The thought of a dental problem and visiting the dentist strikes fear in our hearts. No wonder our parents made it a mission during our growing up years to ensure we brush out teeth properly, gargle, use mouth wash, floss, do everything to keep our teeth squeaky clean. And we make the same effort with our kids.
But somehow, we manage to completely neglect the oral hygiene of our dog-kids, even though we totally adore them and take care of them in every other way. Maybe because we feel dogs don’t really need our help with it. Or the thought of their oral hygiene doesn’t even occur to us until their bad breath starts bothering us. By then, it’s quite late as they have already developed a good amount of tartar or even inflammation or infection.
Bad news is that 80% of all dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 suffer from substantial oral disease.
Good news is that there are some concrete step you can take now to improve and maintain your dog’s dental health. Just remember that maintaining your pet’s oral hygiene isn’t a luxury — it’s a vital piece of their healthcare routine.
1. Visit Your Vet for Teeth Cleaning
Dental care for your pet should begin at your veterinarian’s office. Pets need to be frequently checked for dental issues and be treated if necessary. A routine annual checkup is not a bad idea - for you as well as your pet.
A thorough dental cleaning by the vet involves removal of deposits like tartar with a scaler and checking the gums for periodontal "pockets" (areas where the gums have pulled away from the teeth). But unlike people, animals don’t lay still and calm for the dentist. Therefore, dental cleanings are performed under general anaesthesia. Today’s pet anaesthesia is extremely safe and, most often, the health threats of avoiding dental cleaning far outweigh the threat of anaesthesia complications.
On average, dogs and cats profit from dental cleaning once a year starting at the age of 3, but every pet needs his or her own distinct dental program. Some breeds and variants of dogs and cats might need less recurrent cleanings, others more. Your veterinarian will work with you to decide what’s best for your pet.
2. Brushing every day is a must
Another significant factor to prevent dental disease is at-home care. The best thing you can do to at home to promote good oral hygiene is to brush your pet’s teeth. While brushing daily is ideal, it will be great even if you can manage 3-4 times a week. Doing it only once in a while is not enough because the bacteria that cause dental disease can recolonize on the tooth surface in a period of 24 to 36 hours.
Start with the simple tools: a soft-bristled toothbrush (ideally, one that is made for pets) or a finger brush and toothpaste. Be sure to use toothpaste particularly formulated for pets, since toothpaste for people is designed to be spit out and can be harmful for pets when ingested.
Next, place a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and let your pet smell it. If there’s positive interest in the flavour of the toothpaste, use it. If your pet isn’t interested in the toothpaste, you can try brushing their teeth without toothpaste the first few times. Several flavours are now available, so you can always try a different one next time. Work the toothbrush in a circular motion, directed on the outside surfaces of the teeth — and don't forget the molars in the back. Go slowly, aiming to spend a total of 30 seconds on each side of the mouth.
Most importantly, be patient. If you have never brushed your pet’s teeth before, you may need to start by getting your cat or dog used to having her mouth touched. Then you can gradually work up to longer brushing sessions. While most pets will eventually begin to like (or at least not hate) having their teeth brushed, some pets are more defiant than others.
3. Feed Your Pet specialized meals
Dry food (kibble) is good for dental hygiene as it automatically cleans your dog’s teeth as he or she eats. There are some specialised diets which your vet can recommend to improve your dog’s dental health. Even if you prefer to feed your dog home cooked food, it’s not a bad idea to give them good quality dry food once a day or at least once in a couple of days.
4. Offer chew treats that make a difference
Some treats are designed to help keep your dog’s teeth cleaner and often contain ingredients that freshen their breath as well. Look for good quality dental chews and give them to your dog in moderation.
5. Chew toys
There are some specialised chew toys and chew bones which will clean and strengthen your dog’s teeth. Chewing any toy is healthy as it scrapes the plaque off your dog’s teeth as it is chewed. Find some nice rubber toys that your dog loves to chew on, but nothing too hard as it may damage your dog’s teeth. Some all-natural chew treats even contain enzymes which help improve dental health.
Take your vet’s advice on what are the best options for your dog - basis his or her age, breed and chewing habits.
Keeping your pet's teeth fresher and cleaner requires a commitment on your part. Your vet will do their part by performing regular oral examinations and recommending dental cleanings as necessary. As for you, about one minute of tooth brushing a day and the right food and treats will help keep your pet’s pearly whites a brilliant example of health — so the rest of their body will be, too.