healthy.
TIP #1: BRUSH
Just like us, brushing our doggo’s teeth at least 3-5 times a week will make a big difference. While this is not always an easy process, with lots of patience and some training, it can be. I have two dogs, one of which tolerates brushing fairly well after we introduced some rather pungent bacon-flavored doggy toothpaste.
It took a few tries, but he got the hang of it. My second dog required more training and a lot of positive encouragement. We make it a game as much as possible, but she still hates it. Still, her dental health is worth the struggle at least a few times a week.
Some light spotting is normal if your dog has not had regular brushing, but if you notice your dog grimacing or whimpering when you go near certain teeth, or if his/her gums bleed significantly, be sure to consult your vet for possible deeper problems like decayed teeth or infection in the jaw.
*Always use DOG toothpaste, never people toothpaste!! Human toothpaste contains xylitol and other ingredients which can be toxic and highly poisonous for dogs.
*Don’t be afraid to try out different pastes. There are many to choose from.
*If your pup is just not tolerating it, focus your brushing on just the back teeth.
TIP #2: WATER ADDITIVES OR SPRAYS AND GELS
This is a great way to keep our canine companions’ breath fresh and teeth and gums clean! While not as effective as brushing, adding an anti-tartar solution to your dog’s drinking water can definitely help with plaque build-up or tartar reduction. There are many on the market, but we love Nylabone’s Advanced Liquid Tartar Remover.
It can be purchased through Nylabone, Chewy, Amazon, or at your local pet store.
There are also a number of natural and commercial gels or sprays you can apply directly to your pup’s teeth that can help with plaque and tartar and thus prevent further disease. One I’ve tried on my previously mentioned pup who hates the toothbrush is something called Leba.
A natural remedy spray, Leba helped with her heavy tartar build up when used faithfully. It is fairly pricey, especially when compared to the cost of a toothbrush and dog paste, but it has it’s place in my arsenal!
* Additives and sprays or gels require faithful application to make a difference! Stay consistent, my friends.
* Remember, there are lots of products! Not every product is right for every dog. Do what works for you and your pup (and wallet!)
TIP #3: DIET
Remember your mom telling you not to eat too much sugar or drink too much soda because your “teeth would rot out of your mouth?” The same concept applies to our pups. Too much sugar or acid in their diet can cause increased dental issues or can exacerbate existing issues. Many natural dog treats are healthy when given in moderation for our good pooches but be careful with high sugar content foods like sweet potatoes and fruits.
Increasing how many hard and crunchy foods your dog is eating can help by physically working off plaque. Chew toys have been designed to help keep gums and teeth healthy, things like bully sticks, dental chews, hooves, ears, or rawhides can also be helpful if your dog can tolerate them. Greenies or Whimzees are both favorites in my house, and both have grain-free options for dogs who cannot tolerate grains.
Even something as simple as limiting how much soft food your dog consumes and including hard kibble in their diet or natural bones to gnaw on regularly can help prevent plaque build-up.
*Rawhide and other animal product chews can cause indigestion in some dogs, so use with caution.
*If you are a dental chew lover, limit use to one a day! They are fairly high in calories.
*Dental chews are not always useful for dogs who don’t spend time chewing on them (like my lab…). What is intended as a healthy tool just becomes a large treat that is gone in less than 30 seconds…
*If using natural bones, do not use cooked or boiled bones! These can splinter causing serious emergent issues!
It is not an easy job keeping our pups happy and healthy, but with the right care and dedication, keeping their teeth clean can be one of the biggest ways we can succeed. A healthy mouth results in a healthy, happy pup! Happy chomping!
Have a trick for how you do dental care for your pup? Comment below!
Hailing from sunny Southern California, Brianna is a Registered Nurse, former dog foster mom, and Marine Corps spouse. She enjoys beach trips, hikes, and any other various adventures with her two rescue pups, Kibeth and Ajax, as well as writing or reading about anything canine.
Dogs give us the purest physical example of unconditional love and pure unadulterated joy in the world.