In conversations with dog owners, veterinarians are often disappointed to hear that not all of their clients take the time to periodically inspect the mouths of their pets. This missed opportunity to ward off illness and identify dental problems early is compounded by the fact that an estimated 80% of dogs have at least some degree of compromised oral health. As in humans, the “mouth is the gateway to the body” and maintaining its integrity is crucial to overall wellness. Problems that start in the form of plaque buildup, gingivitis, tartar and cavities can result in serious illness later as infections and heart, liver, and kidney disease.
The good news is that due to the strong anti-bacterial chemicals their salivatory glans produce, dogs are far less susceptible to cavities than we are. However, they’re still prone to oral conditions which can become painful, costly, and life-threatening if left untreated. Here are doggy dental care tips and common conditions to look for yourself to avoid trouble down the road:
Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog’s teeth daily. The frequency of this routine should include a cursory oral inspection. By starting the brushing habit when your dog is a puppy, the experience will become part of her daily routine. Purchase a good quality canine toothbrush from your veterinarian, pet store or online. Many vets recommend a double-headed style with brushes at a 45 degree angle which helps reach below the gumline. Choose a canine toothpaste to maximize the benefit of daily brushing and use it as directed.
Take it slowly during the first teeth brushing sessions. If the dog resists, don’t force the issue. Repeated attempts daily will gradually make the dog more relaxed and accepting of this as part of the daily routine. Use your free hand to stroke him reassuringly and speak in relaxing tones to calm the situation. Some owners wait until the end of the day when their dog is most likely to be tired and restful. Over time your dog should grow to anticipate the activity as another opportunity to be the center of your undivided attention.
You know that sweets, hard candy, and other poor choices can have a negative impact on your teeth. Making smart choices is equally important to your dog’s oral health. Crunchy dry food, bones, and rawhide have been shown to reduce plaque and tartar. Softer foods are more likely to coast the teeth and cause decay if not removed by brushing. Green biscuit chews are helpful in causing an abrasive action to keep teeth clean and the mint and other natural ingredients they contain combat doggy halitosis.
Another effective preventative measure is to provide chew toys that deliver dental benefits. Look for durable and well-made products that have raised tips which should help remove plaque and tartar. In addition to loosening dental build-up, these playthings can strengthen gums and help relieve anxiety and boredom.
While all breeds all at risk for oral health issues, small-breed dogs under 20 pounds are more likely to have problems. Breeds such as the French Bulldog, Toy Poodles, Dachshunds, Corgis, Pugs, Pomeranians, Beagles, Yorkshire Terrier and Chihuahuas have smaller jaws which can result in more crowding of their teeth and a higher probability that food can become trapped and gums can be inflamed. Pay particular attention and you can even the odds.
Naturally you’ll want to see your veterinarian for regular dental checkups. However, between visits you should be on alert for red flags which may indicate immediate action is warranted:
Halitosis: While a reasonable degree of odor is expected from your pet’s breath, a sour or rancid smell is abnormal.
Behavioral: A change in eating or chewing habits could signal tooth pain or gum tenderness.
Drooling: When drooling seems unusually heavy or continual, an oral exam should be scheduled.
Facial Pawing: If you notice repeated paw movements directed at the face or mouth, this could be trouble.
Depression: A dog’s mood can be a barometer of his health. Moping, a lack of energy, or an avoidance of going for walks or playing can point to underlying health problems.
Oral Inspection: Under optimal lighting conditions (having your partner hold a flashlight is advised) scrutinize you dog’s mouth for signs of damage and disease:
Broken, misaligned or missing teeth
Discolored teeth coated in dark yellow build-up
Gums which appear red, swollen, tender or are bleeding
Yellowish-brown tartar crust along the gum line
Bumps, blisters or growths within the mouth
Maintaining good doggy dental health is relatively simple and requires little more than constant vigilance to detect abnormalities early. With frequent brushing, good dietary habits and the help of your veterinary, your dog will enjoy excellent wellness though their life expectancy without oral health causing avoidable complications.