It is a truth universally acknowledged that dogs benefit from having their teeth brushed.
The hard part is going from knowing to doing, as few of us have the time, discipline – or the cooperative pet – to brush teeth on a daily basis. While brushing is the most efficient way to slow down the buildup of plaque and tartar there are other things you can do to promote good oral health in your pet.
Here are our top five tips for keeping on top of your dog’s oral hygiene!
1. Clean teeth without a toothbrush
Most pet parents start thinking about dental care when their dog is already an adult, which makes introducing an unfamiliar experience, such as tooth brushing, a lot more difficult than if the routine had been introduced during puppyhood. To avoid getting into a power struggle with your dog we recommend leaving the toothbrush for later and trying a gentler approach instead.
A soft and damp washcloth, a gauze pad, or a ProDen Perfect Dental Finger that slides over your index finger, are excellent alternatives to using a conventional toothbrush. Many dogs find these tools less frightening and will be more cooperative if the cleaning routine is introduced gradually and in a positive manner. Don’t be tempted to clean the entire mouth in one go. Keeping it short and rewarding your dog with a healthy treat after each session is the key to success.
If you get to the point where your dog is ready to graduate to the toothbrush, make sure you use a moistened brush with soft bristles. There are specially designed toothbrushes for dogs but a soft children’s toothbrush will work too. Since dogs don’t know how to rinse and spit, never use toothpaste meant for humans as these often contain ingredients that are toxic for dogs. Toothpaste for dogs comes in a wide variety of flavours to suit any dog’s taste.
2. Take preventative action
Despite your best intentions and skill level, there are dogs who may never be comfortable having their teeth cleaned or brushed. If your dog belongs to this category you need an alternative strategy for controlling plaque and tartar.
A well-known oral health product for dogs and cats is ProDen PlaqueOff® Powder, a 100% natural supplement made from a specific kelp that is proven to reduce the formation of plaque and soften existing tartar when used on a daily basis. This easy-to-use product is designed as a complement to tooth brushing but will improve oral health also when brushing teeth isn’t an option. The powder is added to your dog’s food and the result is cleaner teeth and a fresher breath in just a few weeks. The effect can be seen for as long as the product is being used.
3. Pay attention to ingredients
For dogs that are prone to developing excessive plaque and tartar, switching to a BARF diet might be a solution. Proponents of BARF (an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) claim that dogs that eat a fresh, frozen raw food diet have significantly less plaque and tartar buildup and rarely need to visit the vet for dental cleanings.
Deciding on what diet is best for your dog can be difficult, since there are many different factors to consider, but the general rule is that foods that contain high levels of sugars and simple carbohydrates provide nutrition for oral bacteria and speed up the development of plaque and tartar.
If your dog eats treats on a regular basis it’s important to choose these carefully too. Crunchy vegetables, such as carrots and celery, are healthy options that will naturally clean your dog’s teeth. Another option is to choose a treat that carries the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance, which means that the product has been documented to prevent plaque or dental calculus accumulation. At present (November 2017) only 13 cat products and 36 dog products have been approved by the VOHC.
Among the dog treats that carry the VOHC Seal of Acceptance for both plaque and tartar control is ProDen PlaqueOff® Dental Bites, which is based on the same kelp as ProDen PlaqueOff® Powder. The product is free from additives, artificial preservatives and sugar and the small size of the chews makes it a perfect training treat for health-conscious dog owners.
4. Check for signs of dental disease
Because dogs have evolved to hide pain and illness from their pack, detecting dental disease is often difficult. Unless the mouth is examined on a regular basis by a veterinarian, oral health problems can often go undetected until the problem is already advanced and the dog is in a lot of pain.
Look out for these symptoms of dental disease in your dog:
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Blood on chew toys or in the water bowl
- Reluctance to accept hard treats or play with chews
- Loss of appetite
- Head shyness (your dog disliking being touched on the head)
- Pawing at mouth
- Nasal discharge and sneezing
- Discoloured or loose teeth
- Bad breath
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not normal for a dog to have a smelly “doggy breath”. The most frequent cause of bad breath in dogs is periodontal disease, which is a bacterial infection of the supporting structures of the teeth that can be prevented, treated and even reversed if caught early. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and damage to organs like the heart and kidneys. Always visit the vet if your dog has persistent bad breath!
5. Every dog deserves a COHAT!
Regardless of diet and the home dental care provided, most dogs that are 3-5 years of age or older would benefit from having a COHAT – a Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment.
During a COHAT, your dog will be under general anaesthesia while your veterinarian safely and fully evaluates each tooth above and below the gum line through a combination of dental probing and x-rays. An ultrasonic scaler or hand instruments are used to clean under the gums, which is the most critical part of treating periodontal disease.
The more dental care you provide at home in the form of brushing/cleaning, a healthy diet and dental health supplements, the less complicated the COHAT is likely to be. However, even dogs that are free from plaque and tartar will benefit from having a COHAT, as the exam will enable your veterinarian to discover problems such as fractured teeth, infections and oral tumours that may otherwise go undetected.
Good oral hygiene is a vital part of a dog’s overall health and wellbeing. By looking after our pets’ teeth, we can help them live longer and happier lives.